We tend to forget that our actions impact our surroundings, the ecosystems and other living things. There’s a global necessity for travellers to take responsibility for the environment, and to act in a more conscious and respectful manner. In the last ten years, many improvements have been made for the environment, and eco-tourism is a popular one.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report in 2019 highlighted the fact that global warming has already reached 1°C above the pre-industrial level, due to past and current greenhouse gas emissions. The report states that, “there is overwhelming evidence that this is resulting in profound consequences for ecosystems and people”. Earth is getting warmer, sea levels are rising due to ice sheets melting, and fires are destroying huge parts of the ecosystem. The global urgency of the situation has brought people together to fight for their future by ensuring a healthy and sustainable environment for generations to come.
The reports also revealed the benefits of ambitious and effective adaptation for sustainable development, as well as, the escalating costs and risks of delayed action. Each individual can be educated on environmental issues, take action to reduce their ecological footprint on the environment, and make the earth a better place to live in.
What is eco-tourism?
“Travel makes one modest; you see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.”
- Gustave Flaubert
Ecotourism also known as “sustainable tourism”, “green tourism”, “alternative tourism”, is a responsible way to travel while supporting conservation projects, local communities and the local economy. This form of tourism appeared 40 years ago and was at the heart of all environmental debates. Ecotourism is choosing a sustainable way to travel that consciously makes an effort to not harm the environment. It is a choice we make as travellers to reduce our footprint on the environment. On Earth Day 2018, 87% of travellers revealed they want to travel sustainably and 47% of those actually had!
Undoubtedly, the considerable and constant impact of advanced societies since the modern age has had severe consequences on the environment today. Therefore, ecotourism is a positive response by such developed minds that is committed to the environment, the preservation of biodiversity, and maintaining our natural resources.
Impacts and consequences of tourism
"You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference and you have to decide what kind of a difference you want to make." - Jane Goodall
One example of where tourism turned toxic for the environment is Maya Bay, on the island of Ko Phi Phi Leh, Thailand. This location was made famous by its appearance in the film “The Beach”. Since then, tourists have flocked in mass to the beautiful island. Consequently, overcrowded beaches led to damaged coral reefs and the island’s national park had to close to visitors to recuperate. Unfortunately, other places have known the same experience due to the tourist demand, affluence, and lack of conscious travel behaviours. The impact would not be as detrimental if the number of tourists that visited simply chose to leave behind only a footprint. Roadsides are paved with hundreds of plastics bags, various papers, straws, and other trash that have ended up there. Harming the environment is harming the ecosystem and its biodiversity, including local fauna and flora which in turn effects humans.
Why is eco-tourism so important?
"The danger is not for the ecology alone, but for the local culture as well. " - Samir Arachay
Ecotourism is an important alternative measure to prevent these kinds of events to occur in the future. Raising awareness about sustainable development and tourism is therefore crucial as it is about uniting conservation, communities, and conscious travel. Eco-tourism also includes having respect for the places we are visiting and the ones we are not allowed to visit, being aware of our own presence on a foreign country and the impact we can have. The goal is to leave the place as we found it, without adding more disastrous pollution for the environment to "swallow".
What countries are doing eco-tourism right that we should learn from?
‘The environment is where we all meet; where all have a mutual interest; it is the one thing all of us share.”- Lady Bird Johnson
- Costa Rica is among the most frequently cited ecotourism destinations. Costa Rica has rich biodiversity and immense ecosystems with huge national parks and reserves that need to be protected. The country boasts to have multiple outdoor activities for active travelers and nature lovers. They come to enjoy the misty cloud forests, black sand beaches, thick rainforests, and river rapids. As the number of tourists has risen incredibly over the last two decades, many locals now earn a better income in the tourism industries than in their previous job. Therefore, eco-tourism not only preserves the natural tourist spots it also supports local communities to earn a living to greatly improve the country’s economy. Many volunteers also go to Costa Rica to work in conservation projects such as protecting sea turtles.
- Brazil is doing great job at the Pantanal Park which is one of the most beautiful nature reserves in Southeast America. There are lots of activities proposed for tourists that allow them to explore the depths of the vast wildlife haven and to increase their knowledge of the natural environment there. Eco-tourism activities include mindful nature walks, local crafting, educational workshops, organic vegetable gardens, etc.
