Millions of us travel to Europe every year. However, many European countries have been facing large-scale forest fires that affect not only the environment but also the safety of local residents and vacationers.
This year, the intensity and prevalence of forest fires in Europe increased, causing a negative impact on natural ecosystems, the climate, and, of course, the tourism industry.
Blistering temperatures, drought, and high winds have turned much of Europe into a tinderbox this summer, leading many of us to speculate that the climate and tourism have reached a turning point with many family holidays being cancelled.
Localised wildfires are a regular summer occurrence in mainland Europe, and indeed they have historically been an essential natural method of regeneration for forests and macchia alike. However the recent fires across the continent have something in common: they were more likely to happen, and to burn more destructively, because of human-caused climate change.
At the root of climate change is the phenomenon known as the greenhouse effect, the term scientists use to describe the way that atmospheric gases such as carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide “trap” heat that would otherwise radiate upward, from the planet’s surface, into outer space. On the one hand, we have the greenhouse effect to thank for the presence of life on Earth; without it, our planet would be cold and unlivable.
But beginning in the late-19th century, human activity began pushing the greenhouse effect to new levels. The result? A planet that’s warmer right now than at any other point in human history, and getting ever warmer. This global warming has, in turn, dramatically altered natural cycles and weather patterns, with impacts that include forest fires, protracted drought, increased flooding, more intense storms, and rising sea levels.
And it’s important to note that while climate change affects everyone in some way, it doesn’t do so equally: Minorities and those living in economically disadvantaged or politically marginalised communities bear a much larger burden, despite the fact that these communities play a much smaller role in warming the planet.
The decisions we make every day as individuals—which products we purchase, how much electricity we consume, how we get around, what we eat (and what we don’t— 8-10% of total man-made greenhouse gas are a direct result of food waste) add up to our single, unique carbon footprints.Combined you end up with humanity’s collective carbon footprint. The first step in reducing it is for us to acknowledge the uneven distribution of climate change’s causes and effects, and for those who bear the greatest responsibility for global greenhouse gas emissions to slash them without bringing further harm to those who are least responsible.
The big, climate-affecting decisions made by utilities, industries, and governments are shaped, in the end, by us: our needs, our demands, our priorities. Winning the fight against climate change will require us to rethink those needs, ramp up those demands, and reset those priorities.
With climate warming firmly on the public agenda and travel consistently under the microscope, sustainability-savvy travellers are demanding more from hotels and travel operators. The time to make concrete changes and measurable commitments has long passed: if you are not green, you are way behind the curve.
Eco-friendly travel doesn’t have to be expensive or difficult—it can simply be a matter of being mindful of your impact and making small changes to your travel habits.