Why is travel and tourism’s footprint so much bigger than we thought?

May 15, 2018

A new study published earlier this month concluded that travel and tourism may impact our climate 3-4 times more than we previously thought.

I’m not surprised by the change in that number (from about 2% of global emissions to 8%) because the older estimates left out some pretty important parts of tourism.

“…those [previous] estimates didn’t take into account emissions all along the supply chain of goods and services related to the industry. ” (Source)

Simply put, every tourist creates a ripple effect of costs and benefits between the place they travel from through the places they travel to. Services that impact our climate are a part of those travel choices.

It’s important to say aloud, though, that the emissions are there whether we measure them or not. Climate Change is not a faith-based system. The advantage of capturing emissions through the whole traveling process is clear. Because we can only fix what we can measure, we must continually improve how we measure emissions and which activities create them.

Now that the May 7th article in Nature Climate Change has been published, we’ll begin to find the inevitable three-pronged response: confusion, dismissal, and support.

  • “Climate scientists can’t make up their minds. How bad is this really? How can we trust them ‘this time’?”
  • “The numbers just don’t add up! How can my economy seat cause so few emissions compared to a first class seat on the same flight? It’s all bogus!”
  • “This is further proof that we are damaging the climate worse than we thought and everyone needs to stop traveling altogether.”

I’m a firm believer that uncovering problems is an absolute necessity for the continued success of our species. That includes inconvenient truths and iterative science. Knowing the problem we face helps us solve them.

By working together to solve these travel-related emissions, we can create tangible solutions that make sense and protect the cities that bear the brunt of every tourist season. This includes airlines, cruise lines, rideshares, hospitality groups, airports, cities, and even tour groups. Yes, cities bear the brunt of the damage from emissions and yes, the value from tourism as well. But that equation is unbalanced today.

Carbon offsets that build and support green places in the cities where tourists travel can be a part of the larger solution.