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by T. Caine

There are a number of encouraging examples of cities trying to slowly evolve themselves into a vision of urban sustainability.

Implementing bike infrastructure, upgrading the ecology of alternative transit, increasing recycling and addressing the state of our energy production systems are all noteworthy efforts being tackled by numerous cities around the world. But despite the show of goodwill, there are other examples that force one to wonder if we are simply taking two steps back for each that we take forward. The city of Dubai, rising in defiance to the surrounding environment of coastal deserts in the United Arab Emirates, stands as the hallmark of a digressing trend taking us farther away from the goals of a new cultural reality. As a poster child of modern ingenuity driven by the perpetual desire of humanity for unbounded excess, the city of Dubai casts a long shadow over our path to a greener future.

Originally sited for its coastal access to shipping trade, the city has exploded infinitely from its historical size. With the discovery of oil in the mid 1960’s money flooded into the region, beginning to fill coffers that could one day be leveraged to lift life and prosperity out of the sands. Over the past quarter-century Dubai has fashioned itself as a temple to the unusual feats of how nature can be bested by humanity. Islands can be coaxed to rise from the sea. Mountains of snow can sit amidst lashing heat. The world’s tallest tower can sit in the sand and be visible for miles around.While the city lacks a Magic Kingdom, Epcot Center or its own Universal Studios, make no mistake–the creation is just another Disneyland, an attraction meant to draw people from around the world to be awed and impressed at the surreal.

Building:

Prone to sudden, heavy rains, sandstorms and hot, arid temperatures, the surrounding landscape has provided no shortage of reasons for why not to build a city in the desert, but the gait of the government-funded movement has been unfettered. The fact that sand is not the ideal medium for siting high-rise development did nothing to temper the race to build a current estimated stock of 43.6 million square feet of office space. One thing that natural ecosystems and capitalism have in common is a concept of supply and demand, equalizing forces that help balance population or production. Dubai, however, seemed to ignore such indicators given that according to Jones Lang LeSalle, the current vacancy rate for its commercial space is near 33%–a number that could rise as high as 65% with the new construction projects already in the pipeline. For comparison, the vacancy rate for office space in New York City was 11.1% in January and falling.

Of course, the crown jewel of Dubai’s high rise bonanza is Burj Khalifa, formerly known as the Burj Dubai and designed by architecture firm Skidmore Owings and Merrill. Towering 2,625 feet into the air, the building boasts the title of the tallest structure in the world. Amongst the 160 floors is a combination of residences, commercial office space, an observation deck and the Armani Hotel. Undeniably, the building is a testament to the capabilities of engineering. Getting glass and steel to stand a half-mile into the air in the middle of the desert is no easy task, one accomplished by using 110,000 tonnes of concrete to pour 192 piles that descend 540′ below the surface. Given the height of the building and high temperatures during the day, the pumping and pouring of the higher concrete floors was done at night where the curing process could be more gradual to avoid cracking and subsequent future instability. All impressive achievements, but necessary?

And yet within months of opening, the observation deck at the tower has already been closed to tourists indefinitely while precise reasons for the closure were unspecified. I found one tourist’s disappointment rather ironic. “It was the one thing I really wanted to see. The tower was projected as a metaphor for Dubai. So the metaphor should work. There are no excuses.’’ On the contrary, I think that the fact that the tower is a metaphor for Dubai is exactly why it does not work. It is a city destined to be punished for its misguided battle against an inexhaustible force: nature.

Water:

dubai villaA picture of water conservation

Unsurprisingly, there is not enough natural water to supply a city of over 2 million people in the desert. Instead taking such an impediment as cause for consideration, the city looked to the oceans. As of 2007, the city had a desalination capacity of 188 million gallons per day. Ocean desalination is a fleeting attempt at cheating the climate, requiring enormous amounts of energy. In her essay featured on The Oil Drum, former Mayor of Huntington Beach, CA, Deborah Cook notes that “The next worst idea to turning tar sands into synthetic crude is turning ocean water into municipal drinking water. Sounds great until you zoom in on the environmental costs and energetic consequences…There is no more energy intensive water source than ocean desalination.” It is important to note that Dubai residents are not exactly the image of conservation. With their swimming pools, fountains and lush green lawns, the emirate used 10% more water than the average American (formerly the largest consumer in the world) and six times more per capita than nearby Jordan as of 2009. Hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil and gas will be used to power these efforts in the years to come.

