Ecotourism. It’s a term travel marketers love, but what does it really mean?
Ecotourism involves more than just exploring nature or viewing wildlife, which on its own does not always contribute to the welfare of a place and its inhabitants. Indeed, some destinations, such as the Galapagos Islands, are at risk of being ‘loved too much.’
At its heart, ecotourism involves “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people,” according to the International Ecotourism Society.
With this in mind, consider whether your travel plans include the following principles and practices that are central to ecotourism that makes a positive difference:
Recently, my husband Andy and I were jolted out of deep sleep at 5 am by a huge CRASH. We jumped out of bed to investigate (with me grabbing slippers and a flashlight). I assumed a bear had climbed onto the front porch table to get at the bird suet (not the first time).
As the only humans living on a two-thousand-acre estate, we are surrounded by wildlife and are accustomed to myriad nature sounds. Many nights we listen to the primal howls of coyotes, which I love. (Sometimes I even howl along with them!) We know our seasonal birds by their calls and occasionally hear an owl in the night whoo-whoo-whooing.
As an auditory person and lifelong environmentalist, this is heaven for me. It was just a short time ago I needed a sound machine (of nature!) to help me sleep in New York City, with all of its jarring, man-made sounds. (I swear the garbage trucks have amplifier speakers.)
It’s no wonder the number-one complaint of city dwellers is noise. Chronic, debilitating noise is more than just an annoyance — it plays a huge factor in our quality of life. Studies confirm that noise and stress are closely related to our health, and I am always surprised that more people don’t plug their ears (like I do) when a subway car rambles by.
What we hear transforms our brains and our lives. That’s why it’s critical to take control over your ‘personal soundscape.’ Customize your home environment as you would a beautiful soundtrack to create a haven of soothing sounds (and sights and smells). Here are a few tips to do that:
In the environmental world, it’s characterized as the classic battle: Should wild areas be preserved for their intrinsic qualities or conserved for their resources? In other words, should nature be used for “the greatest good for the greatest number of people for the longest time,” as nineteenth-century progressive environmentalist Gifford Pinchot put it; or should the wilderness be protected and revered without human intrusions, a view espoused by romantic environmentalist John Muir?
Today, with a burgeoning population encroaching on our remaining wild areas and economic help scarce, many would say that Pinchot’s beliefs are more realistic for the modern world. In fact, there are even those, such as Peter Kareiva, The Nature Conservancy’s chief scientist, who would take Pinchot’s notion a step further: Natural areas must be managed to benefit humans, if they are to survive at all.
Big wads of plastic in the ocean that stretch for miles and disintegrating polar ice caps are the kind of news stories that tend to make us feel hopeless regarding conservation efforts. Why bother to change our light bulbs to compact fluorescents if our planet’s imminent demise is a speeding train that can’t be stopped?
The reason we have these feelings is probably the work of environmentalists themselves. They’re sending the wrong messages, if you ascribe to the new field of neuro-conservation.
Instead of focusing the spotlight on results of scientific studies that prove our planet is rapidly warming, or on statistics about alarming species extinction rates, they should be talking about how an ocean view will make us feel happy or standing among trees will arouse our feelings of peacefulness.
After all, selling us emotions is what marketing professionals have been doing for decades. They know that we don’t just buy a car; we buy how that car makes us feel — wealthier, greener or more in control. Using the tenets of neuro-conservation may just be the boost that environmentalists need to gain support for their causes in a world that’s overrun with more scientific data than we know what to do with — or pay attention to.
When one of America’s best-known and finest actors, Marlon Brando, bought his own private island in 1966, people generally wrote the news off as just another eccentric act by the rich. Until his death in July 2004 at the age of 80, Brando “owned” Tetiaroa, a 2.5-square-mile atoll in the South Pacific, 37 miles north of Tahiti. (He obtained a 99-year lease to it from the French Polynesian government.)
Brando was a nature purist and hoped Tetiaroa would be part environmental laboratory — mostly for sea turtles — and part modest eco-resort. In a will he signed in 1982, he put Tetiaroa in a trust so it could be preserved for posterity. “If I have my way,” he once wrote in a memoir, “Tetiaroa will remain forever a place that reminds Tahitians of who they are and what they were centuries ago.” His wish was to keep the island from becoming overly developed and in as natural a state as possible.
Some people ask me why I’m so passionate about “environmental issues.” Well, these “environmental issues” I’m so concerned about aren’t just about the environment. In fact, I haven’t thought about them as environmental issues for some time. They’re about everything else that’s inevitably on people’s agenda — economy, health care, politics …
It’s not easy buying green, especially since green has been touted as the new black. Like the “black” of a previous generation, today’s “green” is considered sexy, trendy and it looks good on everyone. And while the branding of green has led to an increased environmental and ecological awareness, which has oftentimes proved beneficial for our planet and her people, the increased awareness has also created a muddled perspective of what really constitutes green. The public relations whiz kids of the corporate world have jumped on the green wagon and, wa-la, companies with questionable environmental practices and policies have been spun from black to green.
This July, a new kind of festival will bring together the world’s leading yoga teachers and best rock ‘n’ roll performers in a breathtaking setting of natural beauty. The Wanderlust Festival, dedicated to both “spiritual and physical exploration,” will take place July 24-26 in Squaw Valley USA, Lake Tahoe, Calif. Gaiam is a sponsor of the festival, and our Yogamates.com editor Kasey Luber will conclude her 50 Days 50 Yoga Studios road trip at Wanderlust.
Spend any time reading environmental news, and you could get pretty depressed. But we know there has to be reason for hope out there. So we decided to ask some of the smart people who came to the San Francisco Green Festival to tell us what makes them optimistic about the future.
Seeing as the tree in New York City’s Rockefeller Center has been lit, the holiday season is officially underway. Tony Bennett, Josh Groban, Brooke Shields, Nick Lachey and Ashley Tisdale were among the celebrities there for the flipping of the switch in Manhattan. One big difference this year is that the 84-foot-tall Norway spruce is sporting energy-saving bulbs and solar panels on top of a nearby building will help power them. ‘Tis the season to go green…