I write this before dawn in Sydney in a modern, sterile hotel room overlooking Botany Bay – the sheltered harbour that James Cook entered some 242 years ago when our current scientific, materialisitic worldview was just entering adolescence. I am sure that, if brought back by a Dr Who type figure, Cook wouldn’t recognize this place at all: paved with concrete, the horizon marred by giant oil storage containers, the incessant roar of jet engines, the continuous ebb and flow of taxis, cars, people, and luggage for whom this is now nothing but an anonymous, sanitized, securitized springboard to and from somewhere else.
I too am about to embark on an adventure – leaving for South America (my first visit) in six hours time and becoming the guest of my gracious hosts in Ecuador where I am sharing my thoughts on Conscious Travel at the UNWTO’s second conference on Ethics and Tourism.
I’ve just left Tasmania – a place where the transition from one economy to another is still proving painful and divisive. Blessed by nature, the state is rich in mineral and natural resources. Many Tasmanian families have built their livelihoods and far fewer have garnered great wealth from their extraction and exploitation. Despite diminishing net benefit to the community as a whole, they are reluctant to let go of a way of life that has sustained families with seemingly no ill effect for generations. It’s proving to be a clash of worldview. Those who can see how quickly human society is shifting its values; those who can see that dependency on a limited non-renewable resource is folly; and those who wish to ensure their grand children will have a life, let alone a livelihood, are demonized as anti development.
Ecuador is at a very different stage – with a rapidly expanding population and rising expectations, it also needs to build a sustainable economy. But as each of us knows personally, to participate in the global economy (now its only option) it needs to generate cash quickly. The Ecuadorians are fully aware that the Amazon is worth far more to humanity as a life support system, but until we humans recognize that without air to breathe, water to drink and biodiversity we are doomed to become another Mars, there apparently is no immediately accessible market for those life support services can satisfy the demand for jobs and cash. Ecuador was the first nation to recognize the Rights of Nature and it looks like New Zealand is moving in that direction with respect to the Whanaganui River at least, thanks to the opportunities afforded by the Waitangi Treaty and the influence of a Maori perspective. Ecauador also did a while back what the Tasmanians have just commissioned and that is calculate the value of their forest as a sink for carbon and not as a source of oil and lumber.
This is why both places are looking to tourism as a plank of a new sustainable economy. But what kind of tourism will best fit, and produce the greatest net benefit over the longer term? How can it be developed from the start and not applied like a bandaid after the damage has already been done? These are the questions that need serious attention in both communities. A new model for tourism development, that is environmentally sustainable, socially just and spiritually fulfilling for all its participants, has to be envisioned from the outset and the people of Ecuador and Tasmania need to ensure a modern version of prospecting and speculation doesn’t pre-empt their options. If we don’t, then the children of the leaders in both places will be facing the ire and dismay of their people as is now happening in Venice and Bali – two priceless jewels that have now been trashed by greed, selfishness and myopia.
There are no simple answers and a conference on ethics and tourism isn’t going to scratch the surface for the simple reason that doing the right thing is being positioned as a choice and as an after thought. Until our most fundamental beliefs about the how the world works shift, until we wake up from the delusion that one species can grow indefinitely, applying a predatory, consumption-based economy that doesn’t give back, or “know its place” then the talk of ethics will evaporate like the morning mist over the Amazon.
The following video about the challenges in Ecuador is titled The Heart of Everywhere because its creators rightly recognize that the challenges in Ecuador encapsulate the issues affecting all of us. But imagine you are situated on a globe without either poles or national boundaries. In this case, every point is the centre of everywhere and that means that all problems are our problems and each of us, regardless of where we are located, shares equal responsibility for the whole. In tourism, that means listening to our indigenous brethren and experiencing all places as alive – not dead; and as sacred – not profane. It means knowing that all manifestations of so called reality (inanimate and animate) are not just connected but in a constant but evolutionary dance with one another; and they are willing us to wake up and dance with them! Travel is one means whereby we can shift our perspective and develop lenses or eyes that see a version of reality that is “pregnant with possibilities”
I titled this blog post Where Do You Stand? because I want you to stop being a wallflower at the most amazing, colourful and creative party/happening on Planet Earth today. Join now and you can shape its future, set its rhythm and cadence or invent some steps of your own. At the very least subscribe to this blog and contribute to the discussion. In the next post I’ll share how my thinking is developing on the shape of an alternative model. I shared it with some very forward thinking people in Tasmania and they liked it. We’re hoping to co-develop it together in a totally open, inclusive process.