The World Wonders of Excess:

And then there are the islands. Oh, the islands. Construction began on the Palm Jumeirah island in June 2001. 94 million cubic meters of sands, 7 million tonnes of rock and $12 billion later, we have artificial islands in the shape of a palm tree. Eventually the island will be joined by the finished likenesses of Palm Deira and Palm Jebel Ali. At this point, Dubai World would not have to worry about being outdone by foreign endeavors (who else would build islands in the middle of the ocean) so they had to resort to trumping themselves. Started in 2003, the 300 world islands have risen from the waters only to halt in construction as Dubai developer Nahkeel recoils from $26 billion in debt.We can only hope it is never repaid.

world and palm islandsEach of these islands requires the dredging of the ocean floor to lift sand up onto its new home. The damage to the aquatic ecosystems in the form of waste, pollution and noise must be far-reaching. Not to mention we have already seen what can happen when people decide to build a city on a Louisiana swamp lying somewhere in the vicinity of sea-level. While the coast of Dubai may not be in a prime path for hurricanes, creating a series of islands against the natural correlation of water movement in the middle of the ocean is destined to have future problems of maintenance and structural issues. We are in a world where regardless of the fact that island nations are at risk of being eradicated due to rising sea levels, oil funds are put towards building new islands in the water.

Perhaps the only thing that can trump the world’s tallest tower and man-made islands is Ski Dubai, an interior ski resort fashioned right in the middle of the desert. The experience comes equipped with multiple trails, life-like snow, chair lifts and temperatures of -5 degrees Celsius. Once again, the structure is architecturally impressive due to the level of engineering required to keep snow from melting with outside temperatures as high as 50 degrees Celsius (that’s 122 degrees Fahrenheit.) The wall is actually a double-skin construction with two high-insulating layers separated by an air-gap that serves as a buffer for heat transmission. In theory the system is similar to a double-skin glass curtain wall like the one in One Bryant Park that faces the New York Public Library and holds small interior gardens. Nevertheless, it should have been enough to know that such a feat could be accomplished. There is no pride to be taken from achieving a luxury at a limitless cost of energy and resources.

As an oasis of extravagance built as a tourist trap, Dubai is a frightening reality. There is no better urban example of disregard to the environment as it resets the limit of how far from rational evolution we will travel before we decide to turn around and retrace our steps. This is not the example we should be setting for developing nations who may soon encounter the ability to craft their own cities in the landscape. I find any mention of “sustainability” linked to this city insulting and degrading. Such efforts are beyond simply “greenwashing,” but rather dipping a project in a vat of green tinted resin before dumping the waste into a landfill built over an aquifer.

But we can travel up 160 floors on elevators going 25mph to look out over a series of islands completed fabricated by humans! Aren’t you impressed? Quite simply, no. I already have the utmost of confidence in humanity’s abilities in science and technology without wasting $4 billion to make a giant spire in the desert. Perhaps there is a silver lining yet. Dubai’s very existence epitomizes the opposite of sustainability. Its logical course is destined for failure with 25% of its economy based on property and construction–a service that is limited and threatened by rising vacancies and a world recession. Such an urban downfall may help hit home the concept of such hollow endeavors and help justify the efforts of local cities to distance themselves away from new urban theme parks. Maybe the loss of billions of dollars in investment capital may help lenders not make the same mistake again when some group of innovators decide they want to build a resort at the bottom of the ocean or open golf course on the slopes of a volcano or plant a massive orange grove on the peaks of the French Alps.

