Should Pollution Stop You From Traveling?

Shubert Ciencia, Flickr

Unless you’re traveling in the far backcountry, you’re bound to experience some pollution on the road. Go to New York City and there will be grime on your face when you return to the hotel room at night. But does the amount of pollution in a city or country stop you from traveling there?

In China, tourism has seen a serious drop in response to the country’s “airpocalypse.” In January the air was designated as hazardous to human health for several consecutive days, and the travelers haven’t been the same since; from January to June, tourism has dropped by 5%. In Beijing, it’s even worse, with the number of foreign tourists visiting the country’s capital falling by 15%. “… the air pollution trends in China will be difficult to reverse and their impacts will be significantly negative on the tourism industry,” said Tim Tyrrell, former director of the Center for Sustainable Tourism at Arizona State University.China isn’t alone. In northern Thailand, Chiang Mai has experienced a similar situation, with tourists avoiding the city during the spring when a lot of “slash-and-burn” farming takes place — that’s burning forest in order to make room for fields. And in Rome, you can’t cruise the Tiber river anymore on account of all of the trash in it.

But when it comes to pollution and tourism, it’s a two-way street. The effects of tourism on the state of air quality and beyond is just as big of a problem. Then of course there are those travelers who are moved to seek out the polluted areas of the world. But should pollution stop you from traveling?

In places where pollution is a serious issue, it’s a factor worth thinking about. In India for example, air pollution is the fifth leading cause of death. Not that a visit to the Taj Mahal will inevitably be your last, but if you think that you as a traveler are immune, think again. Check travel alerts and be aware of the air quality of the places you are traveling. Being informed is better than being sick.

China’s Smog Problem Slashes Half A Decade Off Life Expectancy

china smog pollution
Benjamin Vander Steen, Flickr

We’ve shown you the dramatic images of smog-filled Beijing before, but it’s only now becoming apparent just how deadly China’s air pollution actually is.

A new study has revealed that air pollution in northern China has reduced the life expectancy of locals by about five and a half years. The findings are the result of a major study by a team of international researchers who are analyzing the health effects of China’s air pollution based on data collected locally – the first time such an investigation has been conducted.Northern China is home to some of the most smog-choked cities in the world and the northern region of the populous country is significantly worse off than its southern counterpart. Why? For decades, the region north of the Huai River was provided with free heat during the country’s icy winters. This extra coal consumption resulted in a dramatic spike in air pollution across the north. According to researchers, dangerous particles in the air are 55 percent higher in the northern region of China than they are in the south.

The air pollution isn’t just an issue for locals. Thick smog in cities like Beijing – which is popular with both leisure and business travelers – can reduce visibility and lead to flights being canceled. The suffocating air also keeps many health-conscious tourists away, leading to fears that the pollution may impact the economy.

Interactive Website Shows Cleanest, Dirtiest European Beaches

beaches, Cyprus
Wikimedia Commons

It’s getting to be that time of year again. People are heading to the beaches, especially around the Mediterranean.

Now choosing one has been made easier by a new interactive website by the European Environment Agency. The agency has released its 2012 figures for water quality of 23,511 “bathing waters.” The website has them broken down by country and region. While most are beaches, popular inland swimming areas such as lakes are also included.

Some countries do better than others. Cyprus may be in economic doldrums, but 100% of their beaches have clean water. Slovenia, the subject of an upcoming series here on Gadling, gets equally high praise for its narrow strip of shoreline.

Scientists examined samples of water over several months in 2012, looking for evidence of pollution. It turns out 93 percent of sites had at least the minimum standard set by the European Union. The worst countries were Belgium, with 12 percent substandard swimming areas, and The Netherlands, with 7 percent.

The Solution To China’s Smog Problem? Fresh Air In A Can!

China's smog has gotten to record levels of dangerBy now I’m sure you’ve all read the reports of just how horrible the air quality in China has become. The smog has gotten so bad in Beijing, for example, that it has delayed flights, shrouded skyscrapers like fog and prompted health warnings for those venturing outside. But one Chinese entrepreneur thinks he may have the solution to this problem – fresh air in a can.

Last September, millionaire Chen Guangbiao introduced his product to the market for the first time, offering up three flavors of air in cans that resembles a soft drink. Those flavors include “Post-industrial Taiwan,” “Revolutionary Yan’an,” and the always popular “Pristine Tibet.” The cans of air sell for 5 yuan or roughly 80 cents a piece.

It would be easy to dismiss this move as a publicity stunt – something that Guangbiao has a reputation for in the past – but the businessman seems genuinely concerned about the growing environmental problem that his country now faces. He told ABC News that selling the cans of fresh air was an attempt to raise awareness of the issue and to show how committed he is to the cause. He went one step further by also giving away 5000 bicycles in an effort to encourage people to use non-motorized transportation.

For now though, improving the air quality seems like a low priority for the Chinese government, which is focused on continuing to ramp up industrial production for the 21st century. Considering that all but a handful of days in January were classified as “hazardous” air conditions in Beijing, however, perhaps they ought to reconsider their approach. Or at least start stocking more vending machines with these cans of fresh air.

[Photo Credit: Ng Han Guan/AP Photo]

Unconventional new eco-tour will take travelers through Japan’s tsunami debris

unusual new ecotour allows travelers to visit japan tsunami debris field via yachtWhile most eco-tours use activities such as bird watching, rafting, and hiking to highlight regional issues, a new tour, led by expedition leader Marcus Eriksen, will take a different approach. Beginning May, 2012, travelers will have the opportunity to sail via yacht through floating islands of debris left from the March 11, 2011, tsunami in Japan. Tourists will see first-hand the pollution problem that now exists in the country as lighters, toys, bottle caps, and other plastics float down the river.

According to Danielle Demetriou of The Telegraph, this unusual “tsunami debris” trip was created by two nonprofits devoted to raising awareness about sea pollution, the 5 Gyres Institute and the Algalita Marine Research Institute. The tour will begin in Hawaii and will head towards the gyre, “a vortex of ocean currents where sea rubbish accumulates”. From there, travelers will head across the “Japan Tsunami Debris Field”.

Since the news has been released there have been some Telegraph readers who don’t agree with the ethics being used, calling the tour “depraved” and saying that the tour operator is “making money from tourists whilst hiding behind the “eco” excuse to justify what he is doing”.

What are your thoughts on this unconventional new eco-tour?