San Francisco airport wants to sell you carbon offset credits

As of yesterday, passengers departing from San Francisco international airport can purchase carbon offset credits before taking their flight. The credits are called “Climate Passport”, and they can be bought from electronic kiosks located throughout the airport.

Each ton of carbon offsets costs $13.50, and a typical transcontinental flight spits out about 1.9 tons. Offsetting that will cost you just under $25. Of course, that number is for the total amount per flight, so if more than one passenger on a flight pays for the offsets, the flight will theoretically be carbon negative.

The money gets split – $12.00 goes towards the Garcia River Forest project, and $1.50 goes to the city of San Francisco to support local carbon reduction projects.

The kiosks cost $190,000 to install, and to me that seems like a heck of a lot of money for something that is going to be a pretty hard sell. On paper the project looks great – it allows passengers to help the environment without having to give up much more than a little of their cash, but in reality I really don’t see many passengers participating – though I’d like to be proven wrong.

You can learn more about the program, and how the collected money is spent, at the Climate Passport web site.


Maldives President proposes green tax for tourists

The Maldives, an archipelago of over 1000 islands in the Indian Ocean known for their stunning beauty and expensive, luxurious resorts, aren’t exactly cheap to visit. And they aren’t about to get any cheaper. The President of the Maldives has proposed a $3 per day “green tax” on tourists.

The tax would help fund the President’s plans for fighting climate change and for making the Maldives a carbon-neutral country within the next decade. He has a vested interest in stopping global warming – the Maldives are the lowest-lying islands on the planet, with an average elevation of only 7 feet above sea level, and it is estimated that they could be completely submerged by rising sea levels within the next ten years.

With an average of 700,000 visitors, who each stay around three days, visiting the Maldives annually, the tax could provide the country with over $6 million per year for environmental initiatives. With most resorts in the Maldives costing $500 (or much more) per night, $3 per person, per day is a small price to pay to help protect this vulnerable country from the dangers of climate change.

Antarctic tourism to get safer, more environmentally friendly

The 20th Annual Meeting of the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) was held last month, with marine safety and the impact of travel on the Antarctic environment being the main topics of discussion. Attending members adopted measures that will hopefully ensure that travel to the region becomes safer, while also forming a working group to study ways to reduce the carbon footprint of tourism on the fragile ecosystem there.

Over the past couple of years there have been several high profile incidences involving Antarctic cruise ships, including the sinking of the MS Explorer back in 2007, and two ships running aground in December 2008 and again in February of this year. In response to these accidents, the IAATO passed a series of actions to enhance marine safety. The changes include mandatory participation in a satellite tracking program for all IAATO members, the conversion of all open lifeboats to partially or fully closed boats, and a new rule that stipulates that all ships sailing below 60º South have “a captain or appointed ice pilot with Antarctic experience.” The final new rule is in direct response to an investigation earlier this year that found that the inexperience of the captain directly played a role in the sinking of the Explorer. In the report that the IAATO released on the conference they indicated that G.A.P. Adventures, the company that held the charter for the Explorer, acknowedged the negative impact that the sinking of the ship had on the entire Antarctic tourism industry, and they encouraged the changes to restore confidence with travelers.The more than 100 IAATO members, from 14 countries, that attending the meeting also acknolwedged that global climate change was the greatest threat to the Antarctic continent, which led to the forming of the working group to explore more options for sustainable travel to the region. The new group intends to find ways to raise awareness of the threats to the frozen continent, as well as explore options for reducing the carbon footprint of travel to the area.

Personally, I think that the measures adopted are good steps for the Antarctic tourism industry. Clearly there are safety concerns, and it seems that operators have been playing with fire, especially since no one has been seriously hurt or died from the accidents that have occured there in the past few years. The changes are not likely to prevent further incidences however, but they may help to ensure that passengers continue to be safe and that they can be located more quickly by rescue crews, should the need arise.

The fact that that the IAATO is thinking about sustainable travel to Antarctica is encouraging as well, as it shows that they are moving towards becoming better stewards of the environment and ensuring that the continent remains in pristine condition for future adventure travelers to enjoy as well. It remains to be seen what kind of plans they put in place in this area however and how it’ll impact the industry as a whole.

And the happiest place on Earth is …

… not Disney World!

Despite the theme park’s claim, Costa Rica actually takes the top spot, according to the New Economics Foundation. This Britain-based independent research firm uses the “Happy Planet Index” to determine and rank the countries with the happiest people. The organization’s goal is to build a new economy that focuses on people and the environment.

This year’s survey covered 143 countries, with Latin American claiming nine of the top 10 positions in the study. The Dominican Republic took second, followed by Jamaica, Guatemala and Vietnam.

If you live in a developed nation, it seems, you’re probably unhappy. Great Britain took 74th, and the United States came in at 114. But, the latter is happier than it was 20 years ago. China and India are also fairly unhappy, but mostly because they are pursuing aggressive economic growth.

Now, the results are skewed because ecological implications account for a substantial portion of how happy a country is. The study assumes that the further you are from carbon-neutral, the unhappier you are. I’m down for going green, but I really struggle to see how it plays such a large role in a country’s happiness.