Photo Credits: laughingsquid.com, kiwipulse.com

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From Inside Costa Rica

India’s state, Himachal Pradesh, would replicate the Costa Rica model for protecting Himalayan ecology by conserving the environmental conditions, said Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal at the concluding ceremony of the International Conference on Environment in San José, Costa Rica.

According to an official release, Prof Dhumal said Costa Rica and Himachal Pradesh had many a similarities in climatic conditions and added that mutual exchange of expertise was bound to result in achieving the objective of emerging carbon neutral State of the Country in near future.

Emphasizing that ecological conditions of the State had direct impact upon rest of the northern states of the country, he said out of total geographical area of 55,674 sq km, 37,033 sq km was under forest cover. Of the total 45 thousand plant species 3,295, making 7.32 per cent were in Himachal Pradesh.

Prof Dhumal said a major chunk of population of the state inhabited in rural area and the forests had been contributing significantly in absorption of the green house gases to maintain ecological balance in the northern region of the country.

The Chief Minister, while maintaining that Himachal Pradesh was leading in education in the Country with the highest literacy rate, he said people were aware about environment protection a an important subject.

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By The Daily Green Staff
The Apple Tablet (or iSlate, or the iPad, perhaps… no one yet knows) will be unveiled Wednesday, and there’s rampant speculation about what it will look like, what it will do, what apps will work on it … which publishers will make their print publications available on it, whether or not it will help or destroy the book, magazine and/or newspaper industries … and, of course, what Steve Jobs will call it.

What is it? Well, that’s another little detail we don’t know for sure. Newsweek‘s Tectonic Shifts blog put it like this: “After early speculation that the gadget would be a ‘Kindle killer,’ a gaming device, or just a really big iPhone, it appears possible that the Apple slate will be … all of the above.” (The writer then readily admits that the description is just speculation based on speculation.)

What seems clear is that Apple will offer up a new electronic device, bigger than a phone and smaller than a laptop, that performs many of the functions of both, with an added bonus: an e-reader for those aging old print products, like newspapers, magazines and books. (You know, the media that still produce most of the relevant news the rest of us talk about.)

The Daily Green wanted to add some speculation: Is this is a game changer for the environment?

The death of printed media would be an awful thing for a lot of our friends, but it would save about 125,000 trees annually. That’s a lot of trees — enough that a book reader who burns through one new book every two weeks would pay off the environmental debt created by an e-reader in just a year (at least as measured in carbon dioxide emissions). That’s according to a Cleantech analysis that measured the relative impact of e-readers, using the Amazon Kindle as its test case. Of course, because Amazon doesn’t make plain just how resource-intensive the Kindle is, and because many people read fewer than two books a month (or choose borrowed, used or library books rather than buying new hardcovers) the analysis has inspired some persuasive skepticism by Raz Godelnik, CEO of Eco-Libris, an organization trying to reduce the environmental impact of reading. But he’s optimistic about the Apple tablet.

“Although we have had the Kindle and other reading devices around for over two years, we still can’t say if these devices are better for the environment compared to the traditional paper books,” Godelnik said. “We’re still waiting for a life cycle assessment that will tell us if e-readers are greener or not, and one of the reasons we don’t have it yet is that the current manufacturers don’t seem to be willing to provide all the necessary information required for such an assessment. My guestimation is that they just don’t see too much importance in proving that digital books not only save paper, but are actually better for the environment. We hope Apple will look at it differently.”

But one shouldn’t consider only displaced print media in the tablet equation, according to both Godelnik and Christopher P. Conway, of GreenT Digital.

“What you’re going to see is these devices will replace netbooks and laptops, and the Kindle and the nook,” Conway said. “A lot of people may have it be their primary means of accessing the Internet. I think that’s very positive.”

“These devices are 3G-enabled,” Conway added. “It is a game changer. People could stop getting cable Internet at home. If you could do all your social media, emailing, accessing photos … what is really left that you need a desktop or laptop for?” And with those clunky desktops and laptops goes large demands for precious metals and plastics (replacing a 5 or 10-pound laptop or 30-pound desktop with a one-pound tablet) as well as energy (replacing as much as 100 watts of energy demand with as little as 1 watt).

