Sunscreen. Camera. Carbon debt. These days, vacationers have a lot more to think about than just packing.
Summer vacation. It's a phrase that sounds like heaven to most people. For me, it meant different things at different ages. As a child it meant sweating in silence in the back seat as we drove several hundred miles west to visit family. In my teenage years vacations were synonymous with swimsuits and a train to the Jersey shore. These days I've switched from trains to planes (and from a two-piece to a one piece), and I prefer Oregon's cool Pacific waters to New Jersey's lovely but crowded beaches.
But these days there's more to vacationing than merely worrying about what to wear and who you might see. Environmentally savvy tourists also consider the effect their travels will have on the environment. Should I travel by plane or by car? Will it make a difference whether I stay at a hotel, a friend's house, a campsite? And how can I offset the impact my activities will have?
For most of us, of course, our budget has the final say in what we ultimately plan for vacation. Since we're learning so much about climate change these days, I thought I'd see what effect my travel options would have on the environment, using AMERICAN FORESTS' new Personal Climate Change Calculator at www.americanforests.org.
It's doubtful that many of us would base our trip choices on carbon dioxide (CO2) output. But why not try to understand, and even compensate for, vacation activities that generate greenhouse gases and climate change. AMERICAN FORESTS' calculator also figures how many trees you should plant to offset your CO2 emissions. Growing new trees pulls carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere naturally, and, in addition to energy conservation, is an effective way to offset CO2 emissions.
Climate change, of course, is caused by rising levels of greenhouse gases-especially carbon dioxide. Our industrial society, powered by fossil fuel combustion, pumps tons of manmade CO2 into the atmosphere every day, more than the planet's natural systems can absorb. If we don't make changes soon, the world's temperature could rise as much as 7 degrees Fahrenheit by 2020, according to the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.
Trees naturally convert carbon dioxide into carbon and store it in their leaves, trunk, and bark. To remove one ton of CO2, AMERICAN FORESTS plants three trees. In addition to storing or sequestering carbon, trees provide wildlife habitat, prevent erosion, and beautify the planet for generations to come.
Here's some ways to see how your vacation choices could boost or lessen your yearly climate change impact.
Vehicles, of course, are one of the most significant contributors to climate change. Cars, planes, buses, and trains all release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as they burn fuel.
For example, taken as a whole, airplane emissions have a greater climate change impact than previously thought, according to a recent report from the International Panel on Climate Change. The cumulative impact of CO2, nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide, and water vapor has two to five times the impact of CO2 alone.
But you can reduce your personal climate change impact by using more fuel-efficient modes of transportation. For example, instead of renting or driving a car, you could take a train, or bus. Your share of CO2 emissions will be much smaller for a bus ride than for a car trip.
Of course, not all destinations are accessible by bus, and you can't always cram two kids and the family dog onto a Greyhound. In those instances consider using or renting a fuel-efficient car. Not only will you save money, but cars with higher miles per gallon have a reduced impact on the atmosphere.
Another way to conserve fuel is to select a car without an air conditioner. It can lessen a car's fuel efficiency by as much as 20 percent, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. And car air conditioners leak refrigerant that is particularly harmful for the environment. A good rule of thumb: Before embarking on your trip, have a certified technician check your car air conditioner for leaks.
Whether you use a luxurious hotel or a well-worn tent, your lodging choices will have an impact. That's because any time you use electricity, oil, or natural gas, it adds CO2 to the atmosphere.
A trend among hotelliers could make things easier for those concerned about CO2 emissions. The Climate Neutral Network, a national alliance of companies, environmental organizations, and government agencies, now awards Climate Neutral Certification to hotels and other businesses that prove their operations are climateneutral. To earn certification, hotels undergo a vigorous audit to measure energy efficiency, water use, and other factors that affect CO2 emissions. Then the hotel chooses projects-such as tree planting or equipment upgrades-to make its CO2 emissions have zero or negative impact on global warming.
