One of the hottest buzz words of the new millennium, climate change is a reality that grows out a world-wide reliance on power generated from burning oil and coal. As the travel and tourism industry continues to open up, more people are striking out for places ever-farther from home, burning even more fuel along the way.

Climate change is accelerated when excessive amounts of greenhouse gases (mainly CO², or carbon dioxide) are released into the atmosphere. CO² is a natural part of the atmosphere, exhaled by animals and absorbed by plants. But when abnormally high amounts are belched out by engines and power generators, greenhouse gases begin to trap heat that once escaped into space.

Virtually all motorized vehicles contribute to the problem of climate change. Among these, airplanes are the most grievous offenders. Flying burns up enormous amounts of fuel to move heavy airplanes loaded with people and cargo across vast distances. But the real problem hinges on where airplanes operate. Carbon emitted high in the atmosphere is less likely to be absorbed by plants and restored to the natural cycle.

The statistics are surprising. Two transatlantic return tickets between the US and Europe have the same environmental impact as the electricity and gas consumption of an average family over an entire year. Every time a person flies a comparable distance, it compounds the greenhouse gas effects that are already present.

A trend toward traveling by cruise liner has grown in recent years. Cruise liners are sometimes touted as more carbon friendly than airplanes but the truth is that most of these enormous ships release comparable amounts of CO² per person over the same distance. Of course, long-haul flights travel farther than cruise ships and ultimately release more greenhouse gases.

There’s a growing movement among travelers to minimize their impact on the world by watching their own emissions and looking for alternative modes of transport. Regardless of how a person feels about climate change, it has a strong impact on the prospect of future travel.

As sea levels rise, coastal cities and islands lose real estate. Fragile ecosystems deteriorate, and desertification sets in. Places that were once hospitable travel destinations will lose their appeal.

As gas prices continue to rise, there’s a growing sector of near-home tourism as people try to cut down on costs. While it’s financially motivated, the ‘stay-cation’ (as it’s sometimes called) is a move in the right direction. It may not have the glamour of international travel, but it dramatically cuts down the environmental impact of holiday travel. It also fosters an interest in local heritage and natural attractions, which bolsters cultural and environmental programs at home.

There are several ways to reduce your personal contributions to climate change, both at home and as you travel. Here are a few tips:

  • Look around for a local green energy provider that supplies power from renewable sources like wind and water. By reducing your year-long emissions, you’ll lessen the impact of your overseas travel.
  • Purchase carbon offsets to minimize the impact of your travel. Proceeds from these fund a variety of green initiatives including tree-planting and sustainable energy research.
  • When traveling, look for the most eco-friendly form of transportation. Anything operating on a fixed route (which will run with or without you) is better than a chartered service like a taxi or auto-rickshaw. Cycling and walking is best of all.
  • Consolidate your errands. Whether at home or abroad, you can reduce your carbon footprint by making your outings more efficient.
  • Search out hotels that strive to cut down energy use (a practice which saves them a lot of money). Low-energy lighting cuts carbon significantly on a long-enough timeline.
  • When you leave your hotel room, turn off the lights and electronics, unplug your adapters (which eat electricity as long as they’re plugged in) and turn off the heat of air conditioning. Better yet, use a fan instead of air conditioning.
  • Travel closer to home or alternate year-to-year between at-home and overseas travel.

Concerned travelers can also have their carbon footprint (i.e. the scope of their personal contribution to climate change) measured. The following are links to websites where you can measure your carbon footprint, purchase carbon offsets and learn more about global efforts to reduce the impact travel has on climate change: