Flying – The Eli in the Room

Flying - The eli in the roomCan travel really be sustainable?
This is a vexed question. An answer might be to look at the definition of ”sustainable” adopted by the IUCN (The World Conservation Union) in 1996.

Ecotourism is environmentally responsible travel and visitation to relatively undisturbed natural areas, in order to enjoy and appreciate nature (and any accompanying cultural features – both past and present) that promotes conservation, has low negative visitor impact, and provides for beneficially active socio-economic involvement of local populations
– Ceballos-Lascurain

Sustainability and sustainable development is about creating a balance.
Putting back as much as we use, and more in some cases.
The balance is recognising that development and growth can be good, but not if it’s at the expense of future generations, who risk struggling for land to live on, resources to live off and jobs to survive on.

But when it comes to terminology and tourism,the words sustainable and develop ment are always compatible. The flying debate is a case in point.
Because the minute we leave our homes to go on holiday, we enter the transport torment.
The carbon conundrum. The unsustainable use of resources.
The minute you switch on any engine, to get to the airport, ferry port or railway station, your sustainability meter starts ticking. And so, sustainable tourism is a contradiction in terms.

Which brings us back to definitions, and why we subscribe to the term ‘responsible tourism’.
In an African context, this means holidays to see wildlife and wilderness, that engage with local communities and support them financially, so that they have viable alternatives to unethical ways of living, such as poaching.

Singita Grumeti

Why should we care?
The biodiversity crisis and the climate crisis are inextricably interlinked. 
Degrading our wild spaces leaves us vulnerable. Without nature to provide a buffer we face the full force of these extreme events.
In the past decade, land use change has been responsible for 10% of all carbon emissions.
There’s 3.3 times as much carbon stored in first few centimetres of topsoil than in all the trees & vegetation in the world put together. It is only relatively recently that land use conversion and agriculture have become a primary source of greenhouse gases.
Nature sequesters about 50% of man-made carbon emissions each year.
That nature is kept intact is a key the presumption of the climate models and budget being used to meet the Paris Agreement. Without preserving nature, we will not meet our climate goals.

Business accounting systems that separate financial profit from the impacts on nature and climate are no longer valid.
For too long, our measures of economic success have ignored greenhouse gas pollution, or plastic waste going into the ocean, depletion of top soils, the assault on biodiversity, a lack of investment in education or environmental protection – things considered external to our standard accounting system.

Yet, a team at the Oxford Policy Institute recently released a comprehensive study showing investments in new sustainable economies create three times the jobs pound for pound as investments into the old fossil fuel economy. Investments into protecting nature create four times the jobs.

In order for nature to win out, we must be able to show its value in economic terms.
This is where responsible tourism can help. Because it brings employment opportunities for local people, and economic incentives and commercial benefits to setting aside or rewildling land for nature.
If we can increase responsible nature-based tourism we can increase the amount of land we can save.

The elephant in the room?
We all need to fly less. It has been estimated that left unchecked, aviation could account for over a quarter of the world’s carbon budget by 2050.
Currently, if it was a country, aviation would be the 7th largest emitter of CO2 in the world, just behind Germany.
Tourism has a hefty carbon footprint – and is playing a significant role in the ongoing climate crisis.
As climate changes, so do the environments in which wildlife thrive.
But we also recognise the power responsible tourism and regenerative travel have to lift communities out of poverty and to help reverse the biodiversity crisis. 
Globally, climate scientists are not recommending that we stop flying altogether, but that we limit the future demand for flights to an increase of no more than 25% of 2019 levels.

We recommend you fly more consciously, less frequently, stay for longer, and choose options and activities that actively benefit local people and wildlife. 

Cape Insights has been a member of Responsible Travel since inception in 2008 and credits its CEO Justin Francis, at COP26 Business Leaders Nature Event with Al Gore on 6th November 2021 for extracts from Gore’s text.Ulusaba

Middle photo credit: Singita Grumeti, Serengeti, Tanzania, photographer: Mark Williams
Bottom photo credit: Ulusaba

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