Climate change and tourism: Time for environmental skepticism
Amir Shani a,*, Boaz Arad b,1
Department of Hotel and Tourism Management, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Eilat Campus, P.O.Box 653, Beer-Sheva 8410501, Israel
Ayn Rand Center Israel, P.O.Box 371, Ramat HaSharon 4710301, Israel
a r t i c l e i n f o
Received 19 November 2013
Accepted 27 February 2014
a b s t r a c t
Tourism scholars tend to endorse the most pessimistic assessments regarding climate change, despite
the fact that it is a highly controversial scientiﬁc topic. This research note provides the balance that is
missing from the overly alarmist studies on climate change and tourism. Notwithstanding the common
notion in the academic tourism literature, recent research provides evidence that the mainstream reports
on anthropogenic global warming are vastly exaggerated, and that human-induced greenhouse gas
concentrations do not play a substantial role in climate change. In any case, whatever small degree of
global warming is likely to occur, its net effects will most likely be positive for humans, plants and
wildlife. Consequently, the recommendation to tourism scholars and policymakers is to exercise extra
caution in the face of the fashionable belief of dangerous man-made climate change. In light of the
current scientiﬁc literature, advocating and implementing radical environmental policies are likely to be
ineffective, ill-timed and harmful to the tourism industry.
Ó 2014 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Before facing major surgery, wouldn’t you want a second opinion?
Idso & Singer, 2009, p. 3
Is climate change an ongoing cataclysm that requires society to
take pressing and radical steps, even at the expense of social and
economic progress? Is the global tourism industry a signiﬁcant
contributor to destructive climate change and does it therefore
have a moral obligation to considerably diminish its greenhouse
gas footprint and educate tourists to alter their travel behavior?
Does human-induced climate change pose a threat to the attrac-
tiveness and sustainability of tourism destinations? Reviewing the
academic tourism literature on climate change and tourism, the
answer to these questions is unequivocal ‘yes.’ Tourism scholars
and researchers are virtually all on board regarding the established
climate change narrative. Nevertheless, such references ignore the
critical debate on the accurateness and implications of the theory of
anthropogenic global warming (AGW), which in actual fact is far
from being conclusive. This commentary critically evaluates the
relevant literature on the subject matter, while calling for a more
scientiﬁcally-based, skeptical and cautious approach in studies on
climate change and tourism.
2. Mainstream assessments of climate change and tourism
For the past 25 years, the theory of AGW and its consequences
have dominated the ecological discourse. The theory has also been
actively endorsed by the United Nations and most Western coun-
tries as a clear and urgent threat to the planet and its inhabitants.
The theory, which for the most part relies on the reports of the
U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), is based
on three arguments: (1) The planet is warming at an unprece-
dented and destructive rate; (2) Human activity is the primary
cause for global warming, through the emission of greenhouse
gases (mostly carbon dioxide), and (3) this process is reversible
through a fundamental change of human values and lifestyle, such
as the adoption of sustainability as guiding principle for human
development. In a recent statement issued by US Secretary of State
John Kerry, following the recent IPCC report (September 27, 2013),
the warning was unequivocal: “Climate change is real, it’s
happening now, human beings are the cause of this transformation,
and only action by human beings can save the world from its worst
impacts” (Gibson, 2013; para. 4).
* Corresponding author. Tel.: þ972 8 6304561; fax: þ972 8 6304538.
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Tourism Management 44 (2014) 82e85
The climate change hype has not bypassed the tourism industry,
due to its heavily reliance on natural resources, which are claimed
to be adversely impacted by AGW (Horng, Hu, Teng, & Lin, 2012).
Tourism is also considered to be one of the signiﬁcant contributors
to the emission of greenhouse gases, mainly due to the aviation
sector which is said to be globally accounting for 40% of the tourism
industry’s contribution to CO2 (Gössling, 2009). As a result, the
industry has been targeted by the environmental movement that
advocates considerably reducing in tourism activities and
embracing measures to reduce greenhouse gases emissions, with
some environmentalists going as far as urging tourists to forsake
long-haul traveling due to its discretionary nature and alleged
impacts on climate change (McKercher, Prideaux, Cheung, & Law,
Tourism scholars and researchers did not delay to jump on the
climate change bandwagon, while enthusiastically endorsing the
theory of AGW (Buzinde, Manuel-Navarrete, Kerstetter, & Redclift,
2010; Reddy & Wilkes, 2012). Tourism studies stress the view of
tourism as “both a signiﬁcant contributor to climate change and
global warming and a potential victim” (McKercher et al., 2010, p.
