Tourism and the biosphere crisis: Provisions for inter-generational care

The biosphere, i.e., the life support systems of our planet, is near tipping point and at risk of irreversible collapse as a result of human activities. Tourism, both as an industry and a lifestyle, is one major contributor to this crisis, which will impact not only the current generation but future generations. Alison M Johnston contends that in the face of the growing severity of tourism impacts on our biosphere, to assure inter-generational care, there must be special measures for children.

Pondering the planet

CRUISING in an aircraft at 10,000 metres, we arrive at a serene view of the Earth. This is a place of tourist imaginaries: where we can suspend our routine thoughts and contemplate ideals. But if intercepted at the airport by climate change activists, the experience can be jarring. We might prescribe them a martini on some distant beach.

As travellers, we imbibe the industry narrative that tourism is good: a pinnacle of 'the good life'. It is restorative for us and seems harmless enough for the planet. However, it turns out that this storyline is incomplete. We don't have a picture of where tourism is actually taking us. 

Getting the facts on tourism can feel abrupt, unsettling more than our holiday plans. Even among activists, the pace of fact-finding has become unnerving. Just two decades ago tourism still had some surface shine: a prospect of recalibrating commerce globally through community participation or other 'fair trade' schemes. Few researchers anticipated the extent of caution possibly warranted. 

Yet the word from Nobel laureates and other leading scientists worldwide is that humanity faces a biosphere crisis: an ecological emergency with acute social dimensions. The 'World Scientists' Warning to Humanity' (1992)1 and the 'State of the Planet Declaration' (2012)2 bookend the scientific consensus. Our biosphere is endangered by the helix of economic globalisation, consumerism and population growth.

The biosphere - meaning, the life support systems of Earth - is near a tipping point and at risk of irreversible collapse, as a result of human activities.3 Multiple, simultaneous environmental disasters are accelerating, approaching perilous thresholds faster than predicted, primarily due to corporate excess, shareholder interests and consumer binging.4 Without immediate remedies, the global norm of the next decade will include climate instability, dead zones in the ocean, burning forests and mass extinctions. For humanity this portends spikes in water shortages, food insecurity, conflict and refugee migrations. 

This situation will directly impinge on tourism, as both an industry and a lifestyle. Given this, we need to ask how tourism alleviates or contributes to the biosphere crisis. 


Investment impacts: the debate continues

Policies prioritising unrestricted economic growth continue to shape global governance, despite the Brundtland Report (1987)5 pivoting our attention to the overriding needs of future generations. Lawrence Summers, former chief economist of the World Bank, maintains that raising the growth rate 'is by far the most important thing we can do for future generations'.6

Overall, global trade is considered sluggish.7 Presently, growth in gross domestic product (GDP) during 2015 is pegged at 1.1% for Canada, 2.8% for Saudi Arabia, 3.7% for the United States - all petroleum powerhouses - and nearly 7% for China, which converts imported fossil fuels into consumer 'goods' for re-export. However, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) laments that the world economy will grow by just 3.8% in 2016 (or, some sources report, 3.0%), saying: 'It's not something we should be satisfied with.'8 The International Labour Organisation reports not only steep unemployment but also dire poverty among many workers globally.9

Against this backdrop, the degrowth strategy urged by the Tourism Investigation & Monitoring Team (Thailand) is lacking support. Although the Nobel-feted economist Joseph Stiglitz 'argues that GDP is a poor measure of how well an economy is truly performing'10 - because of rising inequality - the raw ideology of economic growth persists. In 2014 the Group of Twenty (G20) countries, which control 85% of the global economy, voted for an additional 2% economic growth by 2020, essentially an extra $2 trillion.11   

Since the Ministerial Roundtable on Tourism of 1998, during United Nations talks in Slovakia on safeguarding biodiversity (put simply, the integrity of our biosphere), tourism has been singled out as a driver of growth. In December 2014 the UN General Assembly voted to promote tourism, via Resolution 69/233. The rationale of poverty eradication and environmental protection is used, as if GDP delivers equitable benefits and costs within and between generations. The unproven logic is that tourism befits a 'green economy'.12 This presupposes that mass tourism can be sustainable, although ecological and cultural impacts suggest otherwise.

With tourism endorsed as a rescue industry, it has assumed a prominent role in national strategies for economic growth. In 2014 international tourism generated a record $1.245 trillion. It therefore nests well with the 'shop our way out of problems' mentality (that is, the consumption-based economic model) stewarded by the International Monetary Fund, World Trade Organisation and affiliated agencies. Tourism, a pronounced form of consumerism, has been deployed to the remotest frontiers of Earth, as a means of marshalling profit from the perimeter, as core commodities sag.

Tourism - a global complex of businesses - stands out for its innumerable manifestations, some quantifiable but others understood only through relationships at a village level (for instance, how people experience self-determination or oppression in their everyday lives). It has a vast infrastructure across multiple sectors spanning the petrochemical, mining, forestry, fisheries and agricultural industries. Because of this reach, tourism is considered a primary engine of economic growth. Yet this reach of tourism also potentially means unparalleled costs once the complex biosphere accounting is done.

