Environmental Issues Related to Traveling and Tourism

We all like traveling to distant places, but what are the environmental issues involved?

While you might not be thinking at such problems during your holiday, the traveling and tourism industry, unfortunately, has quite some negative effects on the environment, and this is a serious problem, since an estimated billion people are involved in such activities each year.

What are the consequences?

Impact of Tourism on the Environment

  • Carbon dioxide emissions. Automobile, trains and, especially, aviation are among the main sources of carbon emissions. It is widely acknowledged that anthropogenic carbon dioxide is the main cause of climate changes and global warming, with all the environmental issues involved. While there is an ongoing effort to design less polluting engines, few companies have enough financial resources to afford such innovative technologies.
  • Energy consumption and pollution. More people traveling worldwide means that more hotels and other facilities are necessary to accommodate feed and entertain them. That, in turn, means spending much more resources: energy, construction materials etc., plus causing more pollution through all the chemicals used. While energy-efficient buildings and non-toxic and eco-friendly solutions for cleaning, painting etc. are being developed, they are not yet globally-widespread.
  • Deforestation and destruction of natural ecosystems. Building all these facilities, but also roads, railways, airports, involves destroying native ecosystems, removing unique vegetation and leaving many wild animals without their habitats. While this is inevitable, conservation means need to be applied to preserve natural diversity.
  • Mass tourism. Millions and millions of people moving to one place cause significant environmental issues. Trespassing through natural areas, boating, scuba diving or fishing are activities that may be sustainable if done by a limited human population. But, when numbers rise to such values, the negative impact on the environment cannot be stopped. It is just a matter of numbers.
  • Competition for space. Humans and wildlife are not really habituated with living one next to each other. Mass tourism and lots of people moving from one place to another just means that there is a high possibility that they will have to compete for the same space. Humans are encroaching on natural reserves, and other protected areas are a stress factor for both parties involved. Animals find their habitat threatened, while incidents involving animal attacks on humans are more and more common.
  • Invasive species. Many people moving increases the chances for wild species to be accidentally carried to distant areas. It may be about some tiny spores or seeds, but the environmental issues caused can be severe.

Nuclear Energy and Environmental Issues

One of the most debated problems these days is nuclear energy: is it a feasible alternative to fossil fuels, or the environmental issues related are too much to further support this type of industry?

Here are the main three concerns regarding nuclear energy:

  • It is not a truly regenerable energy source; how does uranium extraction and processing affect the environment?
  • Accidents are possible, with potentially devastating effects.
  • Nuclear activity leaves us with radioactive waste; what are the environmental costs?

So, here are some ideas on each possible downside of this technology:

Sustainability

All nuclear power plants operate through nuclear fission reactions. While possible, hydrogen-based fusion energy is still the subject of research, as we currently do not have the technology to use it for power production. For fusion reactions, certain radioisotopes are needed and this basically means that we need to mine for uranium. What are the related environmental issues?

Well, it is a finite resource, and mining causes, obviously, some disturbance to local ecosystems. Not to mention consuming energy to enrich it. Plus that it can easily fuel conflicts, being rather rare (see the wars in Congo or Mali).

But, that is also true for oil, gas, metals, and any other resources. Yes, uranium will end at one point, so it is not the final solution to the energy problem, but it will take much longer to deplete it than with fossil fuels.

Accidents

Anyone knows about Chernobyl. It is unclear how many people suffered from this tragic event, not to mention various environmental issues caused by radiation. But, in the whole history of mankind, there were only three accidents caused by nuclear power: Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima.

Compare it with any other industries, let’s say coal mining, or, with the less obvious, but much worse effects pollution from fossil fuel burning have caused for decades, including casualties.

And, there is more: security measures are now so strict that it took a huge tsunami to cause the Fukushima incident – not something common to many places around the world, though.

Nuclear Waste

Radioactive waste is, indeed a sensitive problem. It needs strict measures for being stored safely, and it takes long time before it loses its radioactivity.

While “radiation” is a scary word, all responsible governments set limits that are much below those that can actually harm living organisms. So, if regulations are respected, there are no significant environmental issues to occur.

Shale Gas Exploitation and Environmental Issues

The “Shale Gas Revolution” in the US and other parts of the world has obvious economic benefits, but also involves some highly-debated environmental issues. What are the main criticisms drawn by this innovative technology and what are the responses of the gas industry?

Potential Environmental Hazards

  • Hydraulic fracturing can pollute groundwater and soil. This is because, besides the 99% water content, the fracking fluid contains many other components, such as surfactants, scale inhibitors, corrosion inhibitors, antibacterial and others, most of which are unknown to the public.
  • Gas leaks can have toxic effects and cause fire hazard. Gas leakage was reported in some areas where this kind of activity occurs. Videos showing tap water catching fire are viral on the Internet and television.
  • Fracking fluid disposal. A smaller or larger fraction of the fluid injected comes back together with various chemicals retrieved from the shale layer. One of the most debated environmental issues is what happens with that fluid. Where is it disposed of and how? Does it pollute water basins and soil?
  • Water consumption. The whole fracking process seems to need large amounts of water. Some are deeply worried that this means wasting local freshwater reserves.
  • Minor earthquakes. This industrial activity is often accused of being somehow connected to earthquakes with a magnitude up to 3.0.

