By Brian Clark Howard
The travel and tourism industry, often described as the world's largest, is poised for massive changes in the wake of global climate change. Not only are some of the world's most fragile, natural and beautiful locales under siege, but the very act of visiting them is likely to be called further into question, reports the Toronto Star. The Star quotes Dave Reay, a UK-based climate researcher and author of Climate Change Begins at Home, as pointing out that unbalanced weather patterns will likely wreak havoc with our sensitive network of airports, flight routes and other ways of getting there. Storms
will be more frequent and more intense. Summer destinations are beset by water shortages, increasing disease outbreaks, erosion and sea level rise, all exacerbated by global warming. The ski industry is reeling. In Scotland, for example, the number of ski days has plummeted by a quarter in the past 20 years. Other regions are seeing the same trend, particularly in warming New England. Rain forests and coral reefs, popular draws for ecotourism
, are contracting and degrading. The insurance industry has warned that travelers will face greater risks in the future, in large part due to the many aftershocks of global warming. A British think tank, the Centre For Future Studies, has suggested that future travelers be required to enter a lottery to win the right to visit some of the world's popular ecotourism destinations. They warn that sensitive areas could be pushed to the brink by too many visitors, given the assaults already mounting from humankind's destructive activities. They point to Australia's Great Barrier Reef and mountain glaciers as places that are already seeing negative impacts from too much love. Surprising to no one, the travel industry doesn't even want to hear about such lottery schemes, and is quick to argue that ecotourism can bring in much needed currency to provide incentives to protect natural environs. This last point hits at one of the great debates in the eco-consumer world. On one hand, sure, it would be better if we all left the polluting planes on the ground, and lived like most of our great-grandparents did, rarely, if ever, venturing out from our home counties, except perhaps for a one-time move. It's true: traveling can have enormous impacts in terms of fuel and resource use. But on the other hand, how do you measure the value of expanding your horizons, gaining knowledge and insight about other places, ecosystems and cultures? The powerful desire to protect tends to follow exploration. Those who have visited an ecotourist hot spot tend to be much more likely to do something to protect it. The debate is similar to criticism of green media, education, entertainment and even celebs who speak out. Since the true value of communication cannot be measured, it becomes difficult to assess the importance of its trade-offs in terms of resource use. However, one could certainly argue that the biggest enemy of the environment is not transportation, coal plants, or some other specific process or problem, but rather apathy and lack of willing to do something about it. Ecotourism can therefore be seen as a powerful force for positive change. It just needs to be done right, like so much else. It's impossible to know for sure, but can you imagine a world in which you simply can't see the pyramids, the mouth of the Amazon, a snowy peak or wave-washed shore?
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