Beyond GDP, there is a mammoth composite story to understand about tourism.13 In most accounts, the needs of those most affected by indiscriminate tourism growth - especially children and future generations bearing the incalculable costs such as climate change - are muted or absent.

Lifestyle: purchasing peace of mind?

Tourism is rooted in a long lineage of men who served as 'collectors' for colonial powers and institutions, securing territory and resources in distant lands: the explorers, traders, botanists and researchers whose memoirs suggest that acquisition is progress. It also sprang from the parlour stories of boundary-pushing women, among them Freya Stark and Gertrude Bell who slipped across cultural landscapes mapping terrain for early oil speculators. The tourism phenomenon always has involved privatising spaces (be it physical space such as territory or social space such as knowledge), including very personal spaces such as culture and now genomes. Only recently was the tourist mindset broadly questioned14 or the ethics of these evolving consumer extremes challenged.

Today, tourism still has a flavour of opening other places and subduing 'othered' peoples - of economic integration.15 The tourism industry functions as a teaser, a concierge for other industries to follow. For the demographic North - the affluent, investing segment of our global society that holds bank accounts, stock portfolios, pensions and life insurance (sometimes dubbed the 'rich'16) - tourism offers not just a holiday but also an investment and shopping outpost, providing the infrastructure for scouting, brokering and leveraging deals. This is a central contradiction of tourism: it heals us from the daily pressures of sustaining the materialist lifestyle, while priming our shopping impulse.

Recently, tourism has been amplified by celebrity 'culture'. After years of Texaco, Esso, DuMaurier and other 'everyday' companies such as Nike funding elite sport circuits such as show jumping, polo, tennis and golf, there has been a luxury makeover of sponsorship, fronted by companies such as Longines and Rolex, and paparazzi-charged. Through social media we know that 'Will and Kate' became engaged in Kenya; 'Kim and Kanye' married in Paris; and 'Demi' not only swam with sharks in Bora Bora but also celebrated her 21st birthday in Kenya. Countless imitators now pad their personal brand by posting selfies from across the planet. As thresholds of awe diminish, ordinary tourists graze further afield in 'poor but posh' destinations. Fast-fashion is entwined with place, with Teen Vogue magazine purring about vacation wardrobes and 'Sweet Escape'.17

As consumer aspirations balloon, travel has become part of the curated childhood emerging in the demographic North. Children from China and South Korea are shuttled off for schooling in New York or Vancouver - often as commuters, becoming tourists in both the destination country and their country of origin. Meanwhile, youth from North America, Europe, Australia and the gated prep schools of Mexico City, Cape Town and Dubai regularly go 'on tour' as a rite of passage, either on school exchange trips or through their extracurricular pursuits - rowing regattas, rugby tournaments, choir festivals and voluntouring being top of the menu. The 'gap year', once expected by a few, has swelled into a 'gap existence' for many. Some families build a travel calendar around school breaks, taking three long-haul vacations annually; children as young as eight can recount multiple foreign trips.

These social trends are buoyed by marketing directed at youth, grooming them as travellers. The tourism industry now spins catchy travel identities for young children, among them Mini Club Med, Ritz Kids and the Westin Kids Club. Older children are funnelled brochures from Oxbridge Academic Programs, Blyth International and other private academies doubling as tour organisers, via high school counsellors. In Canada, conversation about privilege versus responsibility lasts as long as Snapchat, among much of the 'We Day' crowd. Meanwhile, over 60% of Chinese tourists are under the age of 35.18

From a policy standpoint, it would seem that tourism is a dream stimulus for the global economy - a democratic, free-market, profitable version of the UN's Goodwill Ambassadors, promoting social responsibility among youth and 'doing good' in impoverished locales worldwide. But do the promises and realities really align? What do we know about tourism legacies in the imagined worlds of 'others'? Is travel philanthropy possible? Does 'eco'-tourism exist?

In the late 1980s, when sustainable development was conceptualised, there was optimism that the tourism industry could generate meaningful alternatives for economic development,19 benefiting rather than exploiting locals and their environments. Within a decade, however, many remote communities experiencing rapid, unregulated tourism growth reported devastating human rights challenges, and sought allies to stop the allegedly 'pro-poor' tourism and 'tourism-for-conservation' hybrids being promoted by governments worldwide to pad industry growth. This led to a long period of supportive advocacy by civil society groups (NGOs) to inform tourism debates,20 with the campaign against the UN International Year of Ecotourism (2002) being a rallying point. Grassroots groups chastised conglomerates such as Conservation International, WWF International and The Nature Conservancy for peddling top-down, market-based partnerships incongruent with the principles of sustainability.