298). Studies focus on various aspects of climate change and
tourism, including, among other things: forecasting impacts of
climate change on tourism patterns (Müller & Weber, 2008);
examining future tourist behavior under climate change conditions
(Førland et al., 2013), assessing frameworks for mitigating tourism’s
contribution to global warming (Howitt, Revol, Smith, & Rodger,
2010), developing adaptation strategies for tourism destinations
that are likely to be severely affected by climate change (Elsasser &
Bürki, 2002), and studying the awareness of tourists and tourism
students to climate change issues and their willingness to alter
their travel behavior (McKercher & Prideaux, 2011).
The aforementioned studies are often concluded with far-
reaching implications and recommendations for tourists, tourism
practitioners and tourism destinations as a whole. Simpson,
Gössling, Scott, Hall, and Gladin (2008), for example, encourage
tourists to employ drastic steps to reduce their personal CO2 foot-
print, such as traveling less and staying longer at the destination,
preference for terrestrial transport over air travel, choosing desti-
nations that are closer to home, and purchasing goods and services
from eco-certiﬁed providers. McKercher et al. (2010) also suggested
considering government-imposed programs such as carbon taxes
to reduce travel demand and provide incentives for manufacturers
to build lower-polluting airplanes and compelling airlines to buy
them. It was also recommended that tourism destinations take
mitigation strategies such as promoting public transportation,
applying alternative energy sources to fossil fuel (Müller & Weber,
2008), and diversifying tourism offerings to better adapt to the
changing climate conditions (Gössling, 2009).
3. Skepticism over human-induced climate change
Despite the impression conveyed by the academic tourism
literature, the theory of AGW is, in fact, under intense scientiﬁc
dispute, to which tourism scholars pay virtually no attention. To
begin with, most apocalyptic predictions regarding AGW are based
on simulations of the IPCC’s computer climate models, which so far
have not demonstrated a high level of accuracy. Thus, while actual
global temperatures have remained fairly stable over the past 17
years, the IPCC’s models predicted a signiﬁcant rise in temperature.
In fact, simulations of the atmospheric temperature trends over the
past 35 years showed more warming than what was in fact
observed (Christy et al., 2010; Douglass & Christy, 2013). The IPCC
itself acknowledges the failure of historical simulations to repro-
duce the recent warming hiatus and attributes it to volatile climate
ﬂuctuations and possible errors in calculating how much warming
a given greenhouse gas will produce (Bailey, 2013). It seems far too
hasty and irresponsible to recommend that the tourism industry
take drastic and expensive courses of action that are based on
climate forecasting models that have demonstrated very limited
According to the theory of AGW, the planet is in the midst of an
unprecedented rise in temperatures. Yet, recent studies reveal that
there have been eras in which the earth’s average temperature was
higher than at present, even during recorded history (Marcott,
Shakun, Clark, & Mix, 2013). Esper, Büntgen, Timonen, and Frank
(2012), for example, provides evidence “for substantial warmth
during Roman and Medieval times, larger in extent and longer in
duration than 20th century warmth” (p. 1). In another study, it was
found that temperatures in the Antarctic Peninsula began rising
naturally 600 years ago, long before any possible man-made impact
on the climate, which helps explain the recent collapses of vast ice
shelves and the accelerating glacier mass loss (Mulvaney et al.,
2012). Further studies also conﬁrm that major temperature ﬂuc-
tuations occurred before man-made CO2. If the IPCC’s assessments
are accurate and natural factors scarcely play any role in today’s
climate, we would expect a rather ﬂat and uninteresting climate
history, which is certainly not the case (Vahrenholt, 2012).