Tedd Saunders, executive vice president of Saunders Hotel Group, recently received certification for his family's two hotels; a third will receive certification after it opens. For now, visitors to Boston can find carbon-neutral accommodations at The Lenox, a four-star hotel, and Copley Square, a three-star hotel.
"We have had an environmental management program for almost nine years," says Saunders, who also runs Ecological Solutions, a consulting business that helps other hotels become more environmentally friendly. "We're building upon that leadership by working with [the Network] to stay ahead of the curve."
Although the designations won't affect many travelers yet, it could influence future consumer choices, Saunders predicts.
Last but not least, if you're to be really comprehensive about the carbon impact for your trip, you will need to account for recreational activities. Some things to consider: Is it absolutely necessary to take a car to the museum or could you use the bus and get some local color along the way? What about personal watercraft, which both add to air and noise pollution and are under fire for the harm they can do to the shoreline?
THE ABCS OF THE CALCULATOR
AMERICAN FORESTS in 1996 designed a household carbon dioxide emissions worksheet for those interested in figuring how their actions affected the environment.
Since then, the scientific community has learned much about greenhouse gases and climate change. This year the Shaklee Corporation, which manufactures health and wellness products, asked AMERICAN FORESTS to update its calculator for better use on the Internet, part of Shaklee's commitment to climateneutral initiatives to fight global warming. The Climate Neutral Network recently named Shaklee the nation's first climate neutral corporation.
"We had been working very hard to become the first U.S. company that is carbon neutral," says Karin Topping, Shaklee's director of public relations. "The calculator seemed like a great tool for individuals to look at their own emissions and see what they need to do to offset them."
You don't have to be a math whiz to use the calculator, which can figure emissions for a single event, such as vacation travel, or for the entire year. Go to the online calculator at www.americanforests.org, and it will prompt you to fill in your annual household use of energy. It also includes energy use for driving and flying.
If you're unsure about specific mileage or usages, click on and use the "U.S. averages," based on figures from government agencies and nonprofit organizations. Your emissions totals will be tallied instantly. The calculator automatically figures the number of trees you need to plant to offset your activities.
This summer, when you're planning your summer adventure, calculate the ecological impacts as well. Then, when you're stopping the paper and the mail, remember to plant some trees as well. AF
Instead of a CO2-filled vacation. Associate Editor Janine Guglielmino plans one with plenty of NaClaround the rim of her Margarita glass.
USING THE CALCULATOR FOR VACATION & BEYOND
This year I'm debating between a trip to San Francisco and a week at North Carolina's Outer Banks. Using the Personal Climate Change Calculator at www.americanforests.org, I figured my CO2 emissions for these trips. First, San Francisco. With the distance and my time constraints, plane travel is my only viable option. A round-trip flight would take me approximately 5,640 miles, and my portion of the flight's CO2 emissions would equal more than 2,480 pounds. I would need to plant three trees for that trip alone.
But what about the beach? Traveling from Washington, D.C., o car that gets 28 miles per gallon (mpg) would emit about 571 pounds of CO2 far the approximately 537-mile round-trip vacation. Train travel cuts emissions to 322 pounds, airline travel to about 236. The most environmentally friendly option, surprisingly enough, is the bus, where my share of CO2 emissions weighed in at just 107 pounds-about 5 times less than the car.
I also figured the number of trees I would need to plant to offset seven days in a hotel. Using the calculator's apartment category, I figure my electricity emissions for the week by dividing my yearly average (5,990 kWh) by 52, the number of weeks in each year. Seven days at a hotel will emit about 173 pounds of CO2 for electricity-one tree.
But if all these numbers seem a litte confusing, just go is AMERICAN FORESTS' home page and hit the button labeled "Improve the climate for Your Vocation-" There, you con choose among three vacation scenarios: "Frst Class," far two roundtrip cross-country flights and two weeks at a resort; the "Family Style," a 1,200-mile roundtrip minivan vacation for four with a week at an amusement park; or "Back to Nature," an 800-mile roundtrip car vacation for four with canoeing and camping. Choose the one that sounds most like your vacation. Good luck, and happy trails!…