Ethical Traveler Announces Top 10 Ethical Destinations for 2014

Looking to make tracks in a new land in the most responsible way possible? It all starts with choosing the right place to visit. Ethical Traveler, a nonprofit project of the Earth Island Institute, has announced the 10 most ethical destinations in the developing world for 2014, based on their contribution to human rights, environmental preservation and social welfare. The goal is to incentivize ethical practices abroad by rewarding those destinations with increased tourism dollars.

What makes each location deserving and desirable? Read on:

Swimming pigs in the Bahamas. Photo: Flickr/cdorobek

Swimming pigs in the Bahamas. Photo: Flickr/cdorobek

The Bahamas
A paragon of the sandy beach getaway, The Bahamas is back on the list after previously missing the cut. An increased focus on the development of protected areas in Andros West Side National Park and a notable administrative effort to reduce human trafficking has won the attention of Ethical Traveler (although the group is concerned about unethical wildlife destinations such as the pending dolphin park at Blackbeard’s Cay). The Bahamas received a perfect score from Freedom House in both political rights and civil liberties categories.

If you’ve got an itch for a cool rum cocktail and a tropical island sunset, Barbados is a breathtaking and ethically informed option. The Caribbean country was commended for its environmentally conscious development agenda, which has protected the coastline while still promoting tourism. Ranking especially high in social welfare and human rights, Barbados leads by example in nearly every category explored by Ethical Traveler.

Cape Verde
Charles Darwin must have forgotten his wetsuit back in 1832 when he referred to the island of Cape Verde as “dull” and “uninteresting.” Water sports enthusiasts will find plenty of opportunities to get their feet wet at this famous windsurfing and kiteboarding destination. Cape Verde is the No. 1 ranked African country on Freedom House’s Freedom in the World 2013 survey and has declared an ambitious plan to reach 100 percent renewable energy by 2020.

Home to the astounding Huilo Huilo Biological Reserve, which won a World Responsible Tourism Award in November 2013 for its contribution to sustainable environment and species programs, Chile has also made strides in the realm of social welfare. With the highest Gini index equality ranking of this year’s ethical destinations and the highest possible score in political rights and civil liberties as determined by Freedom House, this South American nation is proving its devotion to the protection of its people and the preservation of its wonderful natural landmarks.

Morne Trois Pitons National Park in Dominica. Photo: Flickr/luna76

Morne Trois Pitons National Park in Dominica. Photo: Flickr/luna76

“Isle of beauty, isle of splendor,” boasts the Dominican national anthem. The “Nature Island” has set a goal to become energy independent and carbon negative by 2020, and has expanded solar power around the island. The Caribbean country is also working to preserve rare species of mountain chickens, frogs and iguanas. Phenomenal scenic hikes and mountain bike routes show off the idyllic natural landscape, while Champagne Reef’s uniquely warm waters are home to some of the world’s premier diving and snorkeling.

There’s lots to love in Latvia, which was recognized as one of 10 countries in the world ranking at the top of 10 policy categories in both environmental public health and ecosystem vitality. The Daugava River splits the beautiful capital city of Riga, which has shed its postwar bleakness in favor of a bustling market atmosphere with a vibrant nightlife scene. Latvia received the highest ranking of this year’s countries in gender equality.

Raw, unmanicured wilderness is preserved by a Lithuanian devotion to protecting the natural environment. Visitors can explore any of the five national and 30 regional parks free of charge. The Northern European nation has made major strides in social welfare, having dropped its under-5 mortality rate by 52 percent since 2000. Lithuania was also recognized with a high score in human rights and the newly added animal welfare category.

It’s no surprise the now-extinct Dodo bird never chose to leave the island of Mauritius. The city of Grand Bay is a true paradise, now catering to tourists in search of white-sand beaches, great food and glass-bottom boat tours. Safari Jeep tours will take explorers through Yemen natural reserve park in search of zebras, ostriches, monkeys, and antelope. Mauritius was commended for its devotion to expanding tourism while protecting the environment. Additionally, the Indian Ocean island nation made great improvements in both social welfare and human rights categories, demonstrating a notable commitment to long-term development.

Kayaking in Palau. Photo: Flickr/LuxTonnerre

Kayaking in Palau. Photo: Flickr/LuxTonnerre

World-class scuba diving and snorkeling highlight the islands of Palau, where tourists may encounter hidden caves, wartime wreckage, and massive drop-offs during the many guided tours offered. More than 28 percent of Palau’s marine and terrestrial area is protected, the highest percentage of any destination on this year’s list. Palau also received the highest possible rating in political rights and civil liberties.

Uruguay’s ambitious move toward sustainable energy has impressed Ethical Traveler, which lauded the South American country’s goal of 90 percent renewable energy by 2015. Uruguay has established itself as the model for socially progressive government, legalizing marriage equality, marijuana, and first-trimester abortion this year. Youth hostels provide an affordable option for peso-pinchers looking to cavort about the famous sand dunes and discotheques of Punta del Este.


China is Drowning in Smog: One Man May Have the Solution

Air quality in China is bad, it’s really, really bad. The air quality is so poor that residents rarely see the sun and in some cities, the dense air pollution is mistaken for snow! What is causing all of the pollution? It’s coal-burning smog. And until China can ween itself from fossil fuels and implement more sustainable energy practices, other energy solutions are desperately needed. One designer named Daan Roosegaarde may have an ingenius solution.

Roosegaarde has an idea to create what he is calling an “electronic vacuum cleaner”. Copper Tesla coils buried underground would help to create an electrostatic field that would pull smog particles down from the polluted sky, creating a clear space above where sunlight could shine through.

