Climate Change & Travel Implications

The fact that Earth is increasing in temperature is undisputed. The vast majority of scientists attribute a large part of the blame on manmade activities, though a few sceptics still remain, clinging on to their outdated ideas. Even President Bush has acknowledged that man is contributing towards global warming. Climate change has had significant impact upon lifestyles in South America. It also has implications for the travel industry, very often hindering it´s development.  Global warming is real and evident right now in this present moment.

Generally speaking, climate change has produced heavier and more persistent rains in the South America. Heavier rains in turn leads to more mosquitoes, which in turn transmit diseases such as Malaria and Dengue fever to the local population and visitors alike. Dr. Franklin Alcaraz del Castillo, who is head of Bolivia’s Latin American Scientific Research Centre, has stated that torrential rain in the earlier part of this year has lead to a significant increase in mosquitoes in the amazon region, which in turn has lead to an increase in the spread of diseases such as Dengue fever.  Brazil has also reported a 30% increase of Dengue fever cases in 2007 compared to 2006 levels [see source] .  These are not isolated cases - dengue fever is on the increase throughout Latin America, caused in part by manmade global warming.

Flooding caused by heavy rains also meant that 40,000  families had to be evacuated more them homes in northern and eastern departments of Bolivia early this year.  In Ecuador´s coastal region, the rainy season has traditionally (over the previous decades at least) ended in May, but this year the rains continued until July.  Many regions rely on dry seasons to assist in their development - roads are often impassable during the heavy rains. When the rains persist, development is invariably hindered. The community of Piedra Blanca in Ecuador, for example, was planning on renovations to their ecotourism cabana in June 2007, but the heavy rains meant that access by larger vehicles was not possible at that time, so the renovations had to be postponed by months.  The disruption caused by increased rainfall can be seen throughout South America.

Sea levels are rising globally, and island communities are at the greatest risk. Cayes in countries such as Belize are slowly being eaten away, bit by bit the Cayes are getting smaller and smaller.  Belize´s premier travel destination of Ambergris Caye, famous for its excellent scuba diving, might not exist in 100 years is some sea level rise predictions are true.  I´ve recently asked local islanders in Bocas del Toro (Panama), the San Blas Islands (Panama), the Cayes of Belize, Los Roques (Venezuela) and the Rosario Islands (Colombia) if they think sea levels are rising - on all occasions the responses is “yes”. The islanders are actually witnessing the sea levels rising year by year.  It´s an awful thought to think that such beautiful travel destinations might not exist for future generations to experience.

Man made global warming is also contributing towards the year by year recession of snowlines across the Andes, without exception.  Prime examples can be seen from the glaciers of Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia - year by year photos show that the snowline is visibly receeding. Ski resorts in Chile and Argentina  (eg. Bariloche) face extinction as without no snow there can be no skiing.

Manmade climate change is real and evident throughout Latin America. Less developed countries are invariably affected to a greater degree than than the Western world as they have less financial resources at their disposal to assist towards the adaption necessary to combat a changing climate and it´s influence upon the land. The Western World has created climate change, but it´s the less developed countries such as those in Latin America that will suffer the most in the future.

As a tourist, you can help though. Visiting Latin America as a responsible traveller, you can do your part to help the continent´s adaption towards, and reduction of, man made global warming.  Offset your carbon emissions if travelling by plane.  Do ecotourism.  Visit conservation projects and donate towards them.  If you visit a community run rainforest based ecotourism project, you´re giving the local communities a reason to conserve the forest you are visiting, rather than chop it down for the quick gain of selling timber.  Try to travel responsibly.

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