As Earth Day approaches this week, it's time for a new crop of green travel books. Two focus on the planet's endangered locales, which might seem a bit depressing, but perhaps means we are starting to tackle the problem.
"Disappearing Destinations: 37 Places in Peril and What Can Be Done to Help Save Them" by Kimberly Lisagor and Heather Hansen (Vintage, 400 pp., illustrated, $15.95) looks at some of the world's most beautiful and endangered places. The authors for the most part look at natural places but include cultural ones such as Machu Picchu and even Venice. More than a third of their subjects are in North America.
"Destinations" takes a journalistic approach, befitting its authors' backgrounds in newspaper and magazine writing. Lisagor said the idea came when she and Hansen, a former classmate at the University of California at Berkeley, were discussing Patricia Schultz's book "1,000 Places to See Before You Die."
"It had just come out, and we were talking about how hard it is to get green ideas into the mainstream travel media," Lisagor said. "Heather blurted out, 'How about 1,000 places to see before they die.' Once the idea was out there we couldn't put it down."
Each destination is a chapter unto itself, with the story told from the perspective of locals and others, from activists and entrepreneurs to scientists and government officials.
The only New England site included is Casco Bay in Maine, told through the eyes of Gene Willard, an eighth-generation mariner, ferry captain, and owner of a water-taxi service. The bay was first harmed by industrial polluters, who left a mess that has largely been cleared up. But now development and the ensuing infrastructure are taking a toll, Lisagor said.
Lisagor is concerned by the trend that exhorts travelers to "see it before it's too late." "What we're doing is taking it one step further," she said. "See it, learn about it, and do whatever you can to stop it."
Another recent release on vanishing destinations is "Disappearing World: 101 of the Earth's Most Extraordinary and Endangered Places" by Alonzo C. Addison (HarperCollins, 272 pp., illustrated, $34.95). This coffee table book relies largely on photographs and factoids to tell its story, and focuses on threatened World Heritage Sites. Some of those are cultural, such as Stonehenge and Machu Picchu, while others are natural, including the Florida Everglades and the Central African Republic's Manovo-Gounda St. Floris National Park, the largest protected savannah in that region.
Although this beautifully illustrated book might seem to invite travelers to visit these fading sights, thereby causing potential harm, it also cautions on the dangers of unsustainable tourism, climate change, pollution, natural disasters, development, and war.
Addison has led field projects at many World Heritage Sites and is special adviser to the director of the UNESCO World Heritage Center. Part of the book's proceeds will go to conservation of World Heritage Sites.
For several years, some of the more youthful guidebook series have included green travel in their listings (Lonely Planet, Rough Guides, Moon, Let's Go). Lonely Planet in 2006 published a separate guide titled "Code Green: Experiences of a Lifetime" ($19.99), while Rough Guide has also put out nontravel books on green issues, such as "Climate Change" by Robert Henson (second edition 2008, $16.99) and "Shopping with a Conscience" by Duncan Clark and Richie Unterberger ($16.99).
Now the more middle-of-the-road Fodor's is entering the scene with "Green Travel: The World's Best Eco-Lodges & Earth-Friendly Hotels" ($21.95) due out next week. The introduction discusses the environmental cost of aviation, saying that air travel is set to be the single leading contributor to global warming by 2020. It also covers consideration of environmental impacts during vacations, and carbon emissions for travel.
The book's three overriding considerations that define a responsible approach to travel are environment and conservation, social and cultural awareness, and economic benefits to the local community. Not every accommodation listed scores high in all areas, but, according to the introduction, "all are making a real effort to maximize the environmental and social benefits of your visit."
"Green Travel" is heavy on international listings, but does include 11 in North America. The only New England lodging is The Colony Hotel in Kennebunkport, open mid-May through late October and long known for its environmental stewardship.
Diane Daniel, a freelance writer in North Carolina, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.