"It makes no odds where a man goes or stays, if he is only about his business" — Henry David Thoreau
I was asked to bring my column to this on-line zine by the folks at Turtle Island Institute, and although I jumped at the chance, I did question the wisdom of such a request. My hesitation was based in the fact that I am not the warm and fuzzy type. Mine is an in your face, soap boxing style, that pulls no punches. With that said, let's begin. I'm eager to address the international audience this opportunity represents.
First I think it is important that we are all on the same page, and to accomplish this I needed a working definition of eco-tourism. According to the Dictionary of Ecology and Environmental Science, eco-tourism is "A term coined relatively recently for tourists who are interested in visiting areas of natural beauty or abundant or exotic wildlife." Personally, I question if this definition goes far enough because it is not exactly environmentally based.
Case in point. If a North American decides he wants to see the Serengeti the above definition would consider him an eco-tourist regardless if he made environmentally sustainable choices while visiting Tanzania.If he was a big game hunter he would still be considered a eco-tourist under this definition. Closer to home if said tourist were to load his Sports Utility Vehicle with family and friends, hitch up the Jet-ski trailer, and haul them all to Utah, he would still be considered an eco-tourist. As far as I am concerned, an eco-tourism is not about place, it is about commitment to preservation.
Annually 4 million visitors descend on California's Yosemite National Park like cockroaches, 99.9 percent of which should never be considered eco-anything. Yes, Yosemite offers breathtaking natural beauty, and depending on where those visitors are from, its abundant wildlife could be considered exotic, but the majority of these folks want only a drive-by wilderness experience. If they can't access this "wilderness" by automobile, and a very short walk, they just aren't interested.
Last summer, some friends and I spent a week rafting down Utah's Green River through Desolation Canyon, now that was a wilderness experience. Days of stifling heat, nights of intense thunderstorms, a constant barrage of bloodsucking mosquitoes and deer flies, and other than our guides, no other human presence save for a few rafters that passed us on the sixth day of our excursion. This was completely opposite to what we experienced getting to the river.
Driving from San Diego we camped overnight in National Parks. Mornings we joined the mass of tourists as we took in the sights of Zion, Bryce,and Arches. Our day hikes resembled nothing more than the lines at Disneyland. Never once could we be still with the natural wonders around us, the tide of people kept pushing us forward. Staying on the trail, shuffling like sheep, these people whined, complained, and littered like the annoying humans they were. And then it was on to the next "spot." At one point I started fantasizing about pushing people off of precipices. I'm sure my laughing to myself, to the point of tears, did not make them feel any safer. One shove and adios. Talk about eco-terrorism.
I realize that I too was guilty of day-tripping, but to redeem myself in the eyes Gaia, I picked up so much litter I could have qualified for a national pension. We called this the Ticket Out Ritual, and when people remarked on our litter removal we invited them to join us in the ritual, with little success.
This, for lack of a better example, is the difference between tourism and eco-tourism. Tourism is mere anthropocentric vacationing where Eco-tourism is vacationing in a biocentric, environmentally sustainable manner. Once again, Eco-tourism is not a destination, it is a state of mind.