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    What We Can Learn from Our Vacations

    Nicholas Zhu recently took a critical writing seminar course, where they were assigned to use online sources as models for a piece. He chose Green Philly (how awesome!) to discuss climate change and vacations. Here’s his article.  

    Vacations are a time of relaxation. They’re our precious opportunity to enjoy an absence of pressing obligations. But time spent on vacation can also be viewed as an opportunity to learn without the burden of deadlines or grades instead of a chance to block out the surrounding world.

    Tourists often view destinations as locations frozen in time. In direct contrast from their daily lives, they live only in the present, enjoying today’s weather and today’s view before going home without a second thought.

    As tourists, we should be obliged to acknowledge the past and possible futures of our destinations. Of those who witness towering Alaskan glaciers from cruise ships, how many of them are aware that glacial melting directly contributes to flooding in Oakland California? For those who shower in the cascades of Niagara Falls, how many of them are cognizant that a 3-4 oF rising in the local annual temperatures will completely transform the local environment in merely 35 years?

    Over Spring Break, I visited Hawaii for the first time. When I exited the airplane after an eleven-hour flight and three Marvel movies, I was ready for a chill time, beautiful beaches, awesome views, and perhaps a coconut water or two. I knew that our tour guides were technically supposed to talk about agriculture in Hawaii, but I thought these were code words for “we’re going straight to the beach.

    I was wrong. Not about the beach: we did go straight to the beach. I was wrong about the experience.

    Our travel group spent a fair amount of time in Waikiki, aka a fairy-tale land. The water is robin-egg blue. Beneath lies rainbow reefs teeming with turtles and fish. Behind the gleaming beaches awaits a wall of money-magnet stores: Louis Vuitton, Rolex, Armani Exchange, Banana Republic, Macy’s, Gucci, it goes on. But behind this curtain of glamour, a critical aspect of Hawaii is hidden from view. Nowhere is it acknowledged that everything could be gone in a matter of years.

    What Lessons I Learned about Climate Change on my Hawaiin Vacay

    Our guides were honest. Hawaii happens to be on the border of two atmospheric convection cells that circulate air around the globe. Because of climate change, these cells are shifting south, and Hawaii will soon be within a different cell. This will reverse the wind direction and subsequently reverse the precipitation patterns that are essential to Hawaiian agriculture.

    The University of Hawaii has conducted a study that predicts an overall decrease in precipitation levels across all the islands. By 2020, the wet rainforests on the eastern shore might not get steady precipitation anymore. By 2030, those iconic pina coladas might be made from Brazilian pineapples. Hawaii imports about 90% of its food, and yet many tourists blindly view Hawaii as a self-sustainable haven of edible resources.

    This sounds pretty bad. Why isn’t there an active discussion going on?

    Bliss and learning aren’t mutually exclusive. Vacation vibes aren’t ruined by discussions of sustainability. In my opinion, they’re enhanced. Because my time in Waikiki made me more aware of Hawaii’s vulnerability, my experience became a life highlight as opposed to a slowly withering memory.

    On your next vacation, whether it be in Hawaii, Alaska, Spain, Thailand, or 20 minutes away, I hope you have a memory of reading this, and I hope you acknowledge that the forces of climate change may make it impossible to revisit your vacation location.

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    Nicholas Zhu

    About Nicholas Zhu

    Nicholas Zhu is college student entering his Sophomore Year at the University of Pennsylvania. As a relatively new resident of Philadelphia, his favorite activities are jogging through Center City and playing frisbee on the banks of the Schuylkill River.

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