Time is Running Out for the Maldives, a Country That Might Not Be Around for Much Longer

Timo Newto-Syms, Flickr

You may have heard of the Maldives. It’s a tropical travel paradise, with white sandy beaches and turquoise waters. An island nation in the Indian Ocean, it is composed of 26 atolls that are home to some of the world’s best diving. The Maldives is a place that’s beautiful, exotic and remote.

It’s also a place that might not be around for much longer.

This week marks the release of the new report by the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change, which by Friday should give a prediction of how much, and when, sea levels will rise. For the island nation of the Maldives that isn’t just a warning, it’s an expiration date.Mohamed Nasheed, the former freely elected president who was expected to be re-elected until accusations of poll fraud suspended the vote, has long been a voice for the threats of climate change to his nation (he’s the guy that held an underwater cabinet meeting), warning that if the world stands by and does nothing, the Maldives will exist no more.

Tourism is one of the Maldives’ main industries, and many of the small islands are set up as luxury resort destinations. While today you can calmly walk, dipping your toes in the calm waters, the risk that these islands will become submerged is on a not so distant horizon.

The effects of climate change are already being felt here, and in an economy that depends on tourism, storms and freak weather can have a significant impact. From erosion to coral reef degradation, the islands are changing, and in big ways.

What’s the future of the Maldives? Only time will tell, but for now, the future does not look bright.

Culture Shock In Green California, Where Even Homeless People Drink Craft Beer

homeless drinking beerI live in a very left-leaning community just outside of Chicago, a city that would sooner elect a Martian than a Republican to office. But even though I’m accustomed to mingling with people who listen to NPR’s “Car Talkin order to feel like honorary members of the proletariat and cast stink eyes at people who fail to bring their own bags to Whole Foods, traveling to California, the state that invented cool, still presents a kind of culture shock.

We went to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, traveling in a carpool lane for much of the way, and noticed that all the best parking spots were reserved for hybrid cars. On our Africa tram ride at the park, our driver gave us a lecture on how to drive (slow down, come to complete stops, use proper tire pressure) in order to help us be more green. Afterwards, we repaired to a nearby mall to get my sons, ages 3 and 5, slices of pizza and noticed a Caucasian family all eating with chopsticks in the food court.

I approached the mother and told her I was impressed that her children, who ranged in age from 4 to 15, were using their sticks so deftly.kid eating sushi“They’ve been eating sushi and using chopsticks almost since they were babies,” she explained. “The trick is to tie them together with rubber bands for them to practice.”

My son, James, is such a bad eater that he actually nibbles around the exterior of McDonald’s chicken nuggets so as to avoid eating the stuff that is supposed to resemble chicken in the middle. If we can’t find pasta, pizza, mac-n-cheese, grilled cheese, McDonald’s or peanut butter, my kids are in trouble, but these kids eat sushi for God’s sakes?

In Laguna Beach, we had dinner at a fast food Mexican place called La Sirena Grill and when I asked the cashier why the food was so good, I got another dose of eco-California.

“Everything is all natural,” he said. “The fish is wild, sustainably caught. The mixed greens and the rice and beans are all organic. The meats are humanely raised and even these containers are made out of corn.”

We stayed at my brother’s home in North County and noticed that he has three cans for different types of garbage and recycling provided by the city. And if you’re anywhere near the Pacific, you’ll see legions of surfers, cyclists using bike lanes and nary an overweight person in sight. (Although there are a startling number of people in this state who supposedly need medicinal marijuana for various health problems!) Chain restaurants in California are required to display the calorie count next to menu items and many other restaurants do so as well.

waterless toiletIn San Diego, our hotel encouraged us not just to keep our same sheets and towels but also to decline housekeeping altogether. And in a La Jolla cupcakery (organic, of course), we encountered an eco-friendly waterless toilet. Is it any wonder that 7 of the country’s top 30 greenest cities are in California?

And if you’re looking for a psychic, a tarot card reading or some kind of eastern style wisdom seeking, California is certainly the place for you. In Encinitas, I saw this enormous complex with golden domes (see photo) and a sign advertising “Self Realization Fellowship” and thought, only in California.

One of the other things a traveler can’t help but notice in California is that there are homeless people everywhere. A 2011 study by the National Alliance to End Homelessness put the total population of homeless in California at 135, 928, while other estimates put the figure at closer to 200,000.

self realization center encinitasAs a traveler who covers a lot of ground on foot, I’ve encountered dozens of homeless persons every day so far in my travels around Southern California and it isn’t possible to help them all. Southern California’s mild climate makes it about as good a place as any for homeless people in the United States but it’s hard to know if most of the homeless here are native Californians, people who moved here on a wing and a prayer to follow a dream that didn’t work out, or people who were already homeless and moved here to take advantage of the warm climate.

