Air travel: eco-tourism's hidden pollution

When you fly the friendly skies, you can make sure you're being friendly to the environment, too.

by Steve McCrea, Editor, Eco-Tourist Journal
co-tourists take pride in knowing that they live lightly when they visit a rainforest. The eco-tour experience protects forests by discouraging deforestation and development, since local residents gain tourist dollars because they work with nature rather than destroying it.
However, one ton of an invisible pollutant enters the atmosphere for every 4,000 miles that the typical eco-tourist flies. A round trip from New York to San Jose, Costa Rica (the world's leading eco-tourist destination) is 4,200 miles, so the typical eco-tourist generates roughly 2100 pounds of carbon dioxide by traveling to a week of sleeping in the rainforest.
Carbon dioxide is responsible for approximately half of the "greenhouse effect." These "greenhouse gases" act as an invisible blanket around the planet, holding in heat. When the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere fell below 260 parts per million (ppm), the climate became cooler and glaciers grew larger. (During the Ice Age, the carbon dioxide level was below 240 ppm). When the carbon content rises above 300 ppm, the polar ice melts and the sea level rises.
Eco-tourists who want to achieve true "global cooling" travel need to plant three trees for every 4,000 miles of air travel. According to the Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC), fuel burned by airplanes puts nitrogen oxide and water vapor at 30,000 feet. These two additional greenhouse gases together give as much as twice the global warming effect as the carbon dioxide released by the airplane. One tree offsets the carbon dioxide emitted by the airplane over 4,000 miles, and two more trees offset the greenhouse effect caused by the nitrogen oxide and water vapor.
Unfortunately, the carbon dioxide content in the atmosphere exceeded 360 ppm in 1992 and could reach 520 ppm within a century. A rising sea level would reduce fresh water supplies and hasten erosion of beaches along coastal property.
Eco-tourists who wish to absorb the carbon dioxide that their travel generates can sponsor the planting of trees. Trees planted in tropical countries can absorb carbon quickly, without the interruption of winter. For a free list of tree planting programs, call 1-800-643-0001.
For more information on the Global Cooling Campaign, request a copy of the Global Cooling Answer Book, available for $5 (postpaid, check payable to Trees for the Future), Global Cooling, Box 1786, Silver Spring MD 20915. TFF also promotes tropical tree-planting programs. To support local tree planting efforts contact San Diego People for Trees, 457-2665.

Founder of the Global Cooling Campaign, Steve McCrea creates environmental marketing plans. He advocates planting trees to offset carbon dioxide that is emitted when electricity and gasoline is used. He edits an electronic newsletter called Eco-Tourist Journal. For more information, call (954) 463-0158. For a free email subscription to Eco-Tourist Journal, send an e-mail message to: