Study Says Global Tourism's Carbon Footprint Is 4 Times Bigger

Science | By Ian Anglin | May 18, 2018

Global warming is a topic which never ceases to lose public interest. Even though there is no concrete evidence that it is really happening due to pollution, the majority of scientists share the opinion that it is taking place, and the main culprit is the carbon footprint caused by humans. It is worthwhile to look at one source of carbon emission that hasn't been considered before: the carbon footprint caused by global tourism. Indeed, tourism is not as harmless as it seems at first glance.

The Effect of Global Tourism

Global tourism is responsible for 8% of the overall worldwide gas emissions. It is four times bigger than it was previously thought. Gases like carbon dioxide and methane trap heat in the atmosphere, thereby causing a "greenhouse effect". Methane accounts for about 20% of the total gases that cause the "greenhouse effect". A fun fact, Paleo climatologists suggest that flatulence from dinosaurs may have warmed the Earth.

A "carbon footprint" is the number of gasses that are released by a particular activity. According to the researchers at the University of Sydney, the "carbon footprint" of global tourism has increased by 3% every year from 2009 to 2013. It is forecasted that it will continue to grow by 4% annually, thus it will outpace many other economic sectors. This is a reason for major concern since global tourism is a contributor to the economy of many countries, and it is unlikely that its growth will diminsh.

Looking Beyond Air Travel

Looking at global-scale air travel is a trillion-dollar, energy intensive industry. Previous research done on tourism emissions showed that it accounted for 2.5 to 3% of the global greenhouse gas emissions, however, it did not take into account the emissions caused by the production of food and beverages, infrastructure, jorretail services. Arunima Malik, the lead author of the new study, conducted an analysis of global tourism in 189 countries around the world.

What distinguishes this study from previous studies is that it tracks tourists from their country of residence to their tourist destination and back. It further estimated the carbon emissions from the production of goods and services that the tourists used. For example, public transport, hotel stay, the buying of food, etc. Since the study goes in such detail, it provides a more complete picture of the gas emissions caused by global tourism.

Results and Solutions

The increase of emissions caused by global tourism is 17%. Half of it occurred in high-income countries from 2009 to 2013. China, which is a middle-income country, had the highest growth of 17.4% annually. The first place belongs to the USA, then China, Germany, and India. The research showed that high-income countries are both the origin and the destination of travelers. The research was not able to go into further details like alternative scenarios where the tourists would have stayed at home instead of traveling. The goal would have been to estimate if that scenario would cause fewer carbon emissions.

According to Daniel Scott, a professor at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, people are often surprised when they are faced with the fact that tourism causes major gas emissions. Instead of buying an electric car or installing solar panels, sometimes it is better to change the way people travel. There are major concerns since global tourism will grow in the future, and so will the carbon emissions. It would be preferable if people could fly less often, so when a celebrity complains about global warming yet they own a private jet, point out at their hypocrisy.



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