- An Italian company has recently launched they “stroodles straw” which are straws made out of pasta. This is a simple idea, yet a clever one that changes our habits and is good for the environment. Straws are not necessary; however, many restaurants, bars and cafes still use them. Adopting such a simple but effective measure in tourism hotspots is another way eco-tourism is impacting the way we travel. In Cambodia, the government has almost fully banned all plastic straw from restaurants, bars and cafés. Many now use local materials such as bamboo or metal straws.
These examples are proving to us that hope remains for the planet, that if we take such responsible measures for its protection immediately we can strike a new balance with the degradation and regeneration.
What are some strategies that travelers should adopt?
“I know I'm only a child, yet I know we're all in the this together and should act as one single world towards one single goal” - Severn Cullis-Suzuki
1. Reusable bottles
The production of single-use plastic water bottles is an ecological disaster for the environment. Investing in a reusable water bottle helps the environment as we reuse the bottle instead of throwing it away.
A typical mistake that tourists all do when visiting a new country is to buy plastic water bottles. This action can be repeated many times a day as water bottle sellers are everywhere you go. This simple access makes us forget easily that our behavior can be dangerous for the environment. As the prices are often very low, up to few cents only, we buy them without thinking consciously about our choice. These plastic bottles are then found along roadsides and left on park benches for others to tidy up. They then typically end up in landfill and take years to bio-degrade.
Therefore, a reusable bottle of water could be a good alternative to plastic waste. A reusable water bottle would cost you less to buy and refill at appropriate clean water dispensers than it would to buy a new plastic bottle of water every day. The practical aspect too is that we can hang them on our backpacks and they don’t take up too much place Moreover, in Cambodia you can buy one big water container for $5 and refill it for only $1. This provides drinking water for at least one week, depending on how much water is needed.
Take a look at an amzing project “refill not landfill” reusable water bottles in Cambodia.
2. Reusable bags
Reusing plastic bags is another solution to reduce plastic waste that would otherwise end up in nature or the oceans. Luckily, in almost all tourist destinations there are reusable tote bags that you can find with personalized images of the city we’re visiting. You should ensure to always have one with you wherever you go. It is useful when you need to carry something and it prevents you from resorting back to plastic bags. Moreover, by buying local tote bags you are also supporting a local business!
3) Low carbon footprint
Cars, trucks, buses, and other fuel-powered vehicles are responsible for 28.5% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. Australia and Saudi Aribia are also huge greenhouse gas emitters with more than 15T of CO2 emission yearly (per capita). Although, China remains the largest emitter of carbon dioxide. Indeed, the superpower has emitted close to 10,000 million metric tons of CO2 from burning fossil fuel in 2017.
Choosing better options such as walking, biking or using public transports instead of a personal car is a great benefit for the planet. A simple decision can have immediate positive results on the environment. Moreover, cities are now investing in green spaces and developing necessary infrastructure that allows people to use bikes, subways, trains or buses to enjoy outdoor activities. Walking or cycling offer many advantages and benefit for our health and the environment. Indeed, more active transportation modes are emission-free and help us to keep our hearts, our mind, and bodies healthy while protecting and improving the living environment and natural resources.
Bike riding uses minimal fossil fuels and is a pollution-free mode of transport. For instance, Finland is now investing in technology to reduce their carbon footprint. The first autonomous, all-weather, electric buses are now replacing normal buses that were consuming excessive fossil fuels. Luxembourg has, for its part, made all public transport free and is the first country in the whole world to do such an exceptional social and environmental act!
5) Social enterprises
A social enterprise sells goods and services and invests a portion of the profits in the local community to address social issues and improve local lives. Social enterprises are directly supporting locals to earn an income and feed their families in a sustainable way. By supporting local NGOs and social enterprises, we can help to raise awareness for their work and the beneficiaries they support. Buying souvenirs from these local artisans helps support the local economy and overall development.
Those options are not the only ones, actually there have never been this many possibilities than there are today to reduce our footprint and ecological impact on the planet.
Better choices = better travel = better environment = better people
Climate change and natural disasters are a wake-up call for us to change our behavior towards our environment. Changing our habits doesn’t happen in just one day. It is a new routine to adopt, and new changes to make, so it does require time. However, as the planet is suffering from our individual irresponsible behaviors, it is crucial to act now and do these changes for oneself and everybody else. Avoiding plastic completely is not that easy, as plastic is everywhere in our lives. To be “eco-responsible” doesn’t mean using plastic is forbidden, it means acting and adopting better behaviors consciously. These are small everyday habits to adopt that amount to make a huge difference. Step by step, we will all be on a path that is better for the ecosystem and humanity.