His smog vacuum would attract pollution particles much like a strand of hair is pulled toward a statically charged balloon. Copper coils would create a field of static electric ions which would magnetize the smog, causing it to fall down to the ground below. Roosegaarde plans to capture all of the smog on the ground and compress it, hopefully making it easier to create awareness of how much smog residents are living with and to rally opposition to the causes of the polluted air.

This week Roosegaarde created a working prototype with the help of the University of Delft. They were able to take a 5×5 meter room full of smog and create a smog-free hole of one cubic meter with their device. Now the challenge is how to apply it on a grander scale. Roosegaarde would like to see it installed in parks and public spaces where everyone can enjoy a smog free sky.

Over the course of the next 12 to 18 months, Roosegaarde will be working to perfect his device and many will be watching, waiting, and hoping for his success. Roosegaarde acknowledges that the smog plaguing China is “a human problem not a technological problem” and he hopes that his smog-cleaning vacuum will help raise awareness off the issue while also taking a small step to make the air quality and quality of life a little better for the residents of China.


Infographic Friday: March for Elephants

Elephants are being poached for their ivory at the highest rate ever recorded. Current estimates put the figure at 36,000 elephants killed annually, equating to one elephant dying every 15 minutes.

The International March for Elephants organized by iworry, a campaign by the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, was created to sound a warning that the future survival of elephants is in serious jeopardy.

Elephants share the same emotions as humans. They have a strong sense of family and mourn the deaths of their loved ones, just as we do. Elephants have unique personalities like us, too! They can be playful or mischievous; they can even hold grudges.

The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust has learned the beauty of elephants first hand and they have also witnessed the terrible impact of the renewed ivory poaching that we are seeing today. In just 18 days in September, they were called on to rescue 14 orphaned elephants. To date, they have arrested 1,406 poachers and their veterinary teams have successfully treated over 500 wounded elephants.

The International March for Elephants is demanding stronger laws and penalties associated with wildlife crime in countries where poaching and ivory trafficking occurs; increased levels of investment in anti-poaching initiatives by international governments; increased diplomatic pressure on countries where elephants live; and pressure on those nations that fuel the demand.

Learn more about The International March for Elephants and join the digital march to help protecting elephants now!


Hope for the American Energy Crisis

In an op-ed published this month in the New York Times, Ralph Cavanagh, co-director of the energy program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, declares that our energy productivity and energy security are the best they’ve been since the 70’s. This opinion finds itself in stark contrast of those who think we need to construct the massive Keystone XL pipeline, or create a surge of oil and gas drilling, or start a nuclear power renaissance. Keep reading to learn more about Cavanagh’s article.

Cavanagh says that we have President Obama’s climate action plan to thank for the new-found positivity surrounding our nation’s energy news. Obama’s climate action plan gives top priority to the most productive and lowest-cost options for energy, which includes the “energy efficient resources” that come from getting more out of oil, natural gas and electricity with efficient equipment and vehicles that are used more carefully.

According to government data, energy-saving efforts in the U.S. have resulted in a steady decline in energy use since 2007. In 2012, energy use was lower than it had been in 1999, despite the 25 percent growth spurt the economy experienced since then. Cavanagh states that this trend is the result of factories and businesses producing more products and value with less energy, the main goal Obama’s climate action plan.

American oil use is also in decline, down 14 percent compared to a peak in 2005. The U.S. used less oil last year than in 1973, even though the economy is now 3 times as large as it was back then! This is thanks to better mileage from our vehicles and driving those vehicles less. Greenhouse gas emission, energy costs, and gasoline use have also declined; saving billions of dollars and helping the American economy compete in a global market whilst helping to make the U.S. more secure.

To continue this progress, Cavanagh says that the federal and state governments must keep increasing efficiency standards for buildings, equipment, and vehicles. And the Environmental Protection Agency must reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by implementing standards that focus on energy efficiency to reduce pollution. He also states that utility companies should be rewarded by state regulators for helping customers utilize energy efficiently instead of penalizing those companies for not increasing their sales. Annual rate adjustments should be instituted by regulators to allow for unexpected changes in energy utility sales.

Over the past 40 years, the U.S. has found many innovative ways to save energy; we have more than doubled the economic productivity of our oil, natural gas and electricity. America’s most productive energy resource has been efficiency all along and it starts with the everyday decisions we make at home and at work. By simply trading out our old light bulbs for energy saving bulbs and updating our homes and buildings with energy-saving products and appliances, we will continue to see our energy productivity and energy security increase in America. If we focus on achieving more energy savings, we will also reduce costs and pollution. It seems the future of energy is not as dark as it once seemed.


Dallas Zoo Creates Unlikely Trio

The Dallas Zoo has just become the new home to two male cheetah cubs named Kamau and Winspear. Some day they’ll be able to go from 0 to 60 mph in 3 seconds but today they’re meeting their new best friend. To calm the naturally nervous and rambunctious cheetahs, animal care specialists are employing an effective tactic used by zoos; they’re pairing the cheetah cubs with a black labrador puppy.

The two month old lab puppy is named Amani, meaning peace in Swahili, and he will live with the cheetahs 24/7. According to the animal care specialists supervising their introduction, eventually the cheetahs will see the puppy as one of their own, or part of their “coalition”. The dog will be a calming influence on the big cats insuring that they are relaxed enough to be taken into public.

The cheetah cubs are now part of the Dallas Zoo’s Animal Adventures program designed to educate the public about highly endangered species. The traveling outreach program exposes audiences to 30 different animals including a variety of birds, mammals and reptiles. Cheetahs could use the exposure. With less than 10,000 cheetahs in the wild, it is extremely important to educate the public on the beauty of the cheetah and to inspire communities to help protect them.