Cruising for Climate Change

By Guglielmino, Janine E. | American Forests, Summer 2000 | Go to article overview

Cruising for Climate Change

Guglielmino, Janine E., American Forests

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

It's doubtful that many of us would base our trip choices on carbon dioxide ([CO.sub.2]) 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 [CO.sub.2] emissions. Growing new trees pulls carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere naturally, and, in addition to energy conservation, is an effective way to offset [CO.sub.2] 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 [CO.sub.2] 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 [CO.sub.2] 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 [CO.sub.2] 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 [CO.sub.2] emissions will be much smaller 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 without an air conditioner. …

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