Travel entrepreneur Rick Steves is deeply concerned about climate change. The 65-year old tour operator, who has traveled the world for the past 30 years, has seen the devastating effects of greenhouse gas emissions in developing countries.
In an effort to push back on global warming, Steves will donate a million dollars of his tour company’s profits as a “self-imposed carbon tax” for the 30,000 tourists who travel with the company to Europe each year. The donation is based on the suggested $30 carbon offset credit for every round-trip economy ticket from the US to Europe.
“Every person and every business contributes to this problem, and we believe every person and every business has a responsibility to the environment,” Steves says. “As a tour operator, Rick Steves’ Europe contributes more to climate change than many businesses: one round-trip flight to Europe emits roughly as much carbon into our atmosphere as driving a car for six months.”
Websites like Green-e or Gold Standard, which offer carbon offset certificates, are one way to pay it forward. However, Steves will give the money directly to non-profit organizations that work in developing countries suffering from the effects of climate change. He is primarily focused on organizations looking at policy solutions.
“As global citizens, we know we must be engaged in the world and stand up for the causes we believe in,” he says. This year, he donated to 11 organizations that encourage sustainable farming, reforestation, and climate education.
Steves’ announcement coincides with greater public awareness of the environmental costs of plane travel, which has been highlighted by activists like Greta Thunberg. A recent UBS poll shows that one in five travelers are flying less as a result of “flight shaming” on social media, which is often accompanied by like #flyless, #flygskam, or #avihonte, or even #trainbrag for opting to travel by rail.
Steves, however, doesn’t believe the answer is to travel less. “To simply stop traveling would be the wrong solution. Travel is not only a great form of recreation, but also an important opportunity to broaden our perspectives and humanize the world by experiencing different culture,” he says.
Steves says he’s seen first-hand the effects of climate change, even in Europe, where the Dutch have reinforced their dikes, the Swiss have installed snowmaking machines and the Germans have endured monsoons in the middle of summer. However, for farmers in developing countries, the consequences are much more dramatic since their livelihood depends on stable weather patterns.
The entrepreneur hopes to also show travelers that there is life beyond Orlando. He plans to promote “mitigation,” which means supporting organizations that balance the bad with the good, so traveling can truly be carbon neutral. He believes that by setting an example, tour operators and individual travelers will follow in his footsteps.