Are your travels killing the environment?
Rabbi Dr Abraham Twerski tells a story:
“ ‘Young man. Why are you eating that fish?’ The young man says, ‘because I love fish.’ He says, ‘Oh, you love the fish. That’s why you took it out of the water and killed it and boiled it.’ He says, ‘Don’t tell me you love the fish. You love yourself, and the fish tastes good to you; therefore, you took it out of the water and killed it and boiled it.’ So much of what is love is fish love.”
We all claim to love the planet earth and its animals. Most of us will travel as much as time and money allow to see and experience as much of this world as possible. But there is a need for us to stop and think whether this love that we have for the planet is true love or fish love. Unfortunately, in most cases, it is fish love. Nowadays, people will do almost anything, including putting themselves in harm’s way, to get a selfie. It is a world where likes mean more than love and respect for all life on this planet. There are very few laws and regulations that protect nature from tourism which is why the travellers themselves have to find it in themselves to truly love the world that they are experiencing.
Tourism and the environment
Travelling is not necessarily a bad thing. It can lead to some of the best experiences in life. Nothing can compare to watching a sunset by the beach, hiking through a cloudy mountain trail or visiting an ancient Egyptian monument. Travelling can bring families together; it can teach children meaningful things about the world and keep married life exciting for couples. As Bangladeshi living standards improve, more and more of us can now afford to travel overseas. It is really important, however, that this is done in a sustainable way and while keeping one’s carbon footprint to a minimum.
There are so many bad sides to tourism that it is almost as though we have to avoid it to save the world. While this may be true to an extent, most people would rather keep the damage to a minimum than give up travelling altogether. Greater awareness and knowledge about protecting animals and the environment can lead to a better outcome. Reducing air travel is a great way to cut down on one’s carbon footprint. It is also less expensive to travel by train or bus and can lead to just as much enjoyment. According to EcoPassenger, a journey from London to Madrid by plane emits 118kg of CO2 per passenger while the same journey by train emits 43kg of CO2. That is a difference of about 275%.
However, CO2 is not the only matter of concern. Tourism causes many adverse effects on the lands that people visit, which affects their pristine quality. This yea, the famous Mount Everest base camp has been closed to tourists due to the rubbish that has accumulated there. Maya Bay in Thailand, Boracay Island in Philippines, and Uluru rock climbing in Australia are all being banned from 2019 in order to prevent further mutilation of these areas.
What about the animals?
Adverseeffects on the environment are just one of the negative sides of tourism. Another very important aspect is the treatment of animals. Many wild animals are being kept and bred in captivity to be used as tourist attractions. Most of the people visiting these attractions don’t have any idea about the pain and suffering that these animals are experiencing. One of the most common tourist attractions for Bangladeshis are the tiger zoos in Thailand. According to a special report in National Geographic Magazine, these tigers are often kept in a drugged state to protect the visitors. They may even be de-clawed, which is a very painful procedure for them. Tiger cubs are snatched from their mothers at birth and kept in small cages when they are not being used for photo-ops.
Animals cannot communicate pain the way that humans can. When a human is in pain he or she can cry, sob or shout. Many animals don’t even have tear ducts. Some wild animals instinctively mask expressions of pain lest they appear weak to predators. An entire world of silent suffering exists in the tourism industry. Dolphins are kept in small tanks, elephants break their backs by giving rides and polar bears are made to wear metal muzzles, all for the enjoyment of tourists. There is something that is just too enthralling to resist in watching wild animals up close and personal. But wild animals are meant to live in the wild. They are not meant to be playing tricks for cheering audiences.
How to help animals
When viewing wild animals, it is important to make sure that the institution provides the animals with the “five freedoms”. The “five freedoms” are internationally recognized standards for the treatment of animals. Any institution that does not provide these basic freedoms to animals should be boycotted by tourists. The “five freedoms” are:
Freedom from hunger and thirst: the animals should have access to enough food and clean drinking water.
Freedom from discomfort: animals should be kept away from large crowds and should have access to a comfortable resting place, ample space and shelter.
Freedom from pain, injury, or disease: animals should be kept in a clean area and not be subjected to any kind of pain. Neck collars, chains and whips can cause pain or injury to animals.
Freedom to express normal behaviour: performing tricks, giving rides or interacting with tourists is not normal behaviour for wild animals.
Freedom from fear and distress: it is important to make sure that the animals are not being tortured to make them perform tricks; they should be kept away from loud noises, and babies should not be taken from mothers at birth.
Keeping your travels green
Most of the things you can do to keep your travels green are simple day to day things that can make a big difference in the long run. While travelling, people often use a lot of disposable plastic items that they buy on their way rather than carry with them from home. The biggest example would be plastic water bottles. Instead of buying and discarding plastic water bottles, one can carry re-usable flasks. Unless you are going on a long trek, it is usually possible to carry enough water for the day. Many hotels and airports nowadays have water fountains available, which can be used to refill water.
The United Nations Environment Programme estimates that every year, 13 million tonnes of plastic end up in the oceans. Plastic pollution due to tourism is a huge problem in coastal areas. According to UN Environment, 80% of all tourism takes place in coastal areas. Most of the plastic bottles and bags used by tourists end up in the ocean, which affects marine life. The World Wildlife Fund reported in 2018 that every summer, more than 200 million tourists visit the Mediterranean which causes a 40% spike in plastic entering the sea. Tourism has a similar effect in other coastal countries such as Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, etc.
Avoiding the use of plastic bottles and other single use plastic items such as straws and shopping bags is possible if one undertakes the simple task of purchasing the re-usable versions of these items, and carries them as necessary. It is true that it may seem tiresome to carry water bottles and empty shopping bags around while travelling, but mother nature will thank you for your efforts. A lot of things seem strange and tiresome at first, but become normalized with time, as more and more people adopt them as habits. Change has already begun with many hotels, airlines, cruises and tour operators reducing or completely removing single use plastics.
Watch out for scams
As more and more people are becoming aware of the negative impacts of tourism, there is a greater number of eco-resorts and eco-travel packages available for tourists. There are many resorts that claim to have no ecological impacts and animal parks that will swear up and down that they treat their animals really well. Consumers need to be aware of this phenomenon called “greenwashing”, because even environmentally concerned tourists may fall for these gimmicks. It is important to keep one’s own eyes and ears open to the things going on around us. We must be prepared to ask the tough questions, like “what is the true cost of my perfect holiday?” and “what is really happening to the animals when we are not around to take selfies?”