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Yellowstone tourism generates a megaton of carbon emissions each year: Study

Tourism to Yellowstone National Park produces 1.03 megatons — more than 2.3 billion pounds (1.03 billion kilograms) — of carbon dioxide emissions each year, a new study has found.

Almost 90 percent of these emissions can be linked to transportation to and from the destination, according to the study, published Wednesday in PLOS Climate.

“The tourism industry needs strategies to reduce emissions and hasten the achievement of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emission reduction targets,” stated the authors — a team of researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey, Utah State University and Clemson University.

To determine the extent and origins of the park-related emissions, the authors amassed and analyzed a wealth of existing data from Yellowstone visitor surveys, peer-reviewed scientific studies and government data.

While most of those emissions were connected to travel to and from Yellowstone, the authors found that another 5 percent came from transit within the park and 4 percent from overnight accommodations. Just 1 percent resulted from other park operations, such as visitor centers, museums, shops and restaurants, per the study.

Although tourists who fly to the area made up only about 35 percent of all visitors, they were responsible for producing 72 percent of emissions related to transit to and from the park, the authors found.

On average, each individual visitor generated about 1,056 pounds (479 kilograms) of carbon dioxide emissions, according to the study.

As a basis of comparison, the authors noted that the average annual per capital carbon dioxide emissions were 10,141 pounds (4,600 kilograms) globally or 32,407 pounds (14,700 kilograms) for U.S. residents in 2019.

The authors suggested that in the future, there are several action plans that could help reduce tourism-related emissions at both Yellowstone and other popular national parks.

Those efforts within the control of park managers include marketing strategies about travel alternatives, as well as various internal technological innovations and energy-saving measures.

The authors also stressed that many improvements would be out of park management’s hands — including a broader transition to fuel-efficient vehicles and a switch to renewable power supplies at accommodations outside the grounds.

“Nature-based tourism provides numerous personal and social benefits to tourists,” the authors stated, also noting the industry’s economic importance.

“This is certainly true in the western United States, where many state governments actively promote outdoor recreation and tourism at national parks and other public lands to out-of-state and out-of-country market,” they continued.

But the researchers also warned against focusing only on social and economic benefits, which they said masks “many environmental costs of tourism.” Chief among these impacts are carbon dioxide emissions, as tourism is responsible for 8 percent of these releases globally, the authors noted.

“Instead of reducing visitation, strategically influencing aspects of park tourism can reduce emissions while still providing visitor enjoyment,” they concluded.

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