So then, there is some real potential for the Apple Tablet (or whatever it might be called, or whatever tablet manufacturer wins the hearts of the most users) to reduce the strain on the environment caused by both our print and electronic habits … if, that is, it is built smartly and responsibly and we change our existing habits. A big part of the growth in electricity demand in the past decade is the proliferation of electronic devices. A big part of the toxic waste stream is the e-waste from all those discarded last-generation devices. Will we substitute the tablet for our other electronics?

If you are ready to get rid of an old cell phone, laptop, iPhone, digital camera or other electronic device and want to harvest some cash in exchange for it, one option is NextWorth, which will pay you for your old phone. Other recycling options include Dyscern, a 2009 Heart of Green award winner, these four charity cell phone recyclers, and the electronics manufacturers themselves.

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By Joel Makower
My longtime friend and colleague Bill Green changed jobs recently. That’s not normally newsworthy — friends and colleagues do that all the time.

But if you’re concerned about the future of clean technology — in particular, how we’re going to fund the massive scale-up of renewable energy, clean water, and the other infrastructure changes needed to build a clean economy — Green’s career move warrants more than just passing interest.

Green is a seasoned environmental entrepreneur, with more than 20 years of management and investment experience. He has led five companies, including Ecolink, one of the first firms to produce alternatives to ozone layer-depleting chemicals, and the Strategic Chemical Management Group, an environmental management company. For seven years, he was in venture capital, a co-founder of VantagePoint Venture Partners’ CleanTech practice, among the largest cleantech VCs, with more than $1 billion dedicated to the sector. (In 2003, Green invited me to join VantagePoint’s Cleantech Advisory Council, where I still serve.)

Last week, Green announced that he was joining Macquarie Capital Funds as a senior managing director. If you’re like me, you probably didn’t know much about this company, part of The Macquarie Group, a massive Australia-based global investor and manager of infrastructure, real estate, and other businesses. The Funds division manages more than US$116 billion in assets around the world, much of it large infrastructure projects.

Why is this particular job change worth singling out? Green’s evolution from environmental entrepreneur to venture capitalist to a senior director of one of the world’s foremost investment banks mirrors the trajectory of the cleantech movement itself. What began in the 1980s and 1990s with a handful of scientists, engineers, and idealistic entrepreneurs, funded by a small circle of friends, came to life during the 2000s with the infusion of tens of billions in venture capital, private equity, and corporate and government investments. That gave rise to the thousands of growing companies that today are manufacturing everything from solar cells to electric cars — and all of the batteries, fuels, engines, controllers, software, and other components that make these things work.

Now, as a new decade begins, it’s time to take things to the next level: ramping up proven technologies at massive scale.

That’s where Green and Macquarie come in. They are at the leading edge of large investment banks that have the financial firepower to unleash mature technologies globally, financing the wind farms, solar fields, and energy storage facilities that will be needed to bring renewables to scale.

Bill Green describes this evolution in terms of a “corporate lifecycle.”

“In the beginning you’ve got an entrepreneur who comes up with an idea that is transformative in its promise and can attract venture capital,” Green explained recently. “The entrepreneur builds a team, develops a product that is what I call ‘pre-commercial’ — they have a product that works, by whatever definition their sub-category requires, and they’ve built one of them. They then face the challenge of building their first fully commercial deployment. Once there is an example of a fully commercial deployment, they can think about replicating at commercial scale — what in the semiconductor industry is called ‘copy exact’: Build a factory, build an identical one somewhere else, build a third somewhere else.”

That first commercial deployment is the most difficult to get funded. Once it’s proven itself — that it can perform reliably and generate a predictable cash flow — it is more or less a matter of “copy exact,” stamping them out from place to place. This is a role for project financing — as distinguished from company financing — and is the realm of investment bankers.

