Tue Dec 18th, 2007 at 02:52:54 AM EST
In the late 1980s, Douglas Adams of Hitchhiker's Guide fame teamed up with zoologist Mark Cardwine to travel the world to see animals that were endangered or threatened with extinction. As a sort of culmination of their travels, they co-authored a book, Last Chance to See, that was published in 1990.
A story in The New York Times about "Doom Tourism" reminded me of the book. According to "Before It Disappears", the tourism of doom is booming. Travelers are visiting places they expect to be gone within a generation. "From the tropics to the ice fields, doom is big business," writes Allen Salkin of the NY Times. "Travel agents report clients are increasingly requesting trips to see the melting glaciers of Patagonia, the threatened coral of the Great Barrier Reef, and the eroding atolls of the Maldives".
Masquerading as eco-tourism, doom tourists are rushing off to see the summer Arctic ice before it melts, the last snows of Kilimanjaro, the Amazon rainforest before its wiped out by deforestation and climate change, or the Great Barrier Reef before the coral dies in an acidic sea.
According to the NY Times story, some environmentalists believe the doom tourism is helping contribute to the destination's demise. "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."
Indeed the sinking last month of the GAP Adventures cruise ship, Explorer, in Antarctica is symbolic of the eco-tourism problem. By visiting the Antarctic, striking an iceberg and sinking, the oil spill from the ship is now endangering the Papua penguin population. An example made all the more dramatic by the ship's sinking.
On "eco-tourism" from the NY Times story:
This is all a ruse, said John Stetson, a spokesman for the Will Steger Foundation, an environmental education organization in Minnesota. "Eco-tourism is more of a term for the marketer," he said. "Many people want to do what's right, so when something is marketed as the right thing, they tend to do that."
But, he says, traveling by jet to see the icebergs contributes to global warming, which makes the icebergs melt faster. "It's hard to fault somebody who wants to see something before it disappears, but it's unfortunate that in their pursuit of doing that, they contribute to the problem," he said.
Not only are governments and oil companies racing to these remote areas to map the claims to the "spoils of global warming" as the Wall Street Journal described it, but so too are wealthy eco-tourists rushing off to be the last people to see a dying earth. These travelers are "eager to be the ones to see things last." This type of travel reminds me of eating endangered animals.
So when news like in today's The Guardian come along, I smile to myself sadly. The story, "Pygmy possums and giant rats stalk lost cloud forest", is about an expedition in western New Guinea to a mountainous rainforest known as Indonesia's "lost world" that may have discovered more than 40 new species.
While I think it is amazing and exciting that new species, especially mammals such as tiny possums and giant rats, can be found in the 21st century. My sadness is that for many of these newly discovered animals, their first sighting may also be their last.