True environmental travel is about education, and not about taking selfies with a bottlenose dolphin.
We rocked and rolled across the sand dunes of Fraser Island – the largest sand island in the world, off the coast of Queensland, Australia.
Our guide told us how unique the location is, how it is home to fauna and flora not found anywhere else and how it is an important ecological site for the world.
“But we’re driving right over it?” I say. “How can this be good?” (And yes, I know I had chosen to do this.) “How else will you see it?” he asked me.
He had a point. But I wondered, should I even be here? However many sapling trees we plant or bananas we don’t eat in an attempt to compensate for our travel, tourism leaves a footprint on the world. We can try to be green, but by travelling and touring we are emitting gases, using fuels and ultimately harming the planet.
Hardcore evangelists of the slow travel movement argue that it is impossible to be green if you fly somewhere, and that in fact, to minimise damage, it’s best if we all just stay at home.
Fraser Island is a top tourist attraction for over 400,000 visitors per year, and sometimes up to 600 visitors at any one site. People promoting tourism on the island tell you how 30 years ago, the island was logged and sandmined. It is only its 1992 listing as a World Heritage site and its 2007 entry onto the Australian National Heritage Register that really kickstarted tourism.
As a sand island, the tides and transitions mean that it regenerates quickly, constantly evolving. But should it be a case of the lesser of two evils? Or can tourism do some good?
Seeing the island isn’t enough. The outcome must be more positive than a mere passive snapshot. The value comes from understanding it, appreciating its uniqueness and resolving to help sustain this.
“If people aren’t allowed to appreciate and experience the importance and beauty of these areas, there will be no general acceptance of the necessity for conservation“, says Rob, owner of an eco-friendly property near Fraser Island.
He cites the example of humpback whales, whose population was once in the hundreds but is now more than 15,000 on the Australian east coast and growing by 10% every year. It was only with the emergence of the whale watching industry that this species became well known, and thus activity to prevent their extinction became active.
A study of tourists visiting dolphin reserves and watching in Tangalooma in south-east Australia found that environmental education can have a beneficial effect upon tourists, but that it must be part of a deliberate programme. It’s not enough to expose them to nature and hope they go away behaving more green.
Education can incite curiosity, emotion, and by allowing motivation and opportunities to act, result in changed behaviour. In fact, six times as many participants who joined an education programme reported an increase in eco-friendly behaviour, compared to those who didn’t.
A successful programme generates action, prompting responsible behaviour as well as increased knowledge and enjoyment. It’s up to tourists to choose one that doesn’t disrupt natural migratory or habitual patterns, and also to ask questions to ensure that they do leave with an enhanced appreciation of the animals, and an outlook of advocacy for environmental support – not just a selfie with a bottlenose dolphin.
One of the Fraser Island tour operators told me in great length how their tour guides all carry rubbish bags with them. But we all know not to throw rubbish; there needs to be something more.
It’s not enough for the staff to be trained and know not to throw litter. Customers and visitors must become active participants, and learn about the unique sanctity of the environment that they are to visit if the experience is to be one that is not only not harmful, but actively resulting in a positive outcome.
The researcher Margaret Lowman writes how in the Galapogos species face extinction due to over stretching of resources and damage from visitors. But she adds that she has seen in other areas the “salvation of exploited tropical regions by the interests of conservation and the economy of ecotourism working collectively“.
Keith, owner of Glass House Ecolodge in Queensland, believes that green tourism operators have the opportunity and duty to “provide guests with enhanced experiences that give them a greater sense of the wonder of the environment and the great outdoors“.
Those enhanced experiences must be active and aim for change. A token payment to offset carbon use isn’t enough. Education that is absorbed and leads to change in everyday life is the only way that the levels of damage inflicted by travel can then be argued to have a long-term positive impact.
And of course, it isn’t just the travel to and from a place, or the visits on a tour, which harm the environment. To fully understand the impact of travel, we would also need to consider resources used for travel, lodging, food, etc – all things that we would be using at home.
It is a mutual responsibility, from those in the tourist industry and tourists themselves, to ensure that they get the best experience and offer back the greatest support for the environment that has hosted them. If we can ensure that despite using these resources we are having a positive effect upon the world, then travel can be an environmentally enhancing experience. Pack your bags and get out there.
Francesca Baker is curious about life and enjoys writing about it. A freelance journalist, event organiser, and minor marketing whizz, she has plenty of ideas, and likes to share them. She writes about music, literature, life, travel, art, London, and other general musings, and organises events that contain at least one of the above. You can find out more at www.andsoshethinks.co.uk.
Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?
Technologists, engineers, lawmakers, and the general public have been excitedly debating about the merits of self-driving cars for the past several years, as companies like Waymo and Uber race to get the first fully autonomous vehicles on the market. Largely, the concerns have been about safety and ethics; is a self-driving car really capable of eliminating the human errors responsible for the majority of vehicular accidents? And if so, who’s responsible for programming life-or-death decisions, and who’s held liable in the event of an accident?
But while these questions continue being debated, protecting people on an individual level, it’s worth posing a different question: how will self-driving cars impact the environment?
The Big Picture
The Department of Energy attempted to answer this question in clear terms, using scientific research and existing data sets to project the short-term and long-term environmental impact that self-driving vehicles could have. Its findings? The emergence of self-driving vehicles could essentially go either way; it could reduce energy consumption in transportation by as much as 90 percent, or increase it by more than 200 percent.
