Can We Love Nature Too Much?

16 04 2009

A couple days ago the New York Times ran this article about a recent conference in Washington focused on protecting the fragile Arctic and Antarctic regions. In her keynote address, secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton expressed U.S. concern over tourism to Antarctica, both for the safety of the region and of the tourists themselves. Tourism to the region has become rather popular over the course of the past decade or so, and the effect on the area has been somewhat questionable. The article cites concerns over fuel spills and over the tourism industry in general being responsible for “about 5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.”

The article questions tourism’s effect on nature closer to home than the poles as well, discussing a recent study at the University of California, Berkeley, which went so far as to surmise that “even ‘quiet, non-consumptive recreation’ — defined as things like hiking, biking and horseback riding…still led to a steep decline in the density of native carnivores.”

The irony, it seems, is that as the world gets more eco-minded, travelers are more likely to choose “nature-based tourism, and yet it seems that this increase in demand (which, it should be noted, seems to signify an increase in awareness) is also putting some of these ecosystems at further risk. The question, then, is where to draw the line. Is eco-tourism, while excellent in concept, in fact part of the problem? I’ve got no answer, but I’m hoping people will weigh in…

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