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Climate Change Travel - 
or Is It Global Warming Tourism?

Some call it climate change travel, global warming tourism, or the tourism of doom. It's all the same: travel to places that are endangered and might soon disappear.

Wanting to see a place before it is gone forever is understandable - it really is a once-in-a-lifetime chance. 

But how ethical is it? Your visit may actually be contributing to the problem so you should think seriously before you take that trip.

Let me give you an example. Some years ago as a journalist I traveled to the Amazon rainforest to write about tree fellingand rubber tapping. I may have been on assignment, but that didn't stop me from enjoying my surroundings. But here's the thing: plenty of other travelers were doing the same.

The result? More forests felled to make way for roads to carry tourists; more trees felled to make way for ranches to raise cattle that contribute to greenhouse gases and feed the tourists; razing of mangroves and other areas to make way for tourism development; disappearance of species as their natural habitat is destroyed; the contribution of additional carbon dioxide to the atmosphere by extra flights put on for tourists. And the list continues.

Another example of climate change travel is Arctic travel - getting to the ice mass before it melts. The same goes for the Alps, whose glaciers are retreating yearly. Or visiting the Maldives before they are covered by the ocean.

It's that human instinct to "see things before they're spoiled." Problem is, we may be part of the spoilage. If you've ever been to the East coast of Spain, you'll know exactly what I mean. Tourism now accounts for 5% of carbon emissions worldwide - and tourism is on the rise.

Should you go at all?

If you decide that you can engage in your bit of climate change travel without making the problem worse, there are still some things you can do to help:

  • Are you flying? If so, make sure you calculate your carbon emissions and offset them.
  • Think fuel efficient. Drive instead of flying. Bike instead of driving. Walk.
  • Make a contribution to an environmental charity that is protecting the site you are visiting.
  • Travel green. If you're using a company - and in some far-off places you may have to - check their environmental track record.
  • Reuse towels. Turn lights off. Don't litter. Recycle.
  • Take fewer trips and stay longer.

If you decide to go

Opinions differ about which places will disappear but this slide show from Treehugger will certainly trigger your thinking.

Plenty of other regions are in harm's way: low-lying coastal areas, especially the most populated and poor ones; water tables and snow-covered mountains whose covers are melting; poorly-built settlements in the way of tornadoes, cyclones and other increasingly violent natural phenomena; underwater treasures of coral and reefs, which will die if water warms up too much.

How do you decide on climate change travel?

Not easily.

Some countries threatened by extinction are encouraging - even begging - tourists to visit: the extra income will help finance their resettlement when disaster does eventually strike.

Others will argue that by plowing money into a community, those who live there will quickly see the economic advantages of conserving their environment and the benefits of ecotourism.

However you resolve this dilemma, if you do engage in climate change travel, at least make sure you don't do too much damage while you're there.

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