Ideal green vacation: Stay home, explore yourself

April 2, 2009

Today’s Ecologist carries a Paul Miles article musing about the environmental impact of travel. It’s an interesting voyage through the mind of green-think.

On space travel, Miles writes that its value lies in inspiring the wealthy to greater green actions:

Will high-spending amateur astronauts come back down to Earth ‘transformed’, inspired to save our fragile planet? Maybe a CEO will cancel a logging concession. Another will invest millions in carbon capture technology. A celebrity might donate all her wealth to environmental causes. If so, might not the benefits of space tourism outweigh the environmental costs? Or would it be better for the planet if these high-flying space cadets spent their $200,000 ticket money here on Earth? That can pay for a lot of good works.

On tourism, generally, Miles writes:

Tourism wreaks environmental and social havoc. Even in destinations where ecotourism is championed, damage ensues. A recent study by the University of California and the Wilderness Society showed that coyotes and bobcats were severely disturbed by the presence of ecotourists in their habitat. Elsewhere, in the name of tourism, fragile ecosystems are blatantly destroyed, invasive species deliberately introduced, scarce water supplies diverted to golf courses, beach access for local people curtailed, migrant workers treated as slaves, employees paid less than minimum wages and residents forcibly relocated to make way for tourism development. It is not too surprising when companies more concerned with luxury than social responsibility make mistakes, but when, for example, Wilderness Safaris, a company with a hitherto good record on social and environmental matters, goes ahead with a safari camp – complete with swimming pool – in Botswana’s Central Kalahari Game Reserve, when nearby Basarwa (bushmen) are denied access to water, it seriously challenges the hypothesis that tourism is a force for good. ‘The [Botswana] government has the gall to tell the bushmen to make the 400km round-trip to collect water from outside the reserve when tourists will be showering and sipping their drinks nearby,’ says Stephen Corry, director of Survival International, which campaigned against the safari camp, due to open in December 2008. ‘Many tourists will stay away when they know the background.’

Finally, Miles suggests that tourism be replaced by exploring ourselves:

Perhaps underlying the whole debate is the biggest question of all: why do we travel? To ‘gain perspective on our place and size in the world,’ as Professor Bor says? Alain de Botton, author of The Art of Travel, thinks not. ‘The finest journeys are those that can be taken within our own minds, without leaving the house, indeed without straying far from the bedroom,’ he says. He quotes philosopher Blaise Pascal: ‘All of man’s unhappiness stems from his inability to stay alone in his room’. That was no doubt easier to do with the view of rural 17th-century France from his window, rather than grey, urban, overcrowded 21st-century Britain. But maybe examining the familiar anew broadens our horizons as much as visiting foreign climes. De Botton has led holiday tours of the M1 and Heathrow. It’s not quite the same as a fortnight on a quiet isle, but perhaps, before we plan our visit to outer space – or even the Outer Hebrides – we need to ask if what we’re really seeking is simply our inner selves.

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