Apathy – The Greatest Threat to our Environment

This is an article written by Michael Neal * in the US.

” So what do you think is the greatest threat to the environment?

We hear a lot about climate change, overfishing, mercury in the air and water – and that’s just what was in today’s paper. All are valid concerns, but I believe one other threat, if not the greatest threat, is the apathy of future generations.

Why are future and even present generations apathetic to the threats to the environment? Is there a disconnect when kids (and adults) aren’t exposed to the outdoors? Without this exposure, kids don’t learn to see the beauty or feel a connection to the outdoor world. Let’s go back in time for a moment.

Thirty-five years ago, (ancient history for the younger readers and just yesterday for those that are a bit seasoned by time) kids, like me, played outdoors. We wandered through fields, built forts in the woods, caught frogs in ponds. Many of us had relatives who took us fishing. We were immersed in the natural world. Spending so much time outdoors, we connected with nature. Even if we weren’t actually studying the environment, we were absorbing an inner sense of it. Fishing, for example, actually laid the groundwork for many becoming conservationists and researchers.

Today, the majority of children don’t have that same connect with nature. We, as a society, are taught to keep our kids safe. It would be wrong to let a child wander through the woods alone or to go fishing in the pond by themselves. It is much safer to have them come home after school, come in the house, watch TV and play on the computer.

Maybe you’re thinking, “this is not me, I take my kids fishing and boating.” Yes, I know I am preaching to the choir but we need more converts. I take out thousands of children of many ages for short eco-tours. It is amazing. When I have young kids on the boat they almost all have an interest in the outdoor world and what lives in it, but as they get older that interest wanes.

When I talk to older kids who do have a greater interest, I find their parents are usually avid outdoors people.

We will only protect what we love and we will only love what we know. We have to get children outside. We need to support scouting organizations that encourage outdoor recreation. We need to support school systems that make the outdoors a classroom. Beyond supporting, we also need to be involved.

If you have children, get them involved. Boating, fishing, sailing, exploring; we can’t rely on schools and organizations to teach our kids about the outdoors, kids need to enjoy the outdoors. If you don’t have kids, then look around. Do you have extended family you can take out? Do you have neighbours you can share this outdoor world with?

We are bombarded with messages of despair about the problems with our environment. Many people have gotten involved and work valiantly to affect change. Many of us are tired and a bit worn out from our everyday lives and don’t have the time to protest the deforestation of the jungles of Brazil. We can, though, make the time to get a child outdoors. The feeling of joy you receive when a child sees a dolphin for the first time or catches their first fish is amazing.

Perhaps the child who feels a connection to the outdoors will become the scientist who figures out the answers to climate change, overfishing and mercury in the water and air. Make the time to make a difference to a child and perhaps the world. ”

I could not agree more with what Mike writes.

* Michael Neal is the owner / operator of Bull River Cruises, in Savannah, Georgia, USA. See www.bullriver.com

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Tourism and Travel

“We stopped in Fiji, Wellington, Sydney, Perth, etc., etc.”

International tourism now makes up around 30% of all international services trade and is valued at some $ 900 billion p.a. People do love to tell others where they’ve been and what they’ve seen. Here in Ireland, you’re just a bit passé if you haven’t been to either New Zealand or Australia. You’re most definitely of a different era if you haven’t had a few beers in Manhattan.

Almost by definition, you have to travel quite a distance to be a tourist – or at least one with a certain coolness. It’s not by accident that Ryanair has developed into Europe’s largest airline. “Give it to them and they will come” might be their motto. Put on the routes and they will be filled.

But therein lies a conundrum for so-called ecotourism and sustainable tourism.

I’ve mentioned this before and I keep coming back to it in my own head. You only have to look at The Galapagos story. If tourists travel, damage will follow. Of that, there can be no doubt. Clearly, if tourists do not travel to areas of pristine beauty, then the pristine beauty stands a much better chance of survival.

Should tourism be limited to places which have already suffered its consequences ?

Bialowieza National Park in Poland famously boasts its Strict Reserve, into which tourists may only enter with a registered guide. But enter they may.

There are truly wonderful initiatives out there, such as Leave No Trace, of which I am a trainer, trying to limit peoples’ impacts. But by times, I have to ask myself if the best way of leaving no trace would not simply be to stay out altogether.

On the other hand, I know that this is purely theoretical. The reality is that man has spread his tentacles all over the planet. Even into Antarctica. We travel to a given place ‘because it’s there’. Siberia will soon realise this and become a major nature and adventure tourism destination.

So, given that we will continue to travel, I guess we might as well try to do so in a reasonable fashion that doesn’t damage the environment as much as other forms of tourism.

Maybe we don’t need to pollute an area’s water table. Maybe we don’t need to exploit all the local workers with miserable wages and poor working conditions. Maybe we don’t need to force our western culture upon a destination. Maybe we don’t need to take that high powered motor boat out on the lovely lake. Maybe we don’t need to throw our litter around. Maybe we don’t need a sex slave. Maybe we don’t need to stay in a five star hotel cossetted away from the local life brimming outside the gated property.

So ecotourism (or at least sustainable tourism) is probably, on the balance of it, a positive notion. We will travel, so let’s make an effort at least. But unless its promoters and service providers are completely serious and authentic about reducing their impacts on the environment, it might just be make-believe for those of us who feel the need to tick the boxes for Perth, Windhoek and so on.