Animal species are thriving in areas where they are under threat, and with less fossil fuels burning, carbon emission levels have plummeted – ergo, so has air pollution. Imagine if we endeavoured to help these short-term improvements last long after lockdown. Let’s make the most of this environmental healing and, through tourism, support businesses that are encouraging better-functioning ecosystems and healthy biodiversity. Sustainability is about considering how we are using up natural resources, and the environmentally polluting effect of all that we do – for over a century, we’ve generally been doing more harm than good. As this history of sustainability timeline shows, we started plundering and polluting through our mining of fossil fuels and minerals back in the 18th century with the Industrial Revolution. These times are a precious, unexpected opportunity to reverse negative behaviour.
‘We’ve been able to pause and laugh at penguins on the streets of Cape Town and pandas are able to get pregnant without people staring at them. Nature can rebound if we give it a break,’ says Dune Ives, of the Lonely Whale foundation. ‘It’s not nature, it’s our behaviour we have to work on.’ Ives leads ocean-related initiatives that address environmental degradation and species decline; she also holds a PhD in Psychology. Pointing out that it takes 21 days to learn new behaviours, she asserts we can benefit from this period of enlightenment if we hold onto the feeling of connection and translate that into committing to protect the environment together. Dr Paul Micklethwaite, professor in sustainable design at Kingston University, recommends ecological-footprint calculators – such as the WWF’s – as useful tools to reveal the greatest impacts we can make with our own lifestyles: ‘Decision making should come from our own sustainability literacy, and we need to view things holistically rather than just look at single issues.’
TRAVEL IS A LUXURY – BUT IT IS ALSO AN INVESTMENT IN THE WIDER WORLD, IN COMMUNITIES AND ECOSYSTEMS OUTSIDE OUR OWN.
Being greener isn’t just about geography or lifestyle. It’s also about supporting kinder businesses. As recent weeks have highlighted and exaggerated, it’s critical to consider social and economic sustainability and recognise the glaring inequalities in societies across the world. If we choose compassionate entrepreneurs, we can help just by rethinking where our money goes. Better wealth distribution through travel is a powerful way to support those especially challenged.
‘We all have two resources that we can invest in impacting the world: our money and our time,’ says Steven Overman, author of The Conscience Economy. ‘How we spend them is catalytic – each choice and purchase we make sets off a chain reaction of activities, investments, priorities and outcomes. Travel is particularly catalytic – not only for the traveller who encounters new ways of being, but also for the destination, sustaining jobs, economic viability and, in the best instances, the natural and cultural environment. Travel is a luxury – but it is also an investment in the wider world, in communities and ecosystems outside our own. When conducted with conscience, it can, like all business, become a transformative force for good.’
Conservation projects, in particular, need us more than ever – and helping them look after their ecosystems can prove beneficial for all. While in the short term this rewilding is benefitting natural life, the significant drop in ecotourism in Asia and Africa will mean a loss of revenue for conservation. Poaching is already greatly on the rise. As &Beyond recently reminded me, Nelson Mandela once said, ‘Ultimately conservation is about people. If you don’t have sustainable development around these wildlife parks, then people will have no interest in them, and the parks will not survive.’ The Long Run is made up of member lodges and resorts that collectively help to conserve 20 million acres of biodiversity, and through this improve the lives of millions of people.
In terms of health, understandably, we want the world to be cleaner as well as greener. Hotel groups are rapidly launching sanitation accreditations – hospitality group Accor has teamed up with inspection and certification specialist Bureau Veritas to ensure appropriate safety standards and cleaning protocols are met. Marriott has created a Global Cleanliness Council to promote the highest standards of cleanliness. Hyatt’s Global Care & Cleanliness Commitment includes an accreditation process from the Global Biorisk Advisory Council. But this is short-term reassurance – for the greater good we need to be thinking about how to create healthier environments. And doesn’t that mean removing toxic chemicals from our lives? Being more sanitary doesn’t necessarily go hand in hand with being more sustainable – or healthy in the long run. Just think: phosphates, widely used in laundry detergents, are among the synthetic concoctions we’re now using more than ever when maybe we should be trying to eliminate them. Look for more sustainably minded housekeeping departments turning to environmentally friendly ways of staying spick and span.
It seems very likely that this pandemic has arisen from humankind’s clash with nature. Unhygienic wet markets and the booming trade in TCM-prescribed exotic wildlife still pose a threat to the world’s wider health. And we can’t change human behaviour overnight. But we can look at our individual actions through the lens of ‘How is me doing this affecting nature?’ Trying harder to avoid looting the earth of its natural resources, and protecting our planet as a whole, will help everyone. For a greater understanding of how we can become more in tune with nature, follow the environmental activist George Monbiot on Twitter. Be inspired by #NatureNeverStops on Instagram. And, as ever, keep listening to and watching David Attenborough. His advice is consistently simple: we must rewild the world.