Posted by: ericgrimsrud | July 10, 2019

Rick Steves needs to think again

Rick Steves has just announced his new idea for making up for the negative environmental effects of the air travel prompted by his popular PBS program, “Rick Steves’ Europe”.

His new idea can be seen at,,ate-smart-commitment/

Starting this year, Rick Steves’ Europe will invest $1 million a year in a portfolio of nonprofits that fight climate change and help the people it’s hitting the hardest. They figure it takes about $30 of careful investment in environmental initiatives in the developing world to mitigate the carbon emissions created by one tourist traveling from the United States to Europe and back. About 30,000 people travel on tours sponsored by Rick Steves each year. Therefore, they believe that their $1 mlllion donations will make up for the damage to our atmosphere done by their travelling customers.

Steves’ explains the rational of this program as follows: “Travelers face a dilemma: While international travel is one of the best ways to become a better global citizen, every flight emits damaging carbon into the atmosphere. Fortunately, it’s possible to mitigate this environmental toll. Each year, Rick Steves’ Europe invests $1 million in a portfolio of nonprofits that are making a big difference. That means that each traveler who takes a Rick Steves’ Europe tour can enjoy the peace of mind that they are traveling climate smart.”

Unfortunately, Steves’ logic needs at lot of work. It is not, in fact, possible to effectively mitigate enormous additional emissions of CO2. The world is on the brink of catastrophic global warming and it needs to cut global emission now! period. Steves is trying to sooth the consciences of his travelling customers while he is promoting more travel and more emissions of carbon. In addition, the carbon footprint of poor people in third world countries is already very low relative to the more developed countries. Steves’ new program will not lower the C foot prints of those poor folks. Thus, global CO2 emissions will not thereby be diminished by his program and, instead, they are more likely to be increased as more travelers learn from Steves how to overcome their consciences.

I am therefore disappointed by Steves’ witless proposal. I had hoped that he would adopt a much better plan such as the following. Rick Steves’ Europe already provides the public with many “trips” of sorts to all places in Europe. His existing TV programs provide a virtual visit to places that I am not likely to travel to because of my own interest in low C emissions. I can stay home and still undergo the virtual visits he provides in each of his programs.

So, the question I have is why is Steves doing this and why does he end each of his programs with his “keep on travelling” directive to his audience? He is doing a good job of “taking us along” via his existing PBS programs. So why is it necessary for him to encourage his multitude of listeners to literally duplicate in person the virtual trips he is providing?

Sadly, I suspect that the main reason for this is that Steves’ PBS programs are at the very least partially financed by our extensive airline and travel industries which desperately needs to keep the American public “on the move”. While I have some sympathy for industries that have painted themselves into a corner by their addiction to fossil fuels, I have much more sympathy for the rights of future generations to not have to bear the mistakes of their predecessors. Steves would do us all a great favor by releasing himself from the death grip of our fossil-fuel and travel industries and think again about how he can better serve the present needs of society.


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