Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Excuse me, this is not a theme park

tripadvisorLike everybody else, I often wander over to trip advisor to check out people's comments on various hotels. Whether one believes that these reports are real, or skewed by those who want to put their own places into a particularly positive light, is a matter of debate. Thus, of course such reports have to be taken with a grain of salt - one man's heaven is another man's hell. However, I occasionally stumble across some comments that truly amaze me. Some travelers obviously do not have a grasp of what it means to travel in a developing country. Just because they encounter a Hyatt or Ramada Hotel somewhere near the international airport that looks and feels almost exactly as the ones at home, does not mean the rest of the country is on equal par. Yet, that is what some travelers seem to expect - coffee-makers, tv and phones at a jungle lodge, and of course, flawlessly running hot water and plumbing in the middle of the jungle, not to forget 24h electricity - ecologically produced, of course. These travelers seem to think that Costa Rica or Peru is just a bigger version of the Epcot center. It does not occur to them that things like electricity and clean running water are a luxury in most countries of the world and that tourists, even in the most basic hotels generally enjoy a higher standard than most of the population around them.

eco-luxury is not the Hyatt
I am not making an excuse for flea bag hotels here - I think that any place that offers a service to the public should have a minimum standard of cleanliness and comfort and a friendly, helpful service staff. But TV, phones and 24h electricity are not part of the minimum standard in my books, especially when the hotel is many hundreds of miles away from civilization. Vacation times are also about experiencing something entirely new and different, and about disconnecting from the normal run of the mill. Providing TVs and such in wilderness places undermines some of those benefits. Plus, connecting remote wilderness lodges to the mains would destroy the very habitat that makes their location special. And thus, it can sometimes happen that things don't work as smoothly as they should or that getting replacements can take longer than it would in downtown Manhattan. But, I would hope that people go to these remote places not only for the hotel, but first and foremostly to enjoy the often stunning and remote locations where they are situated and take a minute to consider where they are at, before they start complaining - or, just visit the Epcot center instead.

Just my 2 cents.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Copenhagen Climate Talk Flop: Where there is no (Good) Will, there is Politics

It seems as though my inbox has been flooded with updates and messages about the climate talks for months now. There has been a lot of talk and debate and the feelings of the people have been made clear, not only in Copenhagen but around the world. Climate change is affecting all of us, and we have already come to feel it, all around the world. It seems that the change is not a smooth, gradual increase in temperature that we may in time be able to adjust too, but rather more extreme and unpredictable weather events: floodings, draughts, cold waves, massive amounts of snow, above average heat in the summer with potentially life threatening effects in random places.

I am not inclined to hysteria or alarmism, but at the same time it is foolish to be looking a looming problem in the eye without acting upon it, in as much as it is within our power to act. Perhaps the earth would be warming anyway, due to sun spot activity, as some scientists maintain. But perhaps it might be a good idea to try and reduce our own additional impact anyway. Afterall, we cannot do anything about the sunspots, but we can do something about our own greenhouse gas emissions. No matter what, reducing the output of these harmful gases will keep the air and consequently the water and the soil cleaner, which can't be a bad thing. Likewise, planting more trees can't be a bad thing - unless they are planted as part of a scheme which runs along the lines of: buy carbon credits so we can cut down the rainforest in order to create oil palm plantations which we will then sell you as biofuel - just one of the many scams that are out there getting away with environmental destruction under the pretense of tackling climate change with the aid of the latest bubble-lie calld 'cap and trade'. Watch this short video to find out why this is 'BS' in capital letters.

The Story of Cap & Trade from Story of Stuff Project on Vimeo.

Anyhow - what Copenhagen has shown is that politicians can not be trusted to carry out the will of the people. If there was a will to take steps to change the current state of affairs and avert possible future disasters, surely the way ahead would have been forged, even through difficult territory. But where there is no real will politicians will poker for the deal that best serves their own interests - and the interests of those who fund them, of course. It is a sad shame that whenever humanity is faced with a challenge and an opportunity to really rise to the lofty heights of a common vision for our destiny as a species, national/corporate egos show up and start demanding this and that so that we end up with a deal that keeps us bondage to the lowest common denominators. Congratualtions to the politicians for having missed another great chance to further any progress on our evolutionary road towards actually becoming humane.

