The Only Green Vacation Is Staying Home

Being a Malthusian environmentalist is getting more difficult every day. When I was volunteering for an enviro non-profit many years ago in high school, all you really had to do was recycle your soup cans and, if practical, start a compost pile, (I did both) and you’d be a member in good standing of the green social set. In the era of the “carbon footprint”, however, things have gotten much more difficult. Now that pretty much anything you produce, consume or discard contributes to greenhouse gas emissions in some way, previously virtuous behaviors have now become grave sins.

Which brings me to one of the Associated Press stories in today’s Washington Post, which assesses the moral conflict in the ecotourism industry:

Ecotourism may be just as environmentally damaging as traditional travel because of the greenhouse gases vacationers help create when they journey to remote, pristine areas, industry experts warned Tuesday.

That dilemma has been the focus of the Global Ecotourism Conference, a three-day gathering of ecotourism officials struggling to chart the future of an industry whose success threatens to become its own undoing.

“There is no other industry that has more to gain or to lose from climate change,” said Alexi Huntley, whose Costa Rica-based Nature Air calls itself the first airline with zero net carbon dioxide emissions because of investments in projects such as reforestation to help keep air clean.


Wolfgang Strasdas, a professor of ecotourism at the German University of Applied Sciences in Eberswalde, said it would be simplest to just eliminate exotic trips but that would spell diaster for poor regions and countries economically dependent on tourism.

What’s an enlightened, progressive-minded soul to do? Take that backpacking trip to Costa Rica and emit all that CO2 or stay home and deprive the locals of vital tourist dollars? At first I was going to recommend the obvious: Second Life. If beautiful but fragile ecotourism destinations could set up a presence in SL, then concerned citizens could have their avatars visit and enjoy the digital beauty without any environmental damage. That was going to be my recommendation, that is, until Iain had to go and ruin everything by bring up telling me about this.