Posts

Suitcases

How the Travel Industry is Fighting Climate Change

As the effects of climate change materialize in the form of more frequent and destructive extreme weather events, various industries are looking at ways to reduce their carbon footprint with renewed intensity. As tourism contributes heavily to carbon emissions thanks to the emissions released by cars and airplanes, the tourism industry is looking for ways to make vacations more environmentally-friendly. The industry is deploying a variety of methods for doing so, from investing in more carbon-neutral infrastructure to educating tourists about the environmental impacts of travel and teaching them how to reduce carbon emissions. And as popular vacation destinations are being transformed by a changing climate, tourists are witnessing first-hand the disastrous impact of climate change, reinforcing the urgency of developing more environmentally-friendly practices like reducing carbon emissions, cutting back on waste, and exploring sustainable alternatives in all parts of life.

Embed from Getty Images

According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, the tourism industry is responsible for about 5 percent of the world’s carbon emissions, although others say the real figure is much higher than that. While this percentage may seem small, it accounts for a tremendous amount of carbon being released into the environment, and when it comes to tackling climate change reducing carbon emissions in whatever way possible is essential. Like major corporations in other industries, hotel chains are exploring ways to transform their businesses into ones that have a low or neutral carbon impact. Hilton, for instance, gets more than 50 percent of its electricity from a power plant that burns natural gas, which is a cleaner method than most popular forms of energy production, although it is not entirely carbon neutral. Hilton is also transitioning to using more energy-efficient lighting and appliances, including air conditioning systems that automatically turn off when they’re not being used.

Cruise lines, too, are trying to transition to a more environmentally-friendly business model. Royal Caribbean, for instance, is incorporating technology into their cruise ships that filters almost all of the sulfur dioxide emissions from their exhaust. The popular cruise line, having pledged to respect the oceans in the environment, has also invested in energy-saving lighting systems and has engineered the designs of their ships for optimum efficiency. Another cruise line, Hurtigruten, plans to transition to using liquified biogas, which is derived from organic waste instead of from fossil fuels.

Embed from Getty Images

Educational efforts are part of how the industry is attempting to tackle climate change as well. Many hotels and tour groups encourage tourists to reduce waste by taking shorter baths and showers as well as reducing their laundry by re-using towels, among other strategies for minimizing waste. Tourist destinations, such as Lake Tahoe in Nevada, are trying to reduce their carbon emissions by improving their public transportation systems, reducing the extent to which people rely on cars to get around. Even luxury tourism brands are attempting to become more environmentally-friendly; The Brando, for instance, is a luxury resort that runs entirely on renewable energy, acting as a model for how other resorts can help to provide a luxurious vacation experience while completely eliminating their reliance on fossil fuels and harmful carbon emissions. 

 

As the global economy is currently strong, many expect that the tourism industry will continue to grow in the future, even as the nature of tourism itself changes due to climate change, both in terms of how a changing climate affects the weather conditions of tourist destinations and in terms of how the tourism industry is changing to reduce its contributions to the crisis. 

Forest of Trees

Genetically-Modified Trees May Be The Key to Reducing Climate Change

In what represents a potential breakthrough in scientific approaches to reducing the impact of climate change, scientists have created genetically-modified trees that do not emit a gas that contributes to poor air quality and global warming, without harming the health of the trees. Poplar trees give off isoprene, particularly when they are under stress like they would be during rapid changes in temperature or during a drought. Isoprene interacts with other substances to form ozone and types of aerosol, which have negative consequences on weather patterns. As poplar trees are widely used to create products like paper and plywood, and are also used as biofuel, the widespread adoption of genetically-modified poplar trees may enable a more environmentally-friendly method of producing these vital resources.

Embed from Getty Images

According to the study, which was published in the journal PNAS, researchers observed the genetically-modified trees, which were planted in Oregon and Arizona, for a period of three to four years and concluded that they were capable of producing just as much biofuel as normal poplar trees, but without releasing harmful isoprene. Instead, the trees generated “alternative signaling pathways that appear to compensate for the loss of stress tolerance due to isoprene,” according to the lead author Russell Monson, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Arizona. The researchers believe that neither the health of the trees nor the quantity of biomass produced were negatively affected by the genetic modification, giving hope that in the future, trees could be optimized to better suit the needs of a global climate that has been modified by human activity. As biofuel derived from poplar trees can replace traditional fossil fuels in a sustainable way, these new findings could pave the way for transitioning to a more carbon-neutral future.

The trees’ genetic code was modified by a process called “RNA interference.” In this process, specific genes are targeted and suppressed; in this case, the genes that are responsible for the production of isoprene are disabled. Multiple technologies exist in order to modify the genetic code of living organisms, including CRISPR, a newer technology that allows for even more drastic and precise genetic modification. In fact, traditional breeding of species, which humans have done for thousands of years, is itself a form of genetic modification, though it is a much slower and less precise way of altering the genetic makeup of an organism.

Embed from Getty Images

When it comes to technologies that help to reduce the impact of climate change, the widespread planting of trees is often proposed as a method of mitigating carbon emissions, as trees use natural processes to store carbon and produce oxygen. However, planting a tremendous number of trees poses its own problems to ecosystems and the global climate, as not all of the gases released by trees benefit the environment. This is of particular concern given the advancement of technologies designed to autonomously plant large quantities of trees at a rate much greater than is possible with human labor, which is currently being deployed as a strategy for geo-engineering. As such, the future of harm reduction in connection with climate change may depend upon a combination of natural resources and cutting-edge technologies, as scientists of the future may be able to genetically optimize trees to maximize their beneficial impact on the environment. That being said, other strategies in addition to planting genetically-modified trees will surely be necessary in the fight against climate change, as carbon emissions continue to rise to increasingly-dangerous levels with no signs of stopping any time soon.