Responses

  • According to the companies involved in shale gas exploration and exploitation, the chemical compounds found in the fracking fluid respect all national and local regulations and are, actually, compounds that you usually find in any natural water source, just that their concentration is a bit higher. Thus, causing environmental issues is unlikely. Not to say that the drilling depth greatly exceeds that of aquifers.
  • Proper build-up of drilling installations avoid gas leaks; it is definitely not in the interest of any company to lose gas. Furthermore, most burning tap water events registered have no connection with fracking, but with superficial natural gas reserves.
  • The fracking fluid is usually treated, in order to be reused, or returned in natural water, respecting all existing regulations.
  • Fracking water is reused again and again, otherwise it would mean high costs for the exploiting companies. Not to mention that fracking consumes less water than many other current industrial activities, like nuclear energy production.
  • There is no proven link between fracking and earthquakes and no logical connection, since drilling can hardly move tectonic plates. And, since the Richter scale is logarithmic, earthquakes of that magnitude are one of the most negligible possible environmental issues.

Environmental Issues and Marketing

Concern for environmental issues sells! This is a reality of modern times. More and more customers are concerned with environment health and are interested in products and services that are eco-friendly or, at least, they might be easily convinced to choose such products.

The main cause of the growing interest for environment is, no doubt about it, mass media, plus the visible activity of “green” NGOs. Terms like “sustainability”, “carbon footprint” and others like that are now a part of the current vocabulary. This trend, obviously, influences the techniques used to market various products.

Issues of Interest

What are the problems that draw most attention from “green” customers, when it comes to buying a product? What are the main environmental issues that preoccupy this increasing population segment?

Here are the top 3:

  • How resource exploitation, production process and packaging the product affect the environment, in terms of ecosystem disruption and pollution.
  • How eco-friendly the supplying process is. This especially means the pollution caused by transportation.
  • Recyclability of products – where they go after they are out of use.

We should keep in mind that environmentally-friendly practices often mean money saving for the client. For instance, lower transportation-related pollution is translated into lower fuel costs that reflect on the final price.

Likewise, using recycled material as a raw resource lowers production costs. While this means co-interesting the buyer, from a financial point of view, there are situations when the opposite happens.

Think of organic food products. By not using pesticides and synthetic fertilizers, the environment is less harmed, but production costs and the final price increase.

In such situations, convincing the client to invest some extra money in solving some environmental issues is necessary.

Strategies

How to market “green” products? Well, first of all, transparency and fairness are essential. Saying that a product is eco-friendly from one point of view, while hiding many negative effects it has on the environment, is not an option.

Nowadays, customers have lots of information sources. For somebody who is dedicated to “green” ideas, it is not difficult to do a quick search on the Internet and find out the truth. This also means that giving a detailed description on how various production and delivery phases help Mother Nature is extremely important.

Another key idea is underlining the benefits the buyer directly gets from the “green” properties of that product (saving money, protecting health etc.). People understand better environmental issues when they are directly affected by them.

Major Contemporary Environmental Issues

Any change to the Global environment will, sooner or later, show its effects on the human society, and that is why there are several environmental issues that we should be really worried about. Here are the main threats to our future:

Global Warming

Anyone has heard about climate changes and global warming. While this process may indeed come on a natural temperature increase trend, there is little doubt that the human industry is its major cause.

Whenever we burn fossil fuels, we increase the percentage of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Note that there is a big difference between burning wood or bio-fuels and burning coal, oil or gas.

In the first situation, we simply release back carbon that was fixed through photosynthesis in a matter of months or years. In the latter, we release carbon that took millions of years to sediment and which, otherwise, would not be part of the natural atmospheric carbon cycle.

That carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas is no secret, just take a look on Venus. But, one of the worst environmental issues is that it causes a runaway greenhouse effect. Increasing temperatures mean releasing methane from melting permafrost in circumpolar regions. And methane is a greenhouse gas more than 25 times stronger.

Ozone Layer Depletion

This is mostly caused by atmospheric pollution, especially with halocarbons (the infamous CFCs, or freons). The ozone layer in the upper atmosphere is our shield, protecting us from noxious ultraviolet rays.

Less ozone means a higher incidence of skin cancer, plus a wide variety of effects on Earth’s Biosphere.

Fortunately, the holes in the ozone layer have begun shrinking. The reasons are the strict regulations that limit the production and release of CFCs. It is a good example on how determined policies can solve environmental issues.

Pollution

The release of industrial and agricultural toxins in the water reserves of the world and in the atmosphere has damaging effects on our health and on natural ecosystems.

Destruction of Natural Resources

The living world has a unique capacity of regenerating itself. However, there is a thin line between rational exploitation and excess.

Here are two examples:

  • Many traditional fishing areas, like South America’s Pacific Coast, are now almost devoid of fish. Decades of overfishing have simply destroyed the natural populations. This impacts not only those species, but also the people depending on them as a food source.
  • Rainforests are being cut down to make room for agriculture, at an alarming rate. But these ecosystems host one of the highest bio-diversities conceivable, including many useful resources, such as medicinal plants.

Solving such environmental issues is mandatory, if we want our species to survive on this planet.