Tourism Is Much Worse for the Environment Than We Thought, and It's Not Just About Your Plane's Carbon Emissions
It’s been known for years that air travel is one of the worst things a person can do for the environment. In fact, just one round-trip flight from New York to California emits 20 percent of the greenhouse gases produced by the typical passenger vehicle over the course of an entire year.
However, in even worse news for travel-lovers, a recent study found that tourism accounts for a full 8 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. This includes not only plane transit, but food production for tourists; hotel construction, maintenance and cleaning; and the manufacture and sale of souvenirs.
We learned in elementary school that trees are good for the atmosphere because they take in harmful carbon dioxide (as well as carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide) and release oxygen. Rainforests, those dense, rich, species-diverse forests, have historically been so good at this, they’ve been dubbed “the lungs of the planet.” Tropical forests store carbon, known as carbon sequestration, in their stems, leaves and roots, rather than releasing it to the atmosphere where it contributes to global warming and climate change. Unfortunately, these natural lungs appear to be losing their function, releasing more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than they take in, according to a new study in the journal Science. Given that tropical forests store 25 percent of the global carbon and are home to 96 percent of the world's tree species, this new research reveals a potentially huge impact.
After analyzing satellite imagery of Asia, Africa and the Americas, researchers determined that deforestation, in which forests are torn down and replaced with urban spaces, farms or roads, is stealing the atmosphere-purifying power of these forests. However, it’s not just the sheer loss of numbers of trees that are responsible for the shift, the researchers say, so much as it is a decline in diversity of the kinds of trees that remain.
There may be no natural disaster more humbling than hurricanes, with their gale force winds and flood-surges that destroy people’s homes, livelihoods and lives. Now two of them, back-to-back, have battered the United States and parts of the Caribbean and Cuba in the space of three weeks, including Harvey, a Category 4 hurricane, which left much of Houston underwater, and Irma, which started out as a Category 5, the biggest hurricane to hit the United States since Andrew in 1992.
“The U.S. has never been hit, since we started collecting records in 1851, by two Category 4 or stronger hurricanes in the same season,” said Jeff Masters, a meteorologist and co-founder of Weather Underground.