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Calculating Your Vacation’s Carbon Footprint, One Travel Mode at a Time

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SOLUTIONS

A Calculator To Plan Climate Friendly Travel

Planning a vacation? A new tool lets you calculate the carbon cost of your trip, taking into consideration distance traveled, mode of transportation and accommodation type. 

Created by researchers at Chalmers University of Technology and the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, the Travel and Climate tool lets a user put in where they are, where they’re going, how many are traveling and for how long. The tool tells users the carbon impact of each of their options, whether they travel by train, bus, gas-powered car, electric car or plane, and whether they stay in a tent, hostel or hotel.

Flying tends to be the least climate friendly way to reach a destination because of the significant carbon emitted by airplanes. Driving a car is often less carbon intensive than flying, especially if the car is electric. Trains are often the best choice, according to the tool, especially in Europe where they are powered by electricity. 

Jörgen Larsson, who is a researcher in sustainable consumption at Chalmers and one of the researchers who helped create the tool, said one way he likes to travel sustainably is train-bike tourism. This summer, he took a night train from his home in Gothenburg to northern Norway, where he biked 30 to 40 miles every day on a foldable bike to see the sights.

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Although the tool is backed with European data, users can insert destinations from around the world, but Larsson cautions that calculations in places like the United States may be less accurate. He hopes to improve the tool with data from the U.S. and Canada. 

Larsson hopes that people who use this tool will consider why they want to travel. Is it because they want to do a certain activity or see a certain place? Or is it more about spending time with friends and family away from your normal environment? 

“If that is your deeper goal with your vacation, then you can find lots of climate friendly options,” Larsson said. “You don’t have to fly long distances in order to be with your friends and family. You can take public transportation on your way to some place and get that fulfillment.”

SCIENCE

The Motivating Power of Climate Anxiety

Only a small percentage of people in the United Kingdom experience climate anxiety, a new study found, but the condition can be a motivator for people to take action on global warming.

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Bath, surveyed about 1,300 adults in the U.K. in 2020 and again in 2022. About 80 percent of respondents reported they worry about climate change, but most did not elevate that worry to anxiety, where the concern affects their emotions and daily functioning. 

But, researchers found that those who do experience climate anxiety are more likely to take action in their lives to reduce their carbon footprint, like cutting waste and consumption.

“Maybe there’s a certain level of climate anxiety which is quite an adaptive response,” said Lorraine Whitmarsh, the study’s lead author and an environmental psychologist at the University of Bath. “Because it does seem to actually promote positive action on climate change.”

The survey also found climate anxiety is predicted more by a respondents’ media consumption than by whether they had first-hand experience with a climate disaster. Whitmarsh suspects this is because media coverage tends to highlight the most dramatic effects of climate change.

She said that the best way to communicate the gravity of climate change is not just to discuss its terrible effects, but also “to show that there are things you can do to tackle that risk, to increase that sense of efficacy to reduce harm,” Whitmarsh said. “So I think there is an important role for media in not just telling people about climate change, but also telling people there are solutions.”

CULTURE

‘Outsource the Suffering’

A new collection of essays, speeches, eulogies and poems tell a story of heartbreak and grief on Guam, in the Pacific, bearing witness to loss in the natural world. 

Julian Aguon, a writer and human rights lawyer, delves into the climate and justice issues arising from the militarization of Guam, while reflecting on his own coming of age experience as an Indigenous Chamorro person growing up on the U.S. island territory in his new book, “No Country for Eight Spot Butterflies” out this month. Guam—about 4,000 miles west of Hawaii—is strategically located for the U.S. military and is home to two, soon to be three, bases and thousands of military personnel. Much military development is underway on the island, including a new machine gun practice range in the heart of an ecologically sensitive forest that supports many native species found nowhere else in the world, including the Mariana eight-spot butterfly.

Inside Climate News recently discussed the book with Aguon. This conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity. 

Tell me about this new book, and why did you want to write it?

It’s sort of many things at once. It sort of breaks the rules when it comes to form for sure. It’s like essays that were inspired by old notes collected from old journals that I have done since even my teenage years, but also commencement speeches, eulogies and shorter vignettes, sort of ala Sandra Cisneros’ “House on Mango Street.” It’s just a total hodge podge, I think a lovely mess, but honestly, I just thought that I had really specific things to say, and they didn’t lend themselves to one neat categorizable thing. So I was lucky enough to find a publisher who was willing to crash every party at once.

What does the title of your book mean, “No Country for Eight-Spot Butterflies”?

The Mariana eight-spot butterfly is one of several endemic endangered species that are being directly threatened because the U.S. military is building a massive, multipurpose 59-acre machine gun range, because they need this machine gun range. So because of that claimed need, they have already begun to destroy limestone forest and these are forests that took thousands of years to evolve. These are really specific environments, and they are home to the eight-spot butterfly. And so when I wrote “No Country for Eight-Spot Butterflies,” I’m trying to point out the just incredible beauty of a species being smashed and obliterated by the U.S. war machine. It is like bearing witness to this smashing. 

How is your perspective informed and shaped by being a native of Guam, and what should mainland Americans know about this Pacific island? 

The sort of spreading canopy of militarization is not only here, but it’s palpable, it’s felt in the air that we breathe. 

Americans think that they’re gearing up for a war. There’s always the rhetorical sort of going to war, sort of like “rallying the troops” rhetoric that we’re seeing, even at the congressional level, sometimes at the executive branch. But there’s actually already a war that is happening in real time if you are part of a frontline community. As America is increasingly concerned with China’s rising influence in the Asia-Pacific Theater, what’s happening on the ground is they are expanding their military footprint. They are building a brand new Marine Corps base, the first one built since the ‘50s anywhere in this country. You can see the military transport vehicles both on the ground and in the waters. You see, the war is already here. 

It’s like climate change. This is not a future crisis. It’s a current crisis. It’s happening now. That’s what happens sometimes in America. This country likes to go to war, but it likes to outsource the suffering. The suffering is happening on the ground in communities so far away. 

SCIENCE

Smaller, Slower and Less Effective

Warmer temperatures can lead to smaller body sizes for insects. A new study on a common butterfly species shows that smaller sized individuals also carry less pollen, which could be a problem for food crops that rely on pollinators. 

Researchers from the University of British Columbia raised cabbage white butterflies in a laboratory setting and found that those raised in warmer temperatures were smaller than those in colder temperatures. They also found the smaller butterflies with their smaller wings could not fly as far or as fast as larger butterflies. 

Then, the researchers looked at cabbage whites in the wild and found that individuals similar in size to the small, warm-raised butterflies carried less pollen from fewer different species of plants than larger individuals. 

Pollinators like butterflies play an important role in spreading pollen to about 35 percent of the world’s agricultural crops. The researchers argue that warming temperatures driven by climate change could make pollinators smaller, slower and less effective at transporting pollen.  

“There’s a bit of a concern that maybe plants will be not able to get as much pollen as they need to make all their fruits,” said study co-author Michel Tseng, an assistant professor at the University of British Columbia. “But we don’t know for sure yet if that is the case.” Further study is needed to understand if this phenomenon is widespread enough to cause issues for agriculture, she said. 

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