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December 17, 2007

Tourism of environmental destruction

If you are a rich liberal -- if you are a right-thinking sort with huge amounts of disposable income -- in short, if you are the classic New York Times demographic, you will naturally have to go to the right places on vacation.

But where? The Hamptons and Martha's Vineyard are fine, but they'll be there next year.

How about those locales that global warming is going to destroy? How about the threatened rain-forests? Now we're talking!

DENNIS and STACIE WOODS, a married couple from Seattle, choose their vacation destinations based on what they fear is fated to destruction.

This month it was a camping and kayaking trip around the Galápagos Islands. Last year, it was a stay at a remote lodge in the Amazon, and before that, an ascent of Mount Kilimanjaro.

“We wanted to see the islands this year,” Mr. Woods, a lawyer, said last week in a hotel lobby here, “because we figured they’re only going to get worse.”

The visit to the Amazon was “to try to see it in its natural state before it was turned into a cattle ranch or logged or burned to the ground,” Mr. Woods said. Kilimanjaro was about seeing the sunrise on the highest peak in Africa before the ice cap melts, as some forecasters say it will within the next dozen years.

Next on their list: the Arctic before the ice is gone.
It's called "Eco-tourism," or, by the more cynical, the "Tourism of Doom."

And you will not be surprised to learn that those who want to explore sites threatened by global warming will be arriving in their less-than-carbon-friendly jets.
Almost all these trips are marketed as environmentally aware and eco-sensitive — they are, after all, a grand tour of the devastating effects of global warming. But the travel industry, some environmentalists say, is preying on the frenzy. This kind of travel, they argue, is hardly green. It’s greedy, requiring airplanes and boats as well as new hotels.

However well intentioned, these trip takers may hasten the destruction of the very places they are trying to see. But the environmental debate is hardly settled. What is clear is that appealing to the human ego remains a terrific sales tool for almost any product.
Nor should you expect that these super-rich liberal travelers will be roughing it at their destinations. As the article notes about travel to the Amazon: "At hundreds of dollars or more a night, people do want hot water and other comforts."

As Jonah Goldberg wrote about the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge several years ago, we have a romanticized view of what the wilderness is like. To paraphrase him, it's basically wilderness.

The same holds true for the eco-travelers mentioned in the Times article. One traveler, who spent $22,000 to go the North Pole on an icebreaker, expressed some surprise there still is ice there, after all we've heard about global warming. He agreed that our view of such regions is romanticized, and quipped: "And then there's the reality. It's cold. It's stark. Santa Claus wasn't waiting to greet us."

But for the eco-tourism businesses who get this demographic to pay those kinds of fees for the trips, Santa Claus is visiting every day.