Whatever the case may be, at least some of them apparently still retain their good taste in beer. I saw a young, heavily tattooed and pierced homeless man drinking early in the morning in San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter and at first I thought he was drinking some kind of cheap 40-ounce beer. But upon closer inspection, it appeared to be a 22-ounce bottle of Rogue’s Dead Guy Ale.

Along that same brighter culture shock angle, it’s practically illegal to drink Bud Light or other bland, mass-produced beers in San Diego and other parts of Southern California. In hipster circles around the country these days, it’s socially acceptable to drink either very, very bad cheap beer, like PBR or Old Style, or craft beer, but certainly not Bud, Miller and the like. There might be people drinking bad beer in San Diego, but I certainly haven’t noticed them.

Last night in San Diego, I was in the mood for some good beer, so I did a quick Google search of brewpubs in the area and found that there were at least 32 to choose from. It’s no wonder that Men’s Journal named San Diego the best beer town in America. I ended up at the Coronado Brewing Company, which serves up a pretty damn good English Brown Ale, but the dizzying selection of places almost had me feeling nostalgic for the days when cities had just a handful of places to drink good beer and it wasn’t so hard to figure out where the hell to go.

[Photo credits: Dave Seminara, eyeliam and Darin Barry on Flickr]

How hikers in the Tarkine Rainforest can help save the endangered Tasmanian devil




Visitors to the Tarkine Rainforest in Tasmania, Australia, can now help save the endangered Tasmanian devil. Scientists have set up 45 motion-sensitive cameras along the trails and are asking hikers to help them to collect data and track local populations of the marsupials.

Right on the Tarkine Devil Project’s mission, it states they would like to “actively engage the broader community with the research. We will offer a direct hands on experience with the science via Tarkine Trails infrastructure, walks and custom built experiences”.

While for a long time there was speculation about whether Tasmanian devils even lived in the Tarkine, there is now proof. What’s really amazing about the discovery is that the Tarkine population seems to be void of the common facial tumor disease that causes most Tasmanian devils to starve to death, presenting a unique opportunity for researchers to learn more about the disease and to breed healthy devils.

If you’d like to sponsor a camera, click here for more information. To learn more about the project itself click here or check out the video above, which is part information, part guided tour as you get to experience the beautiful scenery of the Tarkine Rainforest in Australia.

Exploring the underground caves of Rio Secreto in Mexico

rio secreto Río Secreto is a surreal and unique natural reserve near Playa del Carmen, Mexico, that was opened to the public in December of 2007. Visitors to the site are able to hike and swim through the azure waters of a 1969-foot long river that sits inside underground caves. Inside these caves, you will find thousands of impressive stalactites and stalagmites, and once below the Earth’s surface, the world goes silent allowing you to truly enjoy the dramatic scenery in peace.

What’s really great about Río Secreto, aside from being an exotic destination, is the fact that the 100% Mexican-based organization’s mission is based around eco-tourism. In fact, right on their website it says, “All of us involved in Río Secreto passionately support and promote sustainability and social responsibility. Although our company is still very young, we are working to create a culture of environmental awareness and socio-economic responsibility that goes beyond the borders of Río Secreto. Our goal is to share our message and inspire our collaborators, visitors and society at large.”

Tours run daily at 9AM, 11AM, 1PM, and 2PM, and last 3 1/2 hours. The price for adults is $69 while tickets for children 4-11 years of age cost $34.50. To book a tour, click here. For a better idea of what to expect, check out the gallery below.

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Eco-tourism gets edible with the Ritz Carlton, Charlotte’s, giant green gingerbread house

giant gingerbread house The Ritz-Carlton, Charlotte, in North Carolina, is taking their eco-friendly hospitality to a whole new level. From Thanksgiving Day through December 28, 2011, the hotel will showcase a life-sized “edible eco-manor”, designed by architects and made by pastry chefs using all-natural and organic ingredients. The structure will be 12 feet high by 14 feet wide by 10 feet deep and will also feature LED lights and a green “moss” eco-roof.

So what goes into making a giant eco-friendly gingerbread house?

  • 350 pounds of organic white, brown and confectioner’s sugar
  • 70 pounds of organic egg whites
  • 300 pounds of organic bread flour
  • 100 organic eggs
  • 24 pounds of molasses
  • Four pounds of salt
  • Four pounds of baking soda
  • 120 pounds of shortening
  • 24 ounces of cinnamon
  • Two gallons of organic milk
  • Eight ounces each of nutmeg, allspice and cloves
  • Nine ounces of ginger

This unique exhibit complements The Ritz-Carlton, Charlotte’s, already eco-friendly programming. The property is LEED-certified, meaning that the hotel’s construction and design follows the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design guidelines. Some sustainable practices of the Ritz-Carlton, Charlotte, include building materials that use 30% less energy than most hotels, reduced water usage by 35%, a green, vegetated rooftop, recycling more than 80% of construction waste, and having bicycles as available transportation for guests, among other initiatives.

For more information on the hotel’s green programming, click here.