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Rick Steves’s Bold New Climate Commitment

By Robert Firpo-Cappiello
July 29, 2019
Giant sculpture hands rise from a Venice Canal.
AlenaKravchenko/Dreamstime
The travel authority and activist announces a massive initiative to help address the effects of climate change around the world.

When Rick Steves talks about the condition of the planet, people listen. The author of more than 50 travel guidebooks and host of a PBS travel series, Steves has witnessed firsthand the effects of climate change around the globe, from rising sea levels to extreme weather events to overall global warming.

Introducing the Climate Smart Commitment

Steves is now using his considerable platform to help slow the effects of climate change. His Climate Smart Commitment will donate $1 million annually to fund climate-smart agriculture, agroforestry, and conservation projects in underdeveloped countries, with a portion of the funding going to climate advocacy organizations in the U.S.

The Climate Smart Commitment is noteworthy not only for its $1 million annual price tag but also for rejecting the conventional “carbon offset credits” approach that some businesses adopt, which often focus on funding clean energy projects in North America and Europe. Instead, Steves has chosen to work with organizations that are directly addressing climate change in developing countries, with an emphasis on projects that empower women to take leadership roles as they strengthen communities and help protect their environment.

Addressing the Global Effects of Travel

If Steves’s climate commitment sounds like an act of pure altruism, guess again. That $1 million annual investment is actually what Steves estimates he “owes” to the environment due to the carbon emissions created by the 30,000 travelers who take his European tours each year.

"Right now, our goal is simple," Steves tells Budget Travel. "We aim to mitigate the carbon emissions created when people fly to Europe and back for a Rick Steves tour. Funds for meeting this goal will come straight from our profits." Scientists estimate that the carbon emissions from a single traveler on one of Steves’s tours requires $30 in careful investment to offset.

“We don’t see this program as particularly heroic,” says Steves.“It’s simply ethical. We believe every business should bear the cost to the environment of their activities. That’s just honest accounting. We hope this program will inspire everyone who buys or sells tours to practice the same environmental ethic. This way, long after we are gone, our children will be able to enjoy the same happy travels we have.”

What Every Traveler Can Do

"Every flight or bus tour we take burns fossil fuels, and all travelers need to do their part to address this," Steves says. "Fortunately, there are lots of simple ways to curb your carbon footprint when traveling." Some suggestions, available at www.ricksteves.com/climate, include:

  • Make sure your home isn't wasting energy while you're away — turn down the thermostat, unplug as many appliances as you can, and suspend print subscriptions.
  • When possible, travel by train — rail travel is very energy efficient. And in Europe it's also generally fast, easy, and comfortable.
  • If you rent a car, rent the most fuel-efficient option, and decline any free "upgrade" to a model that's bigger than you need.
  • In cities, enjoy the thrill of getting around by bike if you can, and take advantage of Europe's fantastic public transportation rather than relying on taxis. (And remember that Europe's airports are all well-served by easy, frequent transit.) Before taking a bus tour, look into a bike or walking tour instead.
  • Be conscious of your energy consumption in hotels. Turn off the lights and air-conditioning when you leave the room. (Many European hotel rooms help you do this already: The power turns on only when the key is in a slot.) On warm days, close the window shutters or curtains before you leave in the morning, and you won't need to blast the air-con when you return. Because room service generates needless laundry, I hang the "Do not disturb" sign on my door and reuse my towel.
  • Most of Europe is flowing with great tap water, often available in fountains around towns and cities. By reusing a plastic water bottle or bringing your own refillable water bottle, you not only save money, but also avoid consuming bunches of plastic and reduce demand for water that's shipped overland in trucks and trains.
  • Cut down on other wasteful consumption as much as possible. Travel habits prompt many of us to use disposable items much more often than we do at home, but you can reduce this with a little prep: Pack a lightweight shopping bag and keep it in your day bag, and bring a set of reusable picnic ware. Don't pick up brochures, maps, or other materials that you don't need to keep — consider taking photos of them instead. (The fewer brochures that get picked up at tourist offices, the fewer they'll print next year.) Avoid using the individually packaged, itsy-bitsy toiletries supplied by hotel rooms. A single bar of soap and squeeze bottle of shampoo from home can last an entire trip.
  • Eat locally: Food that hasn't been trucked long distances is easier on the environment (and tastier). Picnic shop at farmers markets when you can, and avoid chain restaurants. Look for restaurants that use mainly local and organic ingredients (more likely with smaller family-run places; "bio" is shorthand for "organic" in many European languages).
  • Patronize hotels and travel companies that promote and practice sustainable traveling practices.
  • Notice how Europeans seem to live more while consuming less, and how they live as if their choices can shape a better future. And take home a little of that sensibility as a souvenir.

(Tips courtesy RickSteves.com)

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