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…





Paying It Forward

16 07 2008

The fun thing about travel is, of course, the meeting of new people and the seeing of new things. That part’s a given. But an equally important part of travel (and the part that keeps us travel fiends going in between trips) is the sharing of the travel experience. Even better, sharing the travel experience when the experience itself is a new thing.

Let me explain. While at home in California I got to spend quality time with my young nieces from Colorado, who, at ages 12 and almost 11, are finally old enough to understand the magnitude of international travel and actually be interested in it. (As opposed to six years ago when the little Flamenco fans I brought from Spain were cool solely for the pretty designs on them.)

Now, these girls have had their fair share of travel in the course of their young lives, but somehow trips to California or even the all-inclusive resort in Mexico (while it of course has its merit) does not quite have the same effect. Getting their hair braided doesn’t count discovering a culture.

So the fact that Alyssa (the older sister)’s eyes lit up when I mentioned my trip to Peru was fantastic. When she enthusiastically told me she’d done a project on Peru this year, I wasted no time in whisking her away to my computer and pulling up photos from the trek (a feat not all that easy, given that the pictures—which I finally had all organized and ready to send out—were lost when my hard drive crashed).

There we sat for nearly an hour, flipping through photos of the trail, the houses, the people, and, wonder of wonders, Machu Picchu. To my delight, Alyssa was riveted, as was her sister Nicolette. They were fascinated by the scenery, the dress, the trek itself. And the fact that their aunty (who, admittedly, they know to be a bit of a priss) went five days without showering. And, for my part, I loved reliving the experiences and the stories, and watching their excitement.

But even better was the fact that they were experiencing the wonders of travel (albeit armchair travel) for the first time. While I’ll never know the exact impact it had, by the looks on their faces I’d guess that these girls figured out that there are wonders out there, and that it’s within their reach to see them.

But more importantly, I think it sparked a desire to see them, and it was educational too. Later that day, when Alyssa and I visited the store and I didn’t take a bag for our cans of condensed milk (a preview of my next post) we talked about doing little things for the environment. And when I told her that Salkantay, the glacier she saw in my photos, was melting rapidly because of global warming, her response was, “That would be terrible if I wanted to see it when I grow up and it wasn’t there.” Check and check. New generation of female travelers (and environmentalists) officially recruited.