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Climate Emergency? Eliminate Tourism!

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These translations are done via Google Translate

By David Yager – July 16, 2019

Ottawa’s recent “climate emergency” declaration demands decisive action. Even if we act now the word “emergency” means it’s already too late. Fire prevention is proactive. Fire control is emergency response.

Federal Energy Minister Catherine McKenna assures us forest fires, floods and droughts can be mitigated by impeding pipelines, replacing coal, banning tankers, levying carbon taxes and issuing cash rebates.

While obviously putting less of anything in the air is always a good idea, Canada alone can have no material impact on global CO2 emissions. With only 1.6% of CO2 output and 0.5% of the world’s population, Canada and all its citizens could disappear entirely resulting in no significant change to the composition of the planet’s atmosphere.

But this is much more about politics than the weather.

A truly meaningful response to a true climate emergency would include eliminating destination tourism. Prohibit all recreational travel not accessible by foot, bicycle, horse, canoe, sailboat or non-carbon recharged electric vehicle. If you really care, you’ll stay home.

The emissions impact of tourism is huge. The UN World Tourism Organization estimates far-away vacations create a whopping five percent of total emissions, as much of three quarters of it from transportation which depends almost exclusively on fossil fuels. Accommodations, which include air conditioning where it is too warm and heat where it is too cold, create another 20%. The remainder comes from food and souvenirs.

Air travel is a major source of carbon emissions. The International Air Traffic Association (IATA) says 4.4 billion people travelled by airplane in 2018 on 38 million flights. Only about 12% of air travel is for business. Of the remaining 88% the biggest growth area is tourism.

All airline industry forecasts indicate significant growth if nothing changes. The IATA figures by 2037 there will be 8.2 billion person/flights annually based on a compounded annual growth rate of 3.2%.

Rising incomes and cheap flights have created a tourist boom, helping double air travel in 15 years. Famous destinations increasingly complain about “overtourism”, defined as too many visitors for the infrastructure. Heavily travelled locations now include places that used to be viewed exclusively in the pages of National Geographic; Mount Everest, Machu Picchu, The Galapagos and Iceland.

Conde Nast Traveller, the famous tourism magazine, lists 15 destinations now classified as overvisited. Add to the four names above Mallorca (Spain), Amsterdam, Boracay (Philippines), Venice, Bali (Indonesia), Santorini (Mediterranean), Dubrovnik (Croatia), US National Parks (Smokey Mountains, Yellowstone, Zion), Barcelona and the Thai Islands (Phuket Thailand and area).

Overtourism is in our backyard. Have you tried to visit Banff or Lake Louise on a summer Saturday recently?

Responding to pressure from the climate change movement, the IATA now calculates fuel consumption. In 2018 commercial airplanes burned 95 billion gallons of jet fuel, over 2.2 billion barrels or six percent of global oil production. That’s because a refined barrel yields about 10% jet fuel so 22 billion barrels were required. That’s 22 times Alberta’s annual oil sands output.

Airlines include business travel and freight. Cruise ships are 100% tourism.  When moving the world’s 314 luxury liners burn an average 45,000 gallons or 7,400 barrels daily. The big dogs which carry up to 4,000 passengers consume 80,000 gallons per day, or 12,700 barrels. A refined barrel yields about 25% fuel oil, meaning these boats need three billion barrels annually.

In fairness these are not incremental barrels, as these big boats can share some of the 22 billion aviation fuel barrels. But cruise ships alone aren’t the end of this emissions story. The vast majority of customers must fly from where they live to the port where they board, then fly home after disembarkation. Industry trade statistics reveal over 27 million people took a cruise ship vacation in 2018. According website, 47 new floating, self-propelled cities are scheduled for delivery from 2019 through 2027.

Commercial airliners discharged 905 million tonnes of CO2 last year, IATA reports. This is greater than every country in the world except China, U.S., India, Russia and Japan. Environmental group Germanwatch estimates a return trans-Atlantic flight for one person from Germany to the Caribbean results in the same amount of CO2 as 80 average residents of Tanzania emit in a year.

In terms of fairness, tourism emissions are very selfish. Billions of people cannot afford to fly or go anywhere. According to Boeing’s CEO, over 80% of mankind has never set foot on an airplane. While the total number of passengers is easy to calculate, the total number of people who actually fly is more complicated. Depending on the start and end of your trip, taking more than one flight is not uncommon. One person on a vacation that starts and ends somewhere not served by an international airport could easily take six flights round trip. Business travelers who commute weekly will take 100 or more flights a year. That’s why some estimates conclude 100% of the flights are taken by as few as 5% of the population.

Combatting climate change by reducing tourism is economically beneficial. You can easily live without it. By staying home, former travelers would see their disposable income increase. By restricting or prohibiting tourism, a deeply concerned government like Canada’s could deliver an amazing double whammy: fight climate change and provide individuals with more cash to pay down their mortgage or live more comfortably in retirement.

But in Canada saving the planet is about spending more, not less. We instead tax necessities like fuel, heat and, through transportation, food. We choose to introduce programs and policies that increase the cost of business, impair the nation’s competitiveness, and chase capital out of the country.

And we prefer to blame oil producers, not consumers. Climate change is not your fault. It is the big bad producers of oil, natural gas and coal.

The economic expense of this approach is enormous. Opposition to oil sands, LNG exports and pipelines in the name of climate change costs the Canadian economy billions through below-market oil and gas prices, plunging investment, unemployment, falling property values, and reduced business valuations. Canada is the only significant oil and gas producing jurisdiction in the world intentionally denying its producers access to hungry global markets.