Deploying even one commercial-scale plant can require more capital than most people imagine. Consider BrightSource Energy, which builds and operates large-scale solar thermal plants, in which massive arrays of mirrors beam sunlight to a central tower, boiling water to create steam to run a generator. BrightSource (which happens to be funded by VantagePoint, along with Morgan Stanley, BP, Chevron, Google, and others) has contracts to build several of these plants, at $2 billion to $3 billion a pop. And then there are wind farms. Building one will set you back anywhere from $150 million to $1 billion or more. So, too, a biofuels refinery. Real money, as they say.

Big as those price tags are, cleantech projects are relatively small compared to other infrastructure projects — airports, bridges, toll roads, and the like — making them less appealing to large banks that prefer large projects. Moreover, a lot of investment bankers haven’t yet developed expertise in renewables. “Renewables is still a sector that is largely the province of a small group of people who have devoted many years to understanding the sector, who have grown up in the sector in various ways,” says Green. “And the sector has yet to fully mature to the point where every institution has developed the capabilities to invest in it. So, many bankers have taken a view that says, ‘If this is not my specialty, I would rather back the larger transaction.’ That leaves a tremendous opportunity for those of us who both understand and elect to focus on this subsector.”

Green and Macquarie view the cleantech sector as ripe for their style of banking. “There’s still a gap between Silicon Valley and Wall Street when it comes to understanding the complete capital-formation value chain from venture capital through to equity and debt,” says Green. Put another way, the VCs and the bankers haven’t yet become a well-oiled machine in handing off venture-funded companies to those who can take their technologies and products to scale — the way, say, a new microprocessor chip can go from R&D to commercial development, with manufacturing plants deployed around the world in relatively short order.

As he sets now out to find and fund proven commercial technologies, Green says he will focus on wind farms, utility-scale solar, utility-scale solar thermal, and geothermal energy. Beyond that, he says, “I’m interested in finding the opportunities that are a bit less obvious but that come in the form of more traditional infrastructure.” Transmission, for example. “We believe that there may be opportunities for Macquarie in the emerging conversation around how renewable energy is moved from point of generation to point of use. This has been a real puzzle piece that’s starting to get more attention, but I think it’s still underserved from the standpoint of capital development.” Wastewater purification and landfill waste-to-energy technologies are two more interesting infrastructure opportunities, he says.

Of course, it’s not just the financial opportunity that interests Green as he starts this next phase of his career. “I am so excited to be able to point to steel in the ground and tell my son that our company participated in bringing that wind farm or that solar field into existence. I deeply enjoyed the years that I spent in conceptual conversation around bringing to life things that were only the dream of an entrepreneur at the time I first saw them. Now, I’m ready to see these things deployed at scale all over the place, and this is the absolute best platform that I could imagine to make that happen.”

It will be interesting to watch. As the financial heft of national governments hit their limits, we’ll need the big financial machines — which funded the Internet, cellular networks, highways, bridges, water systems, and mass transit systems — to make clean technology part of the global fabric. Macquarie isn’t the first investment bank to jump into cleantech, but it has made clear that it wants to be at the front of the pack.

As if to underscore his excitement for his new role, Green leaves me with a few parting words not typically associated with the dry world of large-scale finance: “It’s really cool,” he says. “Really cool.”

Joel Makower is Executive Editor of GreenBiz.com and chairman of Greener World Media, Inc.

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2010 will be a landmark year for the environmental sector as much-touted legislation and bills will officially go into effect.

Starting this week, several states and municipalities will enforce laws pertaining to proper disposal, recycling and pollution, among others.

While it’s a lot to keep up with, we thought we’d give you a quick rundown on some of the major legislation taking place.

Photo: Amanda Wills, Earth911.com

Earlier this year, the Empire State Building took on a $20 million eco-friendly retrofit. In New York City, buildings contribute 80 percent of total carbon emissions.

