According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), 2001, there are three main impact areas of tourism on the environment:
- natural resources
- pollution
- physical impact

In terms of natural resource depletion, tourism/travel increases consumption in areas where there are already-scarce resources. Water, land degradation, and local resources are all great examples. A case study can be found in the city of Jaisalmer, India. Jaisalmer is essentially a giant sandcastle. It is a fort where a royal family formerly lived, and still exists today in all of its glory. However, Jaisalmer is in the middle of the desert.
Water is already scarce, and the methods that the original fort architects used to channel water inside the fort are delicate. According to The Smithsonian, "The hotels, restaurants and shops that dot the historic ridges import nearly 50,000 gallons of water daily." This is severely eroding the in-built water channel architecture and also causing the fort to sink into the desert ground beneath it. Residents, architects, and heritage groups are problem-solving what can be done about Jaisalmer its imported desert-oasis.

Tourism causes the same polluting outcomes as many industries do, including but not limited to: air emissions, noise, solid waste and littering, releases of sewage, oil and chemicals, even architectural/visual pollution. Some studies have estimated that over 10% of the carbon in the atmosphere comes from airplane travel. On websites such as TerraPass, you can check out your carbon foot print from your air travel.

Physical Impact
Physical impact refers to the degradation of ecosystems such as beaches, mountaintops, and forests. One example given by the Global Development Research Center are safaris. According to the site, "Wildlife viewing can bring about stress for the animals and alter their natural behavior when tourists come too close. Safaris and wildlife watching activities have a degrading effect on habitat as they often are accompanied by the noise and commotion created by tourists as they chase wild animals in their trucks and aircraft. This puts high pressure on animal habits and behaviors and tends to bring about behavioral changes. In some cases, as in Kenya, it has led to animals becoming so disturbed that at times they neglect their young or fail to mate."

Study Abroad & Environmental Impact
When we think about tourism, environmental impact does come to mind because tourism is mostly a one-directional activity. As a consumer, there is a social responsibility to give something back.However, in study abroad, students may often feel that because they are participating in cultural learning and not strictly consumption-related activities, they are less accountable for the environmental impacts of travel. They may feel that they are already "giving back." To my mind, as someone with even higher community-level integration, study abroad participants should be even more accountable for the environmental impact of their actions. Think about the decisions that you make that result in natural resource use, pollution, and physical impact of ecosystems. What sort of changes can you make in your lifestyle?

Leave a Reply.