The Pacific Northwest is famous for its rain, but recent climate change has brought drought, wildfires and landslides, forcing a Portland, Oregon, tour company to restructure its outings along the Columbia River Gorge.
America’s Hub World Tours canceled 360 trips while the Eagle Creek Fire burned in 2017, when areas along the river were shut down and trees and vegetation were scorched. Today the damage is still visible and a sign along the Horsetail Falls Trail warns hikers to watch for loose rocks, falling trees and flash flooding.
“The environment piece is so critical that we adjust our tours and the commentary,” said a co-owner of America’s Hub World Tours, David Penilton.
A waterfall in the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon
Tourism both is vulnerable to climate change and contributes greenhouse gases that are worsening global warming. By 2030, transportation-related carbon dioxide emissions from tourism are projected to grow 25% from 2016 levels, according to the United Nations’ World Tourism Agency, which is responsible for promoting sustainable tourism. Those emissions will account for 5.3% of all manmade emissions and 22% of emissions from transport. Tourism’s future depends on action on both fronts, safeguarding the places visitors want to see and lessening the impact that the industry has.
“The cost of inaction with regards to climate will be in the long run larger than the cost of any other crisis,” the World Tourism Agency says in a report released in 2019.
Introducing the Melanin Miami Tour
In Florida, Keymia Sharpe faces a different climate change threat. The owner of Key2MIA, she offers a tour emphasizing the critical role African-Americans and Caribbean-Americans played in Miami’s history, her Melanin Miami Experience. She worries that important sites will fall victim to the state’s rising sea levels.
One such spot is Virginia Key Beach Park, which opened in 1945 as Miami-Dade County’s “colored only” beach. It thrived for decades but was shut down in the early 1980s because of high maintenance costs. In 2008, after a $30 million master plan restoration was begun, it reopened to the public for the first time.
People gather trash on the beach for the Huddle for 100 beach clean up at the Historic Virginia Key Beach Park on Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2020, in Miami. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
“Virginia Key Beach, it would be a shame to see such a gem being truly affected to where now it’s not possible for us to be able to have that experience or to share it with those who are traveling here,” Sharpe said. “So that’s kind of the biggest concern for me, not really being able to share a lot of these historical gems that are here much longer.”
Virginia Key Beach Park is on a 1,000-acre barrier island and is especially susceptible to beach erosion. Parts of the park are seeing significant erosion, according to the city of Miami, which jointly owns it with Miami-Dade County. Wooden structures called groynes, barriers built out into the ocean, stopped some damage over the years, as did coastal dunes planted by volunteers, said Charles Weyman, the park’s education and outreach coordinator.
“Without these two factors, we wouldn’t be standing on the beach,” Weyman said. “This all would be underwater. And for us, we notic …