And it is almost meaningless globally. Based on the fuel requirements of tourism alone, shutting down the oil sands completely would have no meaningful impact. Other oil producers would easily replace Canadian crude. There’s so much oil around nowadays OPEC and the government of Alberta must restrict production to sustain a decent price.

Tourism is of significant economic value to all travel destinations, a major source of income and a key industry. Canada Newswire issued a news release January 11, 2019 containing the latest data from Statistics Canada.

“Canada’s tourism sector is a driver of the Canadian economy: it contributes to economic growth and creates opportunities and jobs for the middle class across Canada. The tourism sector is an important source of employment for Canadians, supporting 1.8 million jobs across the country. From January to September of 2018, tourism spending in Canada was $80.8 billion, an increase of 5.9% compared to the same period in 2017. Domestic revenues edged up 6.9% to almost $63.3 billion, and tourism revenues from international travelers increased 2.3% to $17.5 billion.

Tourism is a vital and growing part of the Canadian economy. From 2014 to 2017, Canada’s tourism sector gained ground by almost every measure. International arrivals in Canada grew by an average of 8% per year and the tourism sector’s contribution to GDP grew by an average of 4.6% per year. From 2014 to 2017, the number of jobs in Canada’s tourism sector grew by an average of 1.7% per year.”

Having fuel to move people around is also vital for tourism. But this is about votes, not the composition of the atmosphere.

Melanie Joy, federal Minster of Tourism, was quoted as saying, “These numbers prove that the tourism sector deserves to be recognized for its high growth potential. It’s a driving force in job creation for the middle class…People worldwide have never travelled so much, and we are working on a national tourism strategy to help communities across the country, large and small, draw more visitors to their regions. The future is bright for Canadian tourism.”

During the recent Calgary Stampede Prime Minister Justin Trudeau justified his government’s actions on the oil industry, pipelines and bills C-48 and C-69 with no mention of his cancellation of Northern Gateway, the rules changes that killed Energy East, or his unquestioned acceptance of Quebec’s unconstitutional position of blocking oil pipelines.

Trudeau complained he got no credit for striking a balance between approving Trans Mountain while ensuring a secure climate future for Canadians and promising to ban single use plastic. He said his critics never say, “Well thank you for putting a price on pollution and protecting our oceans.”

Green Party leader Elizabeth May is more direct. Buoyed by her party’s recent by-election win on Vancouver Island (doubling the number of Green MPs) and standing in the polls, May is getting more publicity for her vision for Canada. She wants to put all of Canada on domestic oil, about 1.5 million b/d, then shut-in the rest which is nearly 3.5 million b/d of crude and liquids. In a recent Tweet May wrote, “We have more than adequate domestic supply to stop foreign oil, while ramping down domestic production – and slashing demand by moving to EVs.”

The simple math is eliminating 70% of the production will ultimately eliminate 70% of the direct and indirect employment. Elizabeth May is surely the first Canadian political party leader in history who is campaigning on a platform of eliminating hundreds of thousands of jobs.

If May gains more influence, she has already declared she’ll attack fuel producers, not the fuel consumers who voted for her on Vancouver Island. The cruise boats and airplanes will continue to come and go. Except they will be powered by refined oil from somewhere else. Because refueling in Canada will be either too expensive or illegal.

Not coincidentally, there are no Green Party seats to be won in Alberta or Saskatchewan.

Canadian politicians never even suggest curtailing tourism to tackle climate change. Not a voter-getter in frigid Canada where a winter vacation somewhere warm is as popular as hockey. The public outrage would be deafening. Compare the soothing words of the Minister of Tourism about this “vital” Canadian industry with those of the Prime Minister who campaigned in 2015 on stopping Northern Gateway and, in an unscripted moment, said Canada must “phase out” of the oil sands.

Tourism is often called “sustainable”. But when you include travel, the phrase “eco-tourism” is stretching the truth unless you walk there. Nobody said saving the world would ever be cheap or painless. Ask Albertans.

The most cost-effective form of emissions reduction remains non-consumption. But for politicians there are fewer votes at risk attacking the fuel than the customers. So in B.C. municipalities court tourists and sue oil companies. The dots linking fossil fuel consumption and living a comfortable life in BC’s tourist-meccas are never connected, at least publicly.

Quebec politics is driven by a political debate that is disingenuous in the extreme. Oblivious to the west coast tanker ban, Quebec imports oil by tanker down the St. Lawrence while blocking oil pipelines. Many Quebecers enjoy escaping to Florida in the winter where they continue their pipeline opposition from somewhere warm.

Declare a national climate emergency then ban single use plastic to protect the oceans? In 2021? Maybe. Except Canada doesn’t dump any plastic in the ocean. The vast majority comes from the third world. Recent polls indicate over half of Canadians support this initiative, but of course unlike Albertans they haven’t had to pay for it yet. Like all issues related to climate change, support remains strong until it hits your wallet.

No government seeking re-election is ever going to ban tourism, or even restrict it. Nevertheless, this ignores all data indicating that tourism, air travel and cruise ships will continue to grow. In the absence of substitute fuels for planes, ships, buses and many trains, so will CO2 emissions.

The opening line of my recent book reads, “The current debate about climate change and what mankind should do about it has deteriorated to the point of absurdity”.

Canada’s preposterous declaration of a national climate emergency while only undertaking actions that won’t cost sitting governments in BC, Quebec and Ottawa votes is a perfect example. Climate change in Canada remains devoid of common sense, dominated instead by shameless, tribal, partisan politics.

Based in Calgary, David Yager is the author of From Miracle to Menace – Alberta, A Carbon Story. Learn more at




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