Unsustainable European Vacationing

It has always seemed like, when compared with say – the US, Europe is credited for being more environmentally conscious.

Indeed, when you look at many Central European capitals, there is strong evidence when it comes to energy conservation, waste management, and alternative transport investment. Daily life might be said to have a flavor of “environmental consciousness”.

Yet as I look around during my recent semi-vacations to places like where I sit now – Portugal’s southern beach paradise: Algarve, there is a far different spirit.
Perhaps it begins at the airport, as you sit waiting to get on your giant carbon generating flight, a look out across the tarmac reveals a big number of new airline companies you’ve never heard of. Indeed after all the 9/11 airline industry drama, low cost flights are booming in Europe, and it would seem that every filthy rich business person is launching some easyjet style point, click, and pollute airline. And the people are eating it up, even if they militantly recycle and never leave the lights on at home.

At the popular destinations, Europeans seem to also take a break from their green lives. Renting cars and driving all over beach resorts, many of which have no public transportation anyway, and you don’t vote or live there so no chance to vote on that issue anytime soon. Instead there are cars everywhere, including the SUV’s since many Mediterranean getaways involve some crazy uphill offroad pollute-the-place driving.

Then you head to the hotel, where the towels are washed everyday with lots of industrial chemical filled detergents, and people specialize in leaving the lights on or turning the air condition nice and high. Or maybe they buy a fancy new vila built on what was formerly the natural habitat of plants and animals.

All this can be topped off by a big meal at a local restaurant that uses lots of non-recyclable materials, maintains all kinds of energy in-efficiant fridges, and gives you lots of plastic bottles which you happily take and possibly throw into a random trash can later. Or it stays on the beach and the beach fairy recycles it.

I know there are ambitious green vacation projects taking root, even in places like Portugal where I recently stopped at an ecological farm. But I also know that an unsustainable number of middle and upperclass Europeans are coming to these massively popular destinations and getting away from it all, including their sense of respect for the environment. And the tourist destinations themselves aren’t doing nearly enough to help in the process, keeping the priority to the timeless goal of making big bucks this summer and worrying about everything else later. Even if there is no later.

Going green in our daily lives is more than a nice idea, it is absolutely necessary for having any kind of future. But it is not something we as Europeans should pat ourselves on the back for and then take a vacation from it as if we’ve done enough. It is a lifestyle for everyday, anywhere and everywhere.