That’s a margin of error so wide it might as well be a total guess, but there are too many unknown variables to form a solid conclusion. There are many ways autonomous vehicles could influence our energy consumption and environmental impact, and they could go well or poorly, depending on how they’re adopted.
One of the big selling points of autonomous vehicles is their capacity to reduce the total number of vehicles—and human drivers—on the road. If you’re able to carpool to work in a self-driving vehicle, or rely on autonomous public transportation, you’ll spend far less time, money, and energy on your own car. The convenience and efficiency of autonomous vehicles would therefore reduce the total miles driven, and significantly reduce carbon emissions.
There’s a flip side to this argument, however. If autonomous vehicles are far more convenient and less expensive than previous means of travel, it could be an incentive for people to travel more frequently, or drive to more destinations they’d otherwise avoid. In this case, the total miles driven could actually increase with the rise of self-driving cars.
As an added consideration, the increase or decrease in drivers on the road could result in more or fewer vehicle collisions, respectively—especially in the early days of autonomous vehicle adoption, when so many human drivers are still on the road. Car accident injury cases, therefore, would become far more complicated, and the roads could be temporarily less safe.
Deadheading is a term used in trucking and ridesharing to refer to miles driven with an empty load. Assume for a moment that there’s a fleet of self-driving vehicles available to pick people up and carry them to their destinations. It’s a convenient service, but by necessity, these vehicles will spend at least some of their time driving without passengers, whether it’s spent waiting to pick someone up or en route to their location. The increase in miles from deadheading could nullify the potential benefits of people driving fewer total miles, or add to the damage done by their increased mileage.
Make and Model of Car
Much will also depend on the types of cars equipped to be self-driving. For example, Waymo recently launched a wave of self-driving hybrid minivans, capable of getting far better mileage than a gas-only vehicle. If the majority of self-driving cars are electric or hybrids, the environmental impact will be much lower than if they’re converted from existing vehicles. Good emissions ratings are also important here.
On the other hand, the increased demand for autonomous vehicles could put more pressure on factory production, and make older cars obsolete. In that case, the gas mileage savings could be counteracted by the increased environmental impact of factory production.
The Bottom Line
Right now, there are too many unanswered questions to make a confident determination whether self-driving vehicles will help or harm the environment. Will we start driving more, or less? How will they handle dead time? What kind of models are going to be on the road?
Engineers and the general public are in complete control of how this develops in the near future. Hopefully, we’ll be able to see all the safety benefits of having autonomous vehicles on the road, but without any of the extra environmental impact to deal with.
Road Trip! How to Choose the Greenest Vehicle for Your Growing Family
When you have a growing family, it often feels like you’re in this weird bubble that exists outside of mainstream society. Whereas everyone else seemingly has stability, your family dynamic is continuously in flux. Having said that, is it even possible to buy an eco-friendly vehicle that’s also practical?
What to Look for in a Green, Family-Friendly Vehicle?
As a single person or young couple without kids, it’s pretty easy to buy a green vehicle. Almost every leading car brand has eco-friendly options these days and you can pick from any number of options. The only problem is that most of these models don’t work if you have kids.
Whether it’s a Prius or Smart car, most green vehicles are impractical for large families. You need to look for options that are spacious, reliable, and comfortable – both for passengers and the driver.
5 Good Options
As you do your research and look for different opportunities, it’s good to have an open mind. Here are some of the greenest options for growing families:
1. 2014 Chrysler Town and Country
Vans are not only popular for the room and comfort they offer growing families, but they’re also becoming known for their fuel efficiency. For example, the 2014 Chrysler Town and Country – which was one of CarMax’s most popular minivans of 2017 – has Flex Fuel compatibility and front wheel drive. With standard features like these, you can’t do much better at this price point.
2. 2017 Chrysler Pacifica
If you’re looking for a newer van and are willing to spend a bit more, you can go with Chrysler’s other model, the Pacifica. One of the coolest features of the 2017 model is the hybrid drivetrain. It allows you to go up to 30 miles on electric, before the vehicle automatically switches over to the V6 gasoline engine. For short trips and errands, there’s nothing more eco-friendly in the minivan category.
3. 2018 Volkswagen Atlas
Who says you have to buy a minivan when you have a family? Sure, the sliding doors are nice, but there are plenty of other options that are both green and spacious. The new Volkswagen Atlas is a great choice. It’s one of the most fuel-efficient third-row vehicles on the market. The four-cylinder model gets an estimated 26 mpg highway.
4. 2015 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid
While a minivan or SUV is ideal – and necessary if you have more than two kids – you can get away with a roomy sedan when you still have a small family. And while there are plenty of eco-friendly options in this category, the 2015 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid is arguably the biggest bang for your buck. It gets 38 mpg on the highway and is incredibly affordable.
5. 2017 Land Rover Range Rover Sport Diesel
If money isn’t an object and you’re able to spend any amount to get a good vehicle that’s both comfortable and eco-friendly, the 2017 Land Rover Range Rover Sport Diesel is your car. Not only does it get 28 mpg highway, but it can also be equipped with a third row of seats and a diesel engine. And did we mention that this car looks sleek?
Putting it All Together
You have a variety of options. Whether you want something new or used, would prefer an SUV or minivan, or want something cheap or luxurious, there are plenty of choices on the market. The key is to do your research, remain patient, and take your time. Don’t get too married to a particular transaction, or you’ll lose your leverage.
You’ll know when the right deal comes along, and you can make a smart choice that’s functional, cost-effective, and eco-friendly.
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