California: Recycling Mandate for Business and Apartments
The state’s Integrated Waste Management Board (IWMB) is formulating a program that will encourage businesses, apartment complexes and mobile home parks to institute recycling. The mandatory recycling directive will most likely set goals for cities and counties, allowing them to implement individual programs as long as they comply. Start date: Jan. 1, 2010

Minnesota: BPA Ban in Children Products
A new Minnesota law is banning the presence of Bispenol A (BPA) in food and beverage containers targeted for children under three-years-old, such as plastic baby bottles. The North Star State is the first to ban BPA, which has come under fire for possible health concerns. Start date: Jan. 1, 2010

United Kingdom: Mandatory Battery Recycling
British retailers selling more than 32 kg (approximately 70 pounds) of batteries per year will be required to offer free collection and recycling under a new British law. Start date: Feb. 1, 2010

United States: EPA Lead Paint Safety Requirements
EPA’s rule will cover renovations of facilities built before 1978, aiming to protect children from exposure to lead-based paint. Under the new law, “Lead: Renovation, Repair and Painting Program,” workers will have lead-safe work practice standards and required certification/training for paid contractors and maintenance professionals. Start date: April 2010

New York: State Green Construction Building Act
The new law will require all future construction and major renovation projects on New York state government buildings to follow new building standards set by the New York Office of General Services. Start date: Aug. 27, 2010

Delaware: Plastic Bag Recycling Legislation
The state of Delaware joined a handful of other U.S. states and cities to pass legislation requiring expanded consumer access to plastic bag recycling. Similar to those already passed in the states of California and New York, the new law requires retailers and chain stores that give out plastic bags to consumers to provide collection bins for their recycling. Start date: August 2010

Amanda Wills

Amanda Wills

Amanda Wills is the Assistant Editor of Earth911.com

More articles by Amanda

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As a nature enthusiast, I saw Al Gore’s movie, Inconvenient Truth, on opening week with much excitement. I left the theater thoroughly convinced that global warming was indeed taking place and caused by CO2 concentrations.

What with all the graphics of flooding coast lines, hurricane damage and future temperatures that were literally off the charts, it was pretty darn compelling if not downright frightening.

However, much has happened in the climate discussion since the release of the movie. First, anyone denying global warming was said to be in the pocket of the oil companies or just ill-informed. The very word “denier” propagated by the media echoed tones of holocaust deniers, and dissent in the debate was thoroughly marginalized. Next, global warming suddenly became relabeled “Climate Change” as if faxed down from high places to anyone with a microphone when warming statistics were called into question by legitimate sources.
There has been very little debate about the science of climate change, and even less public debate about the proposed solutions with the Cap and Trade system. With such dramatic legislation proposed, one would think that the answers to the following questions would be crystal clear. Is global warming really happening and backed by indisputable facts? Are manmade greenhouse gasses (GHG) the main cause of climate change? Does Cap and Trade legislation address key environmental issues like water pollution, chemical spraying, deforestation and topsoil erosion? Who benefits from the proposed solutions, and at whose expense? How does global cap and trade legislation affect individual liberties protected under the U.S. Constitution?
Make no mistake, market-based cap and trade schemes have proven to reduce air pollution and incentivize clean development. The cap and trade placed on sulfur dioxide in the 90s caused coal burning power plants to innovate sulfur brushes that reduced SO2 emissions by 50% in the United States. And the current Kyoto Protocol does indeed protect forests and spurs clean energy development in developing nations. So, there are certainly plenty of positive arguments for some form of cap and trade.
However, it now appears that the real Environmental Movement has been hijacked to primarily benefit the money interests of the ruling elite. Eyebrows have been raised since “hacked” emails exposed that the science data has been manipulated to fit the Global Warming theory, and now that 30,000 climate scientists are suing Al Gore and others just to have a real science debate. Alarm bells should go off when we learn that, as Vice President, Gore designed the proposed Cap and Trade system with Enron’s criminal CEO Ken “Kenny Boy” Lay years before the general public had even heard of Global Warming. A full blown revolt should take place knowing that the scandalous international Banksters on Wall Street have shaped Cap and Trade to line their pockets. Finally, some of the proposed provisions appear to tax personal choices when the system was supposed to focus on major corporate polluters, which seems to undermine Constitutional rights and perhaps U.S. sovereignty altogether.
Although there are compelling arguments that climate change is happening, recent evidence shows it may be mainly caused by the sun’s activity. However, it does seem plausible that GHG, with their insulating affect, do contribute to trapping heat and warming the earth. But is it catastrophically dangerous to our wellbeing? Well, it seems that those predictions are only as good as the theory they’re derived from and now that theory is in question. Despite the lack of concrete answers, any environmental legislation should address GHG, because the large scale activities that account for the majority of the GHG are typically environmentally destructive in other ways as well.
As environmentalists, we should not just blindly support this legislation without investigating and debating all of the provisions. It is the easy way out to just let the big boys provide the solutions, especially since they were the ones who brought us globalization, unprovoked oil wars for military industrial profits, runaway deficits, predator lending, the ongoing financial crisis, and most of the environmental problems we face today. Time and time again, those in authority have not only broken our trust, but continue to break what they set out to fix.  We should all recognize that authority is not truth, but that the truth is authority.
Ultimately, some form of a market-based cap and trade system may be the only way to reduce pollution in a capitalistic society, but before we jump to support this so-called environmental legislation we should continue to ask questions about it’s provisions.

