The ENIGMA that is WORLD TOURISM

On 27th September, “WORLD TOURISM DAY” the CBD Secretariat issued a statement by the Executive Secretary, Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias, which began as follows:

In spite of lingering economic challenges, tourism continues to be one of the world’s fastest growing industries as well as a major source of foreign exchange and employment for many developing countries. Increasingly, the tourism industry is also focusing on its role as a steward of the natural environments that are one of its main assets; and as a unique awareness-raising and education tool for travellers and hosts alike.” (Italics my emphasis)

However, there was little about this global ‘tourism’ industry that deserved to be celebrated on this occasion.

The assumption that such a financial resource dependent and fossil energy intensive kind of tourism can be sustainable, merely serves to perpetuate the great divide between rich and poor, the haves and the have-nots, by seeking to commoditise and to encourage the corporate control and artificial ownership of poor nations’ natural resources.

In doing so, the autonomy of local communities and indigenous peoples is subdued, and they are kept subservient to a form of exploitative capitalism that is based on the mindless pursuit of endless economic growth and consumption; in order to appease the false god of intrinsically worthless foreign currencies such as the (once) mighty US Dollar!

Further on, the statement declares: “However, tourism is a double-edged activity. It has the potential to contribute in a positive manner to socio-economic development but, at the same time, fast and sometimes uncontrolled growth can be a major cause of biodiversity loss and the loss of local identity and traditional cultures.”

Undoubtedly some forms of tourism can be better or worse than others, but logically, any tourism model that depends on long-distance air travel using fossil-fuelled energy should be a big no-no. To quote the latest IPCC policy-makers summary report just released: “The atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, and nitrous oxide have increased to levels unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years. CO2 concentrations have increased by 40% since pre-industrial times, primarily from fossil fuel emissions and secondarily from net land use change emissions”.

To add insult to injury, air-travel tourism junkies like Sir Richard Branson are promoting the illusion that so-called renewable ‘biofuels’ will miraculously provide the justification and the means to carry on with their ‘business as usual’ jet-setter lives. However this is a myth that would be dependent on grabbing vast amounts of ‘marginal’ community land in the South to grow agrofuel crops, and which epitomises the problem rather than the solution.

It has recently been in the news that Airlines in the EU are experiencing financial difficulty due to high fuel costs (yay!) as well as steep competition from Asian airlines, so how does this fit into Braulio’s rose-tinted vision for the deeply flawed global tourism industry?

His assertion: “Increasingly, the tourism industry is also focusing on its role as a steward of the natural environments that are one of its main assets“.. might remind some of a similar sentiment expressed by Ahmed Djoghlaf in Bonn in 2008, that biodiversity is like ‘Nature’s supermarket’, or words to that effect.

Custodianship and control of Earth’s ecological gems that remain must be restored to the local communities and Indigenous Peoples that are their rightful owners, and ways found to allow local people to appreciate, to enjoy, and to benefit from their own natural wonders, that have in so many cases been put beyond their reach and means, now being reserved for the shallow pleasure of foreign investors and visitors.

Is it not time that civil society, i.e. we members of the CBD Alliance, opposed this green-washing of what must surely be one of the most unproductive, wasteful and destructive obsessions of the ignorant wealthy – gawking at fast-dwindling natural areas, wildlife and traditional culture in other countries – often utilising ill-gotten and undeserved monetary gains derived from the ignorant destruction of their own natural heritage.

Note: Follow this link to read the full statement http://www.cbd.int/doc/speech/2013/sp-2013-09-27-tourism-en.pdf

Wally Menne
plantnet@iafrica.com
Tel: +27 (0) 82 4442083
Skype: wally.menne

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