Greece has a population of about 11.3 million. Between 10 million and 14 million tourists visit most years -- the figures were on the low side in 2010-11. Each year, visitors use a veritable Niagara of water by flushing hotel toilets, standing under long, restorative showers, and chugging down bottles of water. And of late, several water-hungry golf courses have been built in Greece, a country in which until recently the only broad swath of grass was the lawn of the American Embassy in Athens.
Along with most of the rest of the world, Greece has not rushed to encourage responsible travel, either among themselves or from their foreign visitors. Greeks hate to be told what to do and that includes being told where to park or how to recycle. As I was trying to inch precisely between the lines marking off a small parking space in a municipal parking lot in the Peloponnese today, a car zipped ahead of me and parked lengthwise across two parking places, blocking the exit for two already properly parked cars! I've seen families ostentatiously dump beer cans and plastic bottles feet from recycling containers -- to demonstrate that no one could tell them what to do. Add to this all those foreign visitors, many of whom have no idea of the severe water shortages that perpetually plague Greece, and you begin to get an idea of how important it is to travel responsibly in Greece. Here are some hints on how to protect Greece's natural resources and make the Greeks you meet hope you come back again.
Helping to Create a Sustainable Greece -- Be sure that any match, cigarette, or flammable material that you dispose of is completely out. Summer forest fires consume thousands of acres of Greek forests every year.
Few Greek hotels ask you to conserve water and reuse bath towels because almost all hotels are afraid of antagonizing their guests. It's up to visitors to remember that the entire country, but especially the islands, face chronic severe water shortages.
Be sure to turn off all lights and the air-conditioning in your hotel room when you go out. I know more than one small island hotel that has resorted to disconnecting its air conditioners and pretending all season that they are "temporarily" out of order. "What can I do?" one proprietor asked me. "If the tourists can use the air conditioners, they leave them on high while they are out sightseeing all day."
Finally, if you want to help create a greener Greece, you can make a contribution to the Plant Your Roots in Greece Foundation, which will use your money to help reforest the denuded hills of Greece. For information, check out the website www.plantyourrootsingreece.org. And if you want to help preserve Greek wildlife, the Hellenic Wildlife Hospital (www.ekpazo.gr) on Aegina treats wounded and injured wildlife, including many of the sea turtles that are injured each year by jet skis.