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Sustainable holiday destinations: Alaska

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Alaska is fast becoming a thriving holiday destination, captivating visitors with its pristine wilderness and wild adventures. Its plentiful natural capital makes it an ideal location for people to rediscover their relationship with wildlife and nature.

In terms of overall area, Alaska is the largest state in the US. It has the Arctic Ocean to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the south and west. Juneau is the state capital and the third largest city by population size behind Anchorage and Fairbanks.

Alaska is comprised of eight designated national parks, including distinguished preserves such as Wrangell-St Elias national park and Denali national park.

Wrangell-St Elias covers some of the St Elias Mountains and is part of an International Biosphere Reserve. Alongside other national parks like Glacier Bay, it forms a proportion of a UNESCO World Heritage Site – which contains the largest non-polar icefield in the world.

The Denali national park is home to Mount McKinley – the highest peak in North America, with the summit at over 20,000ft. One of Alaska’s most popular attractions, Denali attracts over 400,000 visitors annually. People flock to see its spectacular wildlife, such as the largest bears in the world – the brown bear – as well as other animals like mooses and wolves.

Visitors to Alaska can discover its pure wilderness through a variety of forms, from mountains hikes exploring many of the breathtaking mountain, glacier and lake location views, to outdoor backcountry treks and excursions along extensive trails and nature paths.

In the winter season, snow pursuits, sport and culture events rank highly as major motivations to visit. Iconic winter sport activities such as the official state sport of dog mushing, as well as snowboarding, skiing and snowshoeing, attract a significant amount of attention.

During the summer, ocean day cruises at destinations like Kenai Fjords provide passenger with a platform to watch whales and other aquatic wildlife. Seals, sea otters and puffins are commonly found in the open, as well as seeing the magnificent landscape and coast of Alaska. Furthermore you can experience a riverboat ride in the Alaska Interior aboard an authentic, grand sternwheeler. A range of sporting activities can be undertaken in rivers and across trails like kayaking, mountain biking, canoeing, rafting and angling.

The Alaska Railroad connects and transports passengers and freight services right across many of the state’s hard to reach places, since its inception in 1914. The railroad takes travellers on an adventure through spectacular Alaskan scenery, extending from Seward and Whittier in the south to Fairbanks and beyond. Routes and rail tours present the opportunity to visit the national parks by rail, and travel on the railroad’s flagship train, the Denali Star Train.

Two state-wide organisations have outlined responsible tourism practices as fundamental for stable tourism development in Alaska. Adventure Green Alaska is the state’s only tourism certification programme. Businesses have to reach and implement rigorous standards of environmental and social sustainability in order to become certified. Meanwhile, the Alaska Wilderness Recreation & Tourism Association (AWRTA) is a membership association representing ecotourism businesses in Alaska. As part of its ecotourism guidelines, businesses should seek to minimise their impact on the natural environment, as well as benefitting the local economy and communities directly.

Accommodation and local cuisine brings a whole new dimension to your stay in Alaska – from all-inclusive wilderness lodges and resorts, to rustic cabins, to more affordable options like campgrounds and hostels. Restaurants often offer locally sourced produce on their menus, as well as local beer. Set up by the State Division of Agriculture, the Alaska Grown programme and accompanying logo recognises brands that are grown locally, and raises awareness of Alaska grown products.

Despite its attractiveness as a holiday destination, there is a growing debate about whether holidaying in the polar regions such as Antarctica and glacial areas like Alaska and Iceland is a responsible thing to do. Concerns have been raised over unnecessary travel to these areas, with their mountain terrain vulnerable to excessive human activity. This can result in the loss of natural ecosystems and vibrant wildlife.

But sustainable and responsible tourism activity in regions like Alaska can certainly be beneficial in stimulating the local economy, enterprise and job creation. However, major tourism development must avoid or even reverse the effects of this form of activity on environmental degradation.

Alaska continues to develop as a sustainable holiday destination. Its commitment to sustainability will help prevent the rapid decline of vulnerable landscapes, and retain its inspiring glacial presence. It offers access to quality, beautiful and low impact travel to natural habitats and memorable sites.

What a state membership association says about Alaska

“Alaska is truly unique with its diverse land, ecosystems and cultures. Sustainable tourism is very important for our state. While we encourage tourism, we also abide by the regulations that preserve our natural resources and respect the Alaska native culture and lands.”

