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September 2018    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 44, No. 9   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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How Traveliní Divers Can Reduce Their Carbon Footprints

from the September, 2018 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Adventurous diving is irrevocably linked to air travel, but if we divers are to be ecologically responsible, should we consider giving up globe-trotting to fin through exotic dive sites? After all, human-induced climate change is caused, by and large, by carbon emissions, and according to a study published in Nature Climate Change in May, eight percent of those come from global tourism. Furthermore, the industry is growing at a whopping four percent each year.

When it comes to carbon footprints, who bears responsibility for it? Travel companies, airlines, governments or us?

One method tour operators and local dive shops can use is to encourage fishermen to give up harmful activities like dynamite fishing and reap the benefits of preserving healthy reefs by employing them fishermen as boat handlers and dive guides. While there's good research indicating the positive effect tourism can have on local people and their actions, it's still up in the air whether the effect compensates for the overall environmental impact.

One aspect the study pays much attention to is the degree to which the economies of popular diving destinations like the Seychelles, the Maldives and Indonesia depend on tourism -- and how that international tourism accounts for up to 80 percent of those nations' carbon emissions, along with rising sea levels.

Without giving up such travel, the answer for divers may be carbon offsets -- paying money towards projects that counter emissions, such as planting forests or improving energy efficiency. Yet Benjamin Hale, an environmental ethics professor at the University of Colorado in Boulder, sees problems with putting too much of the onus for reducing emissions onto the individual traveler. He argues against looking at carbon footprints as the sole way to determine the best environmental actions.

"Most of these global-scale environmental problems can't be easily addressed by individual actions. They have to be addressed at the policy level," Hale told the Christian Science Monitor. "Relying too much on individuals to take the right actions can mean that the individuals who care cede ground to those who don't, allowing people who care less about the environment to take advantage of a system that enables them to do so.

"Some smaller travel operators build carbon offsets into their pricing, and international travellerstravelers should be encouraged to buy carbon offsets alongside their airline tickets," Hale says. "They hope that although they alone won't make much difference, the precedent might encourage bigger players in the travel market to follow the lead."

There is no doubt that the cross-cultural understanding and the economic benefit international tourism brings to many countries and regions is a benefit that is often much less environmentally destructive than many possible alternatives.

Hale says, "It's important to have a sense of the footprints we're creating in the world, but there are many more factors that go into determining if that footprint is warranted or justified than just that it's a footprint."

Some dive travel companies have taken this into consideration and allow divers to purchase carbonoffset points that go towards ecological projects, such as planting trees, to mitigate the damage of their individual carbon footprints. You can purchase points online at sites such as or They'll go towards carbon-offsetting projects that can also provide wider benefits to developing countries, such as ecological biodiversity, improved education, more jobs and food, and better health and well-being.

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