Exposed: how tourism feeds global warming

Picture-perfect: Tourists gather in Santorini, a beautiful Greek island.

Is “mass tourism” wrong? Tourism is a booming industry, but a study has shown that it pollutes far more than previously thought. In other words, global travel is causing global warming.

What’s happening

Tourists pollute far more than we thought, according to a new study. The researchers estimate that tourism creates 8% of all global greenhouse gas emissions. They counted gases emitted by air travel, as well as by the restaurants, shops, hotels, transport and all other services used by tourists.

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Tourism is one of the biggest industries there is. It employs one in 10 of the world’s workers and generates trillions of dollars per year.

It is also one of the fastest-growing. This is because people are becoming wealthier, and new technologies have made travelling cheaper and easier. We live in an age of “mass tourism”.

This benefits many countries, particularly poorer ones, by creating jobs and bringing in money. However, a lot of energy (which releases gases) is required to build and run infrastructure for tourists. The study found that pollution is especially high among tourists from wealthy countries.

Mass tourism can harm destinations in other ways, such as by creating trash or using up water needed by locals.

What is the solution?

Some say…

Mass tourism must end. Tourism is a privilege, but people from rich countries now see it as a right. We drive and fly as we please, ignoring the consequences. Sadly, if global warming continues, the poorest nations will suffer the most. To prevent this, we must cut down on our travel and find ways to enjoy our holidays closer to home.

Others think…

People will never stop travelling. Instead, tourists must become more environmentally aware. Let’s start by using public transport instead of taxis and avoiding luxury hotels. We should also expand “green travel” schemes, like the one where travellers pay for trees to be planted whenever they fly. That way, tourism can be both fun and sustainable.

You Decide

  1. Should tourists feel guilty?


  1. As a class, list things that you could do to become a more environmentally conscious tourist.

Some People Say...

“The traveller sees what he sees. The tourist sees what he has come to see.”

GK Chesterton

What do you think?

Word Watch

Published in the journal Nature Climate Change.
Greenhouse gas emissions
“Greenhouse gases” contribute to global warming. “Emissions” means the amount of those gases released.
An “industry” is an area of economic activity. Other examples include cars and publishing.
One trillion is 1,000,000,000,000.
The systems and facilities needed for an organisation or country to run.
Able to continue without harming the natural world.


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