Ethical tourism: now might be the time to see some of earth’s last wild places–how to do it sustainably

Sustainability and tourism can go together–here’s how

They say all who wander are not lost. But sometimes, getting lost is exactly the point of wandering.

But when one is contemplating taking a trip in this complicated day and age, there are many considerations beyond what kind of rating your B&B got on or what the weather’s going to be like. You must, if you are to be an ethical citizen of the planet, be aware that your travel can and will make an impact on the wild places you seek. Here’s how to minimize that impact.

One consideration that is on the minds of people who pay attention is that industry is winning out over nature. There may not be many natural places left to visit in a few short decades.

Perhaps it has always been thus; perhaps all those hopeful phrases about loving your mother and all those Earth Day celebrations were just a dewy-eyed distraction for the masses while business quietly went on as usual.

Let’s hope that is an overly cynical view. In the meantime, here’s a few things to think about when contemplating ethical, sustainable travel.

• Sustainable travel is possible – As more and more people wake up to the fact that this is the only planet we have and it is becoming incrementally more befouled with each passing day, more tourist companies, environmental groups and nations are taking a hard look at what it takes to do the tourism thing sustainably.

“The encouraging thing is that sustainable tourism is becoming more widely accepted,” said Alex Blackburne, editor of Blue & Green Tomorrow, a magazine that focuses on ethical investment. “So much so that UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, now believes it will go from ‘alternative’ to ‘mainstream’ within a decade.” According to a survey conducted by his company in 2014, 43 percent of respondents would be considering the environmental footprint of their holiday travel. Even considering:

• Air travel – This is the big one. Flying is the most polluting any of us usually are at any given time. One roundtrip flight from New York to Europe results in a warming effect of two to three tons of carbon dioxide per person, according to some estimates. In concrete terms you’d have to recycle 40,000 plastic bottles to offset a coach seat; 100,000 to account for the extra space in a first class seat. And while carbon offsets are a good idea, make sure they are verifiable. Also pressure on the airline industry is showing some signs of progress in terms of how wasteful of fuel they are and other factors.

• Ethical destinations – It doesn’t really matter how you get there if you’re going to travel to, and therefore pour money into, countries that don’t take their own steps toward ethical, sustainable behavior. One tremendous resource for information on the best places to travel for sustainability is a non-profit advocacy group called Ethical Traveler, out of the Earth Island Institute. They have just released their annual list of the 10 Best Ethical Destinations for 2016, and it is worth a look. By analyzing countries based on criteria including human rights, social welfare, animal welfare and environmental protection, they have selected the 10 most forward-looking destinations across the developing world. Some great places to start that are off the beaten track are Uruguay, Grenada, and the list’s number one spot, Cabo Verde.

Ethical travel is possible now, because it must be. The environmental costs of pretending we don’t have an impact on the world in the near future and even the present are just too high.

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