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Travel guru Rick Steves vows to pay $1 million a year to fight climate change

Tour company rolls out self-imposed carbon tax
Travel company self-imposes $1 million carbon tax to offset climate impact 09:47

Travel expert Rick Steves has inspired many Americans to travel to Europe. Now he's having second thoughts about the environmental impact of all that traveling.

"I'm keenly aware that we're contributing to a climate change problem — when you fly, you emit a lot of carbon," Steves told CBS MoneyWatch. So earlier this year he announced that his company, Rick Steves' Europe, would donate $1 million every year to a range of initiatives to fight climate change.

"We're not heroic, we're just being what I think is ethical," Steves said. "We either need to be ethical or we need the government to force us to be ethical, or there's not going to be any travelers around in a hundred years."

Steves, who has been encouraging Americans to travel to Europe since 1974, today leads about 30,000 people on tours to the region every year. He came up with the $1 million figure by calculating the cost of offsetting carbon emissions from 30,000 flights from U.S. to Europe.

But he isn't just buying carbon offsets. About $750,000 of the money will go to nonprofit groups that work on food security and climate-smart farming practices in the developing world, while the rest will go toward lobbying for sensible climate polices in Washington, D.C., Steves said.

More than half of global emissions come from developing countries, according to the International Energy Agency. Steves hopes that giving money to projects that both help small farmers grow food and do it in a way that sequesters carbon will have a bigger impact than simply funding a renewable energy project somewhere in the West.

"Does this mean the first world gets to keep emitting? Absolutely not," he said.

Not a fan of "flight shaming"

Indeed, the onus remains on developed countries to emit a lot less carbon — and fast. That's something Steves acknowledges his project won't solve, although he hopes the donation will serve as an attention-raiser to push for climate action.

Climate scientists are linking the Europe heat wave to climate change 05:50

"I really think the way to do this is by government-imposed carbon taxes," he said.

And while he remains an evangelist for the mind-opening power of travel, he acknowledges that part of paying the full cost of carbon emissions involves traveling less.

"If we had a carbon tax on air travel, travelers would be more honest," he said.

"Should we be jetting all over the country to see football games, and going to people's weddings and anniversaries? I'm not that into flight shaming, but I'm into paying the honest cost," he added.

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