A guide to more mindful vacations

A list of travel destinations in peril – and how we can help.

Courtesy of Knopf
Disappearing Destinations By Kimberly Lisagor and Heather Hansen Vintage 384 pp., $15.95

Chances are you've visited – or plan to visit – one of the tourist meccas in Disappearing Destinations: 37 Places in Peril and What Can Be Done to Help Save Them. Twelve are located in the United States, including Yellowstone, the Everglades, the Great Smoky Mountains, Napa Valley. Others may be on your to-do list: Machu Pichu, the Dead Sea, Galápagos Islands. This book explains the science behind the scenery and shows how these natural wonders hang in a dangerous ecological imbalance.

Although the foes are both natural (global warming, rising seas, acid rain) and human (mining practices, overtourism, stubborn politicians), the scientific data presented in each of the 37 chapters make it obvious that even the "natural" enemies have their roots in human (mis)behavior.

For example, as sea levels rise, beaches shrink in North Carolina's Outer Banks and Hawaii's Oahu. And demand for beachfront housing is booming, putting an even greater strain on ever-shifting sandy beaches. Yet the cure is making things worse: Man-made sea walls designed to stanch erosion are instead speeding it up, according to experts in this book. Our collective "footprint," it seems, is just too big.

Even in pristine areas, like remote areas of Australia's Great Barrier Reef, the effects of global climate change are more far-reaching than scientists anticipated. Whole swaths of coral have succumbed to "bleaching," as a result of acidification as the ocean – and coral – absorb too much carbon dioxide.

Authors Kimberly Lisagor and Heather Hansen present their cases with clear and concise writing, well-researched scientific data, conversations with experts, and opinions of local folks. Occasionally a denizen will dissent with the scientists, like the Yangtze River guide who won't oppose the Three Gorges Dam, despite the people, ecosystems, and fish species it has wiped out. The larger benefit of bringing electricity to rural China, he says, trumps the concerns of a few displaced individuals.

The book ends with an appendix of groups already at work, such as the Reindeer Herders' Association (Finland) and Appalachian Voices (North Carolina). The only thing readers may find missing is visual detail: The superb chapter on mountaintop mining in Appalachia could have been improved by a picture showing what mountaintop mining is, rather than the postcard shot of a mountain road.

This excellent book is not a doomsayer's diatribe, but rather a reminder that we are all – from Venice, Fla., to Venice, Italy – in this together; that global warming isn't something we can leave behind when we pack our bags for vacation, because it's already taking a toll on the place to which we're headed.

It's never too late to tread more lightly.

Elizabeth Brown is a freelance writer in Hillsborough, N. C.

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