As noted earlier, an important element in the popular climate
change narrative is the prominent role of humans in causing global
warming through carbon dioxide emissions. Regardless, even if we
accept the theory that the planet is warming, no deﬁnitive evidence
exists to verify that climate is driven by the concentration of CO2 in
the earth’s atmosphere (Idso & Singer, 2009). First and foremost,
geologic analyses reveal ancient periods with thousands PPM (parts
per million) of CO2 concentration, in comparison to 400 PPM at
present (Petit et al., 1999). Furthermore, the dynamics of CO2 con-
centration did not correlate well with the expected temperature
ﬂuctuation. For example, Illarionov (2009) noted that in 1944e
1976, CO2 concentration increased by 24 PPM, but global temper-
atures fell by 0.1 C; while in 1998e2009, CO2 concentration
increased by 21 PPM, but global temperature remained relatively
ﬂat. Recent studies also refute the idea that increasing human-
induced greenhouse gas concentrations signiﬁcantly contributes
to extreme weather events such as the 2010 Russian heat wave, the
harsh winter of 2009e2010 as well as other natural disasters
(Bouwer, 2011; Dole et al., 2011; Jung, Vitart, Ferranti, Morcrette,
While there are shaky scientiﬁc foundations to the hypothesis
that CO2 concentration in the earth’s atmosphere accounts for
signiﬁcant temperature ﬂuctuations, empirical evidence indicates
that the sun activity is a more plausible cause for climate variation
(Bond et al., 2001; Neff et al., 2001). A series of studies discovered a
notable correlation on various time scales between climate varia-
tions and natural factors, prominently diverse solar activity and
changes in the galactic environment (Shaviv, 2003; Vahrenholt,
2012). A recent study provides evidence to suggest that El Niño
activity has a major role in the warming observed since the 1970s,
and thus the climate system is much less sensitive to increasing CO2
than commonly believed (Spencer Braswell, in press). Another
plausible explanation for the current warming ‘pause’ was provided
by Wyatt and Curry (in press), who attributed the hiatus to the
natural “stadium wave” signal that propagates across the Northern
Hemisphere. These and other discoveries offer alternative expla-
nations for a large extent of the climate variability witnessed over
the past century and millennium, as well as for why global warming
has paused in recent years.
Despite the urgent tone reﬂected in the IPCC’s reports (and
papers on climate change and tourism), Tol (2013) reviewed 14
different studies on the effects of future climate trends and
discovered a scientiﬁc consensus that the beneﬁts of global
A. Shani, B. Arad / Tourism Management 44 (2014) 82e85 83
warming outweigh the costs, and its positive effects are likely to
continue through about 2080. Among the key beneﬁts of global
warming are fewer winter deaths (which tend to exceed summer
deaths), lower energy costs, improved agricultural yields, decline of
famines, and probably fewer droughts and richer biodiversity.
Indeed, Tol (2013) concludes that during the 20th century, climate
change overall improved both human and planetary conditions. By
the time AGW’s costs come to outweigh the aforementioned ben-
eﬁts, humanity is likely to adapt to the changed temperatures and
decarbonizes its energy production technologies. As concluded by
Illarionov (2009), “The adaptation of humanity to climate changes
is incomparably less costly than other options being proposed and
imposed by climate alarmists” (para. 22).
Despite the common perception, which is also reﬂected in the
tourism literature, the theory of AGW is highly controversial among
climate scientists. A wide range of recent studies express skepti-
cism regarding the mainstream assessments of climate change, its
impacts and the human role in causing global warming and other
weather extremes. Furthermore, these studies cast serious doubt
on the calls from climate scientists, environmental groups and
politicians to take precipitous actions as they are likely to severely
disrupt the world’s economies and human welfare, while failing to
make signiﬁcant positive impacts on climate change. From the
tourism perspective, adopting the suggestions to signiﬁcantly
reduce carbon emissions is likely to have radical adverse impacts on
the industry, again with little or no substantial beneﬁt.
While tourism scholars are not expected to be climate scientists,
those who study climate change and tourism should exercise extra
caution and adopt a critical approach when evaluating the subject
matter. This is especially crucial when advocating fundamental
transformation of the tourism industry and tourists’ travel behavior
in order to tackle human-induced climate change. As noted by the
climate scientist Roy Spencer, “A guiding principle for accepting
claims of catastrophic global warming should be: Extraordinary
claims require extraordinary evidence” (2007, p. 4). To this very day
such evidence is missing.
This is not to suggest, of course, that achieving environmental
sustainability should not be a key part of the tourism industry’s
agenda. Preservation of natural assets and culture, management of
natural parks and reserves, prevention of environmental degrada-
tion caused by tourism activities, wildlife conservation and pro-
tection of endangered species, as well as empowerment and
promotion of the wellbeing of local communities are all worthy
causes, which both tourism practitioners and academicians ought
to address. Diverting scarce resources and energy to “ﬁght” human-
induced climate change, a phenomenon not yet well understood, is
likely to make it harder to tackle the unambiguous environmental
challenges the tourism industry faces.
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A. Shani, B. Arad / Tourism Management 44 (2014) 82e8584
Amir Shani is a faculty member in the Department of
Hotel Tourism Management at Ben-Gurion University of
the Negev, Eilat Campus. He specializes in tourism and
Boaz Arad serves as the director of the Ayn Rand Center
Israel. Boaz was a Research Fellow and a spokesman in the
Public Policy Center at the Jerusalem Institute for Market
Studies. Previously a member of the editorial board at
Business Week (Hebrew Version).
A. Shani, B. Arad / Tourism Management 44 (2014) 82e85 85