But, just because the politicians have failed does not mean WE, the people have to fail. We can continue to demand greener solutions and make our own consumer choices as sustainable and earth-friendly as possible. Many of us are already doing 'our bit', but we can all do more, not just in our own lives, but also by demanding that the businesses and institutions we deal with follow suit and by helping and supporting each other in making our dreams for a more harmonious life on earth come true.

Find out what has been happening at Copenhagen:

Inter Press Service Climate Specials

United Nations Climate Change Conference Website

Yes Magazine Resource Guide for climate action

Figure out the odds for yourself:

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Trouble in Paradise

Have you ever been to Manu National Park, that amazing biodiversity hot spot and UNESCO World Heritage Site on the eastern slopes of the Andes? If you haven't, maybe you have heard about it. It is well known as one of the best places to see wildlife in the Amazon. This is due to its difficult access and sparse population. There are no towns, just a few indigenous communities living their more or less traditional lifestyles, and some eco-lodges, including one that is owned and run by one of the tribes. It has long been a dream destination among wildlife and wilderness enthusiasts, and every kind of naturalist. The National Park is the largest of three connecting protected areas which reach all the way to Bolivia and Brazil and thus form a biodiversity corridor which is crucial to ensure species survival.

But all this is due to change. The Peruvian government, which likes to portray its public face as ecologically sensitive, (especially as regards the tourism sector, where eco-travelers contribute the vast majority to the annual income) has quietly been selling off the Amazon in the form of concessions to oil companies. 75% of the Peruvian Rain forest has been parceled into such concessions and sold to international corporations, which are already well known for their disastrous operations in other ecologically sensitive areas, like the Yasuni National Park in Ecuador.

The area that is currently subject to seismic test drilling lies just outside the protected zone of Manu, in the so called 'cultural zone' and almost the entire area of the Communal Reserve Amarakaeri, an area that was designated by the government to protect the flora, fauna and indigenous people of the area. Apparently such protection does not include the right to live in a healthy environment.

In 2007 INRENA started to draw up a 'master plan' in conjunction with the indigenous guardians of the reserve that was supposed to outline clearly what type of development was and wasn't feasible in this zone. At this time the concession for Bloc 76 as it called, was already signed and sold - though nobody in the affected region knew anything about it. The master plan clearly stated that oil drilling in the southern part of the reserve , which is the origin of headwaters for important river systems would not be tolerable since this would adversely affect all life in the region. There were other stipulations which were meant to protect the interests of the indigenous people and wildlife of the area.

However, INRENA deceptively altered the document, which they called 'minor changes', but which effectively voided the intended meaning of the document. It was again presented to the indigenous leaders to be signed, but at a time between Christmas and New Year when hardly anybody was present and everybody had their minds on other things. At this point still there was no mention of immanent drilling to begin in March.

When trucks started to roll in native communities, tour operators and naturalist felt completely overrun and betrayed by the covert actions of the government, INRENA and the oil companies. There has been no valid impact study or consultation with interest groups or indigenous people. Test drilling started in April, with the base camp being set up on the shore of Cocha Machuhuasi, a lake that hitherto teemed with bird and wildlife and was a popular eco-tourist destination. There have been no sightings of wildlife since the summer when helicopters started to constantly fly over the area. The constant noise pollution has driven wildlife to seek refuge deeper in the forest. The work force consists mainly of underpaid mercenaries and violent crime and abuse that is targeting the indigenous communities has increased.

It is crucial that this madness should be stopped. No drilling in sector 76!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Patagonia Needs Your Help NOW

Patagonia - the very essence of untouched, pristine wilderness at the end of the world - glacial ice fields, rugged mountains, ancient forests, a maze of fjords and wild, untamed rivers. That is Patagonia today. But peril looms in paradise. The Spanish Energy company Endesa, or rather its Chilean Offshoot, Endesa Chile and the Chilean ColbĂșn signed a contract in 2006 to turn this wilderness into a wasteland. Under the innocent sounding project name of 'HidroAysen' no less than 5 hydroelectric dams are planned in Patagonia, to harness the power of the wild, glacier-fed Baker and Pascua rivers. Undoubtedly this would change the pristine face of this magical landscape forever and turn it into an ugly, marred, desolate moonscape of clear-cut mountains, blasted rock faces and high voltage electricity pylons that will march down the Carretera Austral for more than 2000 miles.
Read more about the issue:

International Rivers - Patagonia

IPS News: CHILE - International Campaign for a Dam-Free Patagonia

And please support the campaign to stop the HidroAysen Project by making your voice heard:

