The Ethicist: Beware of greenwash

‘Ecotourism’ is something of a misnomer, says John Cossham, who explores holidays without airports

Holidays abroad are an accepted norm. These habits have a large impact as when we fly it adds massively to our carbon footprint, eradicating all the good we do recycling, installing low energy lightbulbs and buying organic food. But there are green holiday alternatives, ethical transport choices and examples of true “ecotourism”.

When I was a teenager, I cycled around the UK on several 1,000-mile summer tours, staying at youth hostels, at family friends’ houses and with grandparents, cycling between 50 and 80 miles a day.

Cycling holidays – these days using the Sustrans network – are still the most ethical trips. For those going further, in a hurry, or with luggage, the train is the next best thing. With the Channel Tunnel and the website The Man in Seat Sixty One, you can easily plan trips all over Europe and beyond.

Going by coach or car is more environmentally friendly than flying. If you do fly, you could “offset” your share of the 160kg of carbon dioxide a minute emitted, perhaps using Climate Care, the carbon-neutral firm, or Atmosfair. But there’s been criticism about how effective carbon offsetting is, and some calculations don’t consider the extra damage that oxides of  nitrogen cause in the stratosphere. Offsetting has been described by some as “going on a diet by getting someone else not to eat”, so in my opinion it’s best not to fly at all.

If you must go overseas, you could “do good” while out there, working for charities or farming co-operatives. Willingly working on an organic farm (WWOOFing) is popular around the world, or you could get fit locally and have fun planting trees with Treesponsibility. You could get a family railcard and go on daytrips in the UK: we’ve loads of attractions, beauty spots and historical places of interest accessible by train and bike.

Most so-called ecotourism isn’t. It is ordinary aeroplanebased holidaying which takes you to a log cabin rather than a hotel. It’s “greenwash” from businesses desperate to keep you flying. Don’t be taken in; take a real ethical break instead.

John Cossham is Community Care’s ethical living expert. Read his blog 



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