Jenni Pollard, President, Adventure Green Alaska

Further reading:

Sustainable holiday destinations: Kenya

Sustainable holiday destinations: Blue Mountains, New South Wales

Sustainable holiday destinations: Costa Rica

Sustainable holiday destinations: the Azores

The Guide to Sustainable Tourism 2014

Economy

Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?

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self-driving cars for green environment
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Zapp2Photo | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/zapp2photo

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.

Driver Reduction?

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

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.

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Economy

New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035

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renewable energy policy
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Eviart / https://www.shutterstock.com/g/adrian825

New Zealand’s prime minister-elect Jacinda Ardern is already taking steps towards reducing the country’s carbon footprint. She signed a coalition deal with NZ First in October, aiming to generate 100% of the country’s energy from renewable sources by 2035.

New Zealand is already one of the greenest countries in the world, sourcing over 80% of its energy for its 4.7 million people from renewable resources like hydroelectric, geothermal and wind. The majority of its electricity comes from hydro-power, which generated 60% of the country’s energy in 2016. Last winter, renewable generation peaked at 93%.

Now, Ardern is taking on the challenge of eliminating New Zealand’s remaining use of fossil fuels. One of the biggest obstacles will be filling in the gap left by hydropower sources during dry conditions. When lake levels drop, the country relies on gas and coal to provide energy. Eliminating fossil fuels will require finding an alternative source to avoid spikes in energy costs during droughts.

Business NZ’s executive director John Carnegie told Bloomberg he believes Ardern needs to balance her goals with affordability, stating, “It’s completely appropriate to have a focus on reducing carbon emissions, but there needs to be an open and transparent public conversation about the policies and how they are delivered.”

The coalition deal outlined a few steps towards achieving this, including investing more in solar, which currently only provides 0.1% of the country’s energy. Ardern’s plans also include switching the electricity grid to renewable energy, investing more funds into rail transport, and switching all government vehicles to green fuel within a decade.

Zero net emissions by 2050

Beyond powering the country’s electricity grid with 100% green energy, Ardern also wants to reach zero net emissions by 2050. This ambitious goal is very much in line with her focus on climate change throughout the course of her campaign. Environmental issues were one of her top priorities from the start, which increased her appeal with young voters and helped her become one of the youngest world leaders at only 37.

Reaching zero net emissions would require overcoming challenging issues like eliminating fossil fuels in vehicles. Ardern hasn’t outlined a plan for reaching this goal, but has suggested creating an independent commission to aid in the transition to a lower carbon economy.

She also set a goal of doubling the number of trees the country plants per year to 100 million, a goal she says is “absolutely achievable” using land that is marginal for farming animals.

Greenpeace New Zealand climate and energy campaigner Amanda Larsson believes that phasing out fossil fuels should be a priority for the new prime minister. She says that in order to reach zero net emissions, Ardern “must prioritize closing down coal, putting a moratorium on new fossil fuel plants, building more wind infrastructure, and opening the playing field for household and community solar.”

A worldwide shift to renewable energy

Addressing climate change is becoming more of a priority around the world and many governments are assessing how they can reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and switch to environmentally-friendly energy sources. Sustainable energy is becoming an increasingly profitable industry, giving companies more of an incentive to invest.

Ardern isn’t alone in her climate concerns, as other prominent world leaders like Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron have made renewable energy a focus of their campaigns. She isn’t the first to set ambitious goals, either. Sweden and Norway share New Zealand’s goal of net zero emissions by 2045 and 2030, respectively.

Scotland already sources more than half of its electricity from renewable sources and aims to fully transition by 2020, while France announced plans in September to stop fossil fuel production by 2040. This would make it the first country to do so, and the first to end the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles.

Many parts of the world still rely heavily on coal, but if these countries are successful in phasing out fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable resources, it could serve as a turning point. As other world leaders see that switching to sustainable energy is possible – and profitable – it could be the start of a worldwide shift towards environmentally-friendly energy.

Sources: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-11-06/green-dream-risks-energy-security-as-kiwis-aim-for-zero-carbon

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-france-hydrocarbons/france-plans-to-end-oil-and-gas-production-by-2040-idUSKCN1BH1AQ

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