You opened my heart and mind with this report, Anna! All your thoughts and considerations are worth digging deeper. The story of the tribe of Ecuador is amazing and makes me feel more hopeful On the other hand, I wonder why there are so many organizations, some really engaged and serious, others maybe less, that sadly, despite their work, can’t change the fate of our planet nor the world as we see developing now. Not that successes haven’t been achieved but, as in the political world as we see developing every day, the other side is gaining more and more.
Sorry about these negative remarks to someone like you that is so engaged around the world in trying to make a difference, at least in the tourism industry and it’s damaging impact.
For a moment I wanted to get a ticket and join you in Ecuador, a country I fell in love with many years ago. A country, unlike the one I live in now, that is at least trying and seems to understand the changes that have to happen in order to preserve what we still have.
I watched the video on Venice: OMG…I heard about the big ships but a photo can tell more than a thousand words! I saw that coming, even before the ship era, and it seems unstoppable!
You, and all your friends and colleagues around the world have a long way ahead. The Rights for Nature is an exciting manifesto and don’t we know we need to adopt it immediately! But at times these great concepts seem to me so theoretical, an utopia, like many others before, that most don’t even know anything about it.
I’m not negative, not at all. I’m just trying to convey here both my enthusiasm and my doubts. You see…you meet all the best people who are deeply engaged in this “utopia” whilst I work in the “real world” of tourism…should I tell more??!!
It’s strange that small countries are paying attention, like Tasmania and Ecuador, and the most powerful ones…well. are strangled by their own power. A silly question I ask myself is “why are people so greedy for the mundane things and don’t understand that their power and money will be worthless in a planet with no water, no animals, arid lands?” Go figure!
Thank you for all your posts and information. One day, I hope, we will sit down together with our preferred drink and talk, talk, talk….
Thank you for your comment Patrizia. Expressing how we feel to each other is very important. Yes, I oscillate between despair and optimism on almost an hourly basis but, in the end, realize that I have a choice in that regard.
A major study undertaken a few years ago by Paul Ray and Sherry Anderson in the USA discovered a segment of the population whom they described as Cultural Creatives. I imagine you would fit their profile. There’s more on my website about theme here (http://conscioustourism.wordpress.com/the-cultural-creatives/)
and if you Google the term, well – go see. But the interesting fact was that nearly all of them thought they were alone in their views. It didn’t feel safe to question the status quo and declare oneself as different. That has changed. One of the most inspiring speeches reflecting this was given by Paul Hawken a few years ago – see here.
The magnitude of the task ahead is daunting but the primary reason I am choosing optimism is that, having been working in this space since the mid 70s, I do see an enormous shift in values and perceptions and, when they shift, everything else will change. It’s just a question now of when (how quickly) and how (relatively peacefully or not).
Let me give you an example, even five years ago the major consulting firms (the conservative accounting companies like KPMG and Deloitte) would make only tentative statements about the non-sustainability of our mode of existence. Now they are positively strident. KPMG produced a report earlier this year called “Expect the Unexpected” in which they say our present course of action is definitely non-sustainable and describe 10 mega forces that will drive humanity to re-think how we conduct business. Deloitte & Touche are now backing John Elkington’s call for business not just to reduce waste but aim for zero impact.
Only history will tell how close we are to a tipping point in human attitudes and behaviour. But I do know this – it’s up to each one of us in our own way to make that shift and support those out there blazing new trails.
I watched and read, very inspiring. I admire all the people who are actively engaged in their own area in trying to make a change.Despite all the odds..
I would like to learn more about the emerging forces working for a different tourism, some slowly becoming a movement.
I wish you a wonderful experience in Ecuador! Talk soon, and thank you.
Thank you for constantly raising awareness for an issue that really has to be addressed by all of us! I believe sustainable tourism is the only mean to make traveling available to all these people without destroying the reason why they want to travel in the first place. I am glad there are ambassadors like you whose voice is heard internationally and is able to bring along the change that we need so urgently! Thank you!