Awareness of these growing environmental threats has created a new trend in the travel industry, known variously as climate change travel, climate change sightseeing, global warming travel, even the tourism of doom. Spurred by the threat that global warming poses to many popular destinations, travelers are hurrying to see these places before they disappear. But in doing so, they may be contributing to the problem; carbon emissions from flights, rental cars and other tourist activities only help further climate change.
This conflict creates an ethical dilemma for travelers looking to see the world without harming it. Can the benefits of travel outweigh its environmental impact? What questions should you consider when deciding whether to visit an endangered destination? And if you do decide to travel, how can you minimize your environmental footprint? Read on.
Top Five Eco-Destinations
Global warming has left few places untouched. Rising temperatures have harmed Vermont's maple syrup industry and shortened the ski season in the Rocky Mountains. The combination of melting glaciers and rising oceans threatens to flood low-lying lands such as Bangladesh, the Netherlands and the small Pacific island of Tuvalu. Global warming has even been blamed for the hurricanes that have devastated New Orleans and the Gulf Coast in recent years.
However, though climate change will continue to affect many beloved tourist destinations, there are certain areas of the world that are particularly vulnerable -- to the point that they may be altered irrevocably over the next few decades. Here are a few:
Alaska: Alaska is warming five times faster than the rest of the planet, jeopardizing its famous glaciers and frozen tundra. That's bad news not only for travelers seeking snowy scenery but also for Alaskans living in remote coastal villages, where receding ice is literally melting the ground out from under their feet.
Venice: This most beautiful and fragile of Italian cities is no stranger to floods; thanks to its location on the shifting sediments of a lagoon, Venice has been sinking for centuries, and tides have long ebbed and flowed through the city's stately squares. However, in the second half of the 20th century, the flooding accelerated. In 1900, St. Mark's Square was only flooded seven times; in 1996, it happened 99 times. Rising ocean levels due to global warming pose a huge threat to this low-lying city.
The Italian government has begun constructing steel gates at the entrances to the Venetian lagoon, designed to block tidal surges from flooding the city. However, these barriers may not be enough to cope with global warming, and may also cause ecological and waste management problems for the city.
Glacier National Park: In less than a decade, the name of Montana's famous park may be a misnomer; according to the National Park Service, some scientists believe the glaciers here may be gone by 2020. They have already receded so visibly that scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey are using the park as a major site for research on climate change.
The Great Barrier Reef: Australia's Great Barrier Reef encompasses one of the world's most fascinating ecosystems -- but it's also one of its most vulnerable. Rising water temperatures and other factors such as over-fishing and coastal land use have wreaked stress on delicate corals, leading to several mass bleaching events in the past decade. One Australian scientist warns that the reef's corals could die out within the next four decades. This loss would have a ripple effect on the rest of the marine ecosystem in the decades to come.
The Alps: Scientists predict that most of the glaciers in the Alps could be gone by 2050, and the region's annual snowfall has also been on the decline for the last few decades. Many local ski resorts have had to produce more snow (which, ironically, contributes to the problem of global warming by using more energy), while others have closed up shop altogether. And a few have taken a more drastic step: wrapping their glaciers in blankets to prevent further melting.