Taking the Slow Boat

photo of crowds on a beach

People sunbathe at Levante Beach on July 22, 2015 in Benidorm, Spain. Photographer: David Ramos/Getty Images Europe

This being Amurrika and all, I started linking to the business press a little more regularly sometime ago, to be aware of how the world looks to those who see everything through the prism of money. Bloomberg Green has some good reporters and this digression on Mass Tourism’s Carbon Impact is valuable:

a model built by and for the masses, one that thrives on low-cost flights, all-inclusive hotel resorts, giant buffets and endless sangria. Spain, the world’s No. 2 destination with 83.7 million visitors in 2019, is a magnet for mass tourism (it’s no coincidence that package tours were invented not far from where I was standing). In total, the industry flew, accommodated, fed and entertained a good chunk of the world’s 1.5 billion tourists last year.

Globally, it was a booming sector before the pandemic, growing at about 4% every year, employing 10% of the world’s workers and representing 10% of global gross domestic product. The enormous cruise ships, fossil fuel-powered planes and the hotels in remote, water-scarce locations make it incredibly carbon intensive too. Total footprint is estimated at around 8% of overall human emissions.

The sector’s climate record before the pandemic was already discouraging. Efforts to lower the carbon footprint have mostly been limited to climate neutrality pledges and headline-grabbing small steps like eliminating mini-shampoo bottles, replacing plastic straws with paper ones and serving sustainable food on flights.

Just calculating the impact is hard. Any serious account should include carbon emitted directly from tourism activities, but also from the whole supply chain, also known as Scope 3 emissions. That would involve food, accommodation, transport, fuel and shopping.

Scope 3 emissions are an important benchmark, and we should be aware of how to think about carbon footprint. As for global travel, I have been an active participant for more than twenty years. I remember at one point looking into the cost/feasibility of traveling to Europe by ship instead of plane for a completely different set of reasons. Considering it again, it still makes sense – and is completely unaffordable vs. comparable flights. The reality of mass tourism is a conundrum – yes, people need to travel, to expand their mindfulness of and about the world. Yes, small communities without other industries need viable economic lifelines. Yes, it creates an environmental disaster in more ways than ten.

Things Fall Apart. Look at the photo up top. Look at what has become of Venice. Without factoring in the true costs of these experiences – cruise ships, quick trips, cheap tour packages – the viability of these this places and practices have already fallen into great peril. They are at risk, even as they continue unchanged. The cruise ship industry is revving their engines, despite the inherent contradictions of scale. We need to re-think broadly. Disperse the destinations. Stay longer, take longer to get there. Yes, it costs more. These experiences already costs more than we think.

Eco Hustle – poverty

Again, I hoist one of these columns from the Flagpole archives and I’m aghast at how little nothing has changed:

let-us-now-praise-famous-menLike corporate green advertising, our policies against the poor get lost in a shuffle of righteous sounding reforms, intended to move people from “welfare to work” in order to usher in a new era of “personal responsibility.” The two strategies have much in common as we whitewash our consciences with high morals and the appearance of genuine, public-spirited problem solving. But there’s a dark side to this shell game every bit as dastardly as Exxon-Mobile working to build your energy future: Where do the poor go once they leave a statistical column?

In the land of perverse incentives, Georgia happens to be the shining city on a hill. A nice, depending on your orientation, compendium of our state of affairs appeared in the January/February 2009 issue of Mother Jones magazine. The experience of several young mothers on welfare is profiled for all and sundry and it’s not a pretty sight. What we do to ourselves in regard to getting people off of welfare rolls is nothing less than a full abrogation of human, economic and civil rights. We lie, mislead and otherwise confuse those among us who need help the most. The connections to other, similar atrocities to which we subject ourselves and our environment bear no further case to be made; if we can do this to the so-called least of our brethren here, there are no limits to what we might do to people, earth and sky we nominally care about and depend upon.

The whole thing, plus a few more columns. 2009, people.

Image: by Walker Evans, from Let us Now Praise fampus men, by James Agee and Walker Evans

Eco Hustle

New Flagpole column up. Is today the day we celebrate what is verte? Or is our one-track media only all-torture all the time? Ignore the extent to which this last statement is redundant and-a-half.


New Flagpole column is up on the intersphere. I’ve always wondered about those ‘trust, but verify’ caveats in major arms control treaties and prenuptial agreements. They make a lot more sense when you see them as mere, though hardly just, contradictions.


New Flagpole column is up on the intersphere. I’ve always wondered about those ‘trust, but verify’ caveats in major arms control treaties and prenuptial agreements. They make a lot more sense when you see them as mere, though hardly just, contradictions.