Zion National Park - Utah

I’ve been sitting on this post since before Earth Day last month and finally decided to post it.  It’s about the environment and our role in preserving it.  I love getting outdoors to explore, photograph and experience nature in all its beauty.  This is an incredible world we live in.  But the sad truth is we are losing her bit by bit.

Recently I read an article about Bali, a place that I’ve spent some time in and fell in love with.  The article talked about the problems of over-development on the island; development that has outpaced infrastructure improvements resulting in a drastic change in the climate and culture of the southern part of the island.  Now issues like water shortages, rolling electrical blackouts, trash, overflowing sewage plants, warnings of polluted beaches and ocean water, an increase in crime and traffic snarls; are real concerns affecting the quality of life on this island many call paradise.  The problem: too many tourists.

I was last in Bali in 2005 and I have to admit that the picture painted by this article did not match my memory of the place. But as I talked with more friends and people actually on the ground in Bali they confirmed that Bali is changing.  The sad truth is that it’s not just Bali.  It’s happening globally.  It really got me thinking about the role that travel blogging might play in all of this.  Could travel blogging actually be bad for the environment?

The other day I was driving through the town I grew up in and was amazed at how developed it had become.  Stands of forests that I remember running through after school have been replaced by rows of track houses.  A creek-side hike I enjoyed as a child is now a polluted and trashed out disaster.

Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not. – The Lorax (Dr. Seuss)

One of my favorite kids’ books is The Lorax by Dr. Seuss.  It’s the story of the Lorax who speaks for the truffula trees which are being cut down at an alarming rate by the greedy Once-ler.  In the end all that remains is a single truffula seed.  But more than just a kid’s story it’s an open window into how our environment is being threatened by our industrialized society.  What role might travel blogging play in this?

By shining a spotlight on and glamorizing the places we travel to, are we putting those very areas at risk of over-development through increased tourism?  By writing about places that have such a profound effect on us are we condemning those locations to an ever increasing assault on local environments and cultures?

I am reminded of a few fishermen that I know.  Ask them where their favorite fishing spots are and they tighten up and become as elusive as a politician who just got caught foot tapping in an airport bathroom stall.  They don’t want anyone knowing about their secret fishing grounds because they know that if the secret gets out and more and more people start fishing it; soon there won’t be any fish in those holes.

The world is much smaller than it used to be and I don’t mean that the globe is shrinking in size but that it’s much easier, quicker and cheaper to travel to the far ends of our planet than ever before.  This makes getting to and seeing places people only dreamed of before much more accessible.

I have no idea the impact that travel bloggers have on convincing people to actually travel.  Do travel blogs get more people to travel than say National Geographic or The Travel Channel or any number of other media sources?

I’m sure many readers of travel blogs are simply armchair cowboys living vicariously through the journeys of others but I imagine there are people who are still encouraged enough to book that plane ticket and accommodations and make the journey themselves.  And really why shouldn’t they?

But I think it’s an interesting dilemma that travel bloggers face.  On the one hand we enjoy seeing incredible areas of the world and at times it can be a very cathartic experience. It’s only natural to want to share that experience with as many people as possible because it was such a powerful moment in our lives.

But should we always?

As I started thinking more about some of the issues of travel and the environment I came up with some questions and thoughts.

  • Should we feel guilty for writing about places we love and cherish, knowing that in some places an increase in tourism could have negative environmental and cultural impacts?
  • Do we have a right to condemn people for development when we ourselves through various means of promotion have directly or indirectly encouraged that?  Don’t those same people have a right to promote and benefit from tourism?
  • Shouldn’t everyone have the same rights and abilities to travel, see and experience the world?
  • Is it elitist to think that we can travel to these places and experience all they have to offer and yet want to keep others from enjoying the same experience all so that a location stays the same as we feel it should be?
  • How concerned should we be about our own environmental impact?
  • What is it we travel bloggers are really promoting?

Imagine a place that you’ve traveled to that has just totally captured your soul.  This place is your slice of paradise.  Now imagine that over-development was causing severe environmental damage.  Would you consider not traveling to your slice of heaven if it meant that the environment would be spared and the place you knew and loved would remain intact and free from development for the future enjoyment of others?

Recently CNN wrote about 10 Natural Wonders to See before They Disappear.  They make the point that while tourism can stress an already distressed area it can also bring in money that could be used for preservation.

When we heal the earth, we heal ourselves.  ~David Orr

I love reading travel blogs.  To me they are inspirational and offer hope of adventure from what can at times seem to be a mundane world.  And I think travel is great.  In fact I think travel is crucial to personal development.  By putting ourselves in unfamiliar and uncomfortable situations we grow.  When we travel we evolve into being more empathetic, tolerant and informed and that is exactly what we need more of in this world.

Don’t blow it – good planets are hard to find.  ~Quoted in Time

But I also think that we who are fortunate enough to be able to travel have a responsibility and dare I say obligation to give back and work hard to make a positive difference in the environment and local cultures. If we can report on locations that we are enamored with we can certainly bring awareness to the plight of locations that are in trouble.  We can shine a light on over-development and environmental degradation.  We can make calls to action.  And we can live by example by reducing our own global footprint as much as possible.

And in my book that makes travel blogging a potential worthy ally in the battle to help protect and preserve the environment.  I think we have an incredible opportunity to reach a large audience and bring about more awareness of the plight of the environment and people around the world.  How about you?

Is travel blogging bad for the environment?  What’s your take?

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