Monday, October 15, 2007

If you want to change the world, change yourself

You must be the change you wish to see in the world. ~Mahatma Ghandi

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Save Tambopata Candamo

Imagine a wild and barely touched corner of the Amazon, deep in the south of Peru, not far from the Bolivian border. A remote wilderness inhabited mostly by birds, tapirs, monkeys and jaguars. Although the nearest town, Puerto Maldonado, has become a hub for ecotourism in the area, few travelers venture this far into the pristine outback of the Tambopata National Park. Only one environmentally conscious tour operator has a small rustic lodge here, the Tambopata Research Center, which developed as an off-spring to the reseach work that is carried out here by Peruvian Biologists. It is a unique place, where visitors get a real insight into the ecology of the lowland rainforest and can even participate in some of the research being conducted here. It also serves as a 'living biology class room' - offering special programs for schools: field biology workshops - hands on biology in the field - what better way for students to become environmental guardians and to get inspiried about life.

Now all this and much more is under threat. The news reached me this week. The Peruvian Government seems to be intent on selling off its most precious resources, the wilderness of the Amazon rainforest, for the sake of short term profits from oil exploitation - which, at best will return pittance in comparison to what benefits carefully planned sustainable use development could bring to the region in the long term. It has sold dozens of lease agreements to oil companies, but this is the first to my knowledge that actually proposes to reduce the size of an existing National Park considerably and expose it to rape, plunder and degradation from oil companies and whoever will follow in their wake.

Not only the Forest with its plants and animals is under threat - indigenous communities that live in very remote places bare the brunt of it all, not only in the form of pollution of their lands and resources, but also from direct assaults on their villages. Murder in the name of profit, carried out by mercenaries of these profit seekers is a regular occurance in these remote regions that are plundered for their natural resources - but few people ever hear about it and rarely is anybody ever held responsible - it simply goes unnoticed. Furthermore, oil drilling creates pollution that can affect communities far from the source as rivers carry the poisons downstream, pipes leak and spoil the land and the forest is cut down in order to create access roads. And where there is a road settlers soon follow, further degrading the environment and adding to the conflict between indigenous people who have lived in these parts for millenia and those who move in to steal their lands and resources from them.

Will this be the future of one of the last great wilderness areas of the Peruvian Amazon? My heart aches when I think about it - when I think about the ruined dreams of sustainable futures, based on preserving the forest and showing eco-tourists the real preciousness of our planet - not money, not oil, not gold- but the overwhelming beauty of life itself.

Please sign the petition to help save the Tambopata Candamo Rainforest Reserve:



Representatives of numerous Peruvian and international organizations are deeply concerned about the effects of a legal amendment proposed to the Ministers Council on September 25, 2007. The amendment aims to reduce the Bahuaja Sonene National Park by 209,000 hectares (516,000 acres) and open it to oil and gas exploration. The area at risk is an uninhabited and pristine tract of rainforest in the Candamo and Tambopata basins, home to record numbers of plant and animal species.

Candamo is a rainforest wilderness of globally recognized conservation importance and beauty. It is an area of the Bahuaja National Park that has been classified as a “strictly protected zone” because it is both extremely vulnerable and unique in the world. Without Candamo, the huge Tambopata Candamo National Reserve / Bahuaja Sonene National Park complex will lose the very impetus of their creation as protected areas.

The Bahuaja Sonene Park comprises 1,092,142 hectares of lowland and montane rainforest. The National Geographic Society declared it one of the world’s seven “iconic natural sanctuaries.” It was set aside as a park because it is one of the planet’s most intact rainforests and it is a sanctuary for unprecedented numbers of species and natural habitats. It is a land of tapirs, jaguars, peccaries, and macaws—many of which are practically tame, as the area has not been hunted in decades

The park is part of vast continuum of protected areas, including the adjacent Tambopata National Reserve, one of Peru’s main natural tourism attractions, and Madidi National Park, directly across the border in Bolivia. Both protect the headwaters of the Madeira River, the most extensive tributary of the Amazon. The park is also vital to the well being of over 50,000 inhabitants in Puerto Maldonado and the surrounding indigenous and ribereno communities who depend on the purity of the water and the rich sediment it carries from the Andes down through Candamo’s uninhabited basin. That is another fundamental reason for its strictly protected status.