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Yes, it is possible to see the planet and minimize the impact of your visit.  Beginning with your choice of destination and how you pack your bags, to the hotels you choose and the flight itself, eco-tourism abounds with options.

Most people who decide to head off of the corporate path and onto a path truly reflective of the culture they have decided to visit, report that the experience is ultimately much richer and more rewarding in every way.  Many people are choosing destinations that allow for engaging local populations, where one can experience local farm-grown food, buy souvenirs created by local artisans, and glimpse the diversity of a region.  This type of travel strengthens rural communities, instead of supporting corporations that tend to present a homogenized version of travel regardless of city or country.

For those who would like to go a step further, there are many volunteer vacations where one can actually contribute to local community initiatives.  Not only do you get to experience the culture, you can help add value.  While some countries such as Costa Rica have become known as eco-destinations based on strong governmental policies of protection, every destination holds the possibility for supporting local communities and experiencing the real flavor that can be found there.

Camping is certainly an eco-conscious travel decision, but for those of us who still need a few creature comforts there are now many hotels adhering to the strict guidelines of the Green Hotels Association, which has been charting the environmental impact of hotels since 1993.  However, the traveler must augment the infrastructure, policies, and materials used in these hotels.  Keeping the shades drawn during the day and reusing your towels and linens are small things that can result in big savings to the hotel.

When packing for your trip, some eco-travelers focus on minimizing what you bring, while others encourage bringing clothes that can be washed by hand and will dry easily.  According to Marina Villatoro, an eco-travel specialist for Central America, the most important travel tip while packing is to “try not to use all the small plastic bags you really don’t need . . . plastic bags can result in plastic waste, and the production of bags requires oil.

The major obstacle for those dedicated to eco-travel is of course the transportation itself.  A ten-hour flight, for example, produces as much carbon as driving 15,000 miles in a car.  Trains are not much better, since there is a massive infrastructure to support.  Carbon-offset credits have emerged as one solution.  Some airports such as the one in San Francisco, CA, have a kiosk similar to an ATM where flyers can purchase credits for their flight.  The flyer simply enters the number of miles, the duration of the flight, and how many people in their party and they will pay for the offset.  A 12-hour flight is roughly $35 per traveler, providing a low-cost solution.  Treeflights.com accepts donations to plant trees to make up for carbon emissions produced during flights, as well as other forms of travel.

The combination of major policy changes within the travel industry, as well as the choices each of us can make, will both minimize the environmental damage inherent in travel, while encouraging us to experience and respect the true heritage of every place we visit.

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