The gist of NGOs' message has been that there should be a precautionary approach. In 2014 the Tourism Advocacy and Action Forum (TAAF) formed, asserting 'we wish to inspire a growing community of care'.21 TAAF has called for an impartial evaluation of tourism by the UN,  warning that the tourism industry has an aggregate impact without parallel.22 Its research merits our unflinching evaluation, given the biosphere stakes. Tourism may not be a sacrosanct industry after all.

Aviation: a climate of contradictions

Although a recent crop of books attests to many breakthroughs in transforming our global economy,23 tourism raises some particularly vexing questions about conventional economic thinking. One doozy is the idea that tourism growth can remedy both poverty and environmental degradation. So, let's look at this notion in the context of airplanes, the global tourism emblem.

The aviation sector is a celebrated tale of growth. Although Canada's Bombardier Inc. faces sagging sales of passenger planes, and a shortfall of $2 billion, overall industry sales have been robust. At the International Paris Airshow in June 2015, investors were fretting over 'how quickly a record backlog of jet orders can be built'.24 In early 2015 Airbus Co. and Boeing Group NV had posted 247 and 175 aircraft orders respectively. Airbus concluded the show with $57 billion in further sales (with $16.3 billion of firm orders for 124 planes); meanwhile, Boeing inked another $50.2 billion in sales (with $20.2 billion of firm orders for 154 planes). By August 2015 Airbus had secured an additional order from India's IndiGo, of 250 Airbus A320neo jets for an estimated $26 billion, the largest ever order for Airbus. Embraer SA (Brazil), Sukhoi Superjet (Russia), Comac (China) and Mitsubishi (Japan) are clocking vigorous sales as well. With crude oil prices plunging by over half in the last year, airlines have posted profits and hatched long-term plans for market expansion.

The recovery of Air Canada is being touted as particularly encouraging. This carrier has increased its international capacity by 50% since the global recession of 2009. It projects that 62% of its business will come from international routes by 2018, up from 54% in 2011. The airline just announced a new non-stop route to Australia, and is adding more flights to Asia, Europe, South America and the Middle East. Based on its recent profit postings and general industry trends - including record profits for Delta Air Lines Inc. and Virgin America in the US - the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (representing Canadian citizens) increased its investment in US airlines to more than $3.5 billion in 2015, from less than $2 billion during 2014. 'Whether they know it or not ... Canadians are buying in to the airline stocks',25 in the same moment that divestment from fossil fuels investments gains momentum (led by Oxford University, World Council of Churches and Rockefeller Brothers Fund). Airports are also considered an 'outstanding investment'.26

Global forecasts for tourism expansion are soaring, with little discussion of limits, particularly of biosphere-related costs. In March 2015, just prior to China's currency devaluation, the Bank of America Merrill Lynch predicted that by 2019 there will be 174 million Chinese tourists, spending $264 billion internationally - up from 109 million in 2014 and a 'mere' 10 million in 2000. India's aviation market will keep pace, with passenger trips tripling to 450 million by 2020. Canada and New Zealand, with 'approved destination status' from China, will profit handsomely in their GDP, the latter charting 12% more arrivals from China yearly between 2015 and 2021. If some investors are profiting, does this mean that tourism is 'good' for us collectively?

The award-winning Canadian author Naomi Klein has penned a book about climate change that would shock most tourists. Called This Changes Everything, it presents a cogent argument for examining the ideological sludge of tourism. According to Klein, airline travel is indeed a hot business; it is 'the most carbon intensive form of transportation'.27 That said, tourism also generates an untallied share of global emissions from infrastructure investments such as road asphalt which service tourists once the airlines deliver them on-site; from the petrochemicals used to groom tourists and tourist playgrounds (among them, fertilisers, pesticides, detergents and toiletries); from taxis, outboard motors, propane grills and other fixtures of the tourist playbook; from heating and air-conditioning accommodations; as well as from 'food miles' (some obvious examples being the food imports to Maldives, Fiji and Easter Island, but also satisfying 'foodies' at hotels and resorts worldwide). The tourism industry is a primary cause of dirty oil sands investments, plus a proliferation of not-so-clean liquefied natural gas (LNG) ventures.28

Long-term investments by airlines go hand-in-hand with long-term investments in fossil fuel companies. This warrants a turnabout in both multilateral and national-level policy and planning. Scientists have determined that 2 degrees Celsius is the outer yet risky limit of global warming. This limit was acknowledged by world governments at the UN climate summit of 2009 during debates on implementation of the long-neglected UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), a legally binding agreement among countries. Yet our planet is headed for warming of 4-6 degrees Celsius if we adhere to the economic growth model of governance during this decade.29

Even purist calculations of GDP hint at the magnitude of social costs should minimalist implementation of the UNFCCC continue. The Lancet medical journal calls climate change 'the biggest global health threat of the 21st century'.30 A recent court case in the Netherlands foreshadows a surge of climate-change litigation if governments and their industry partners neglect the 'duty of care' to protect citizens from harm.31   

Tourism fossil fuels: shifting the winds of globalisation

To comprehend the biosphere risks of tourism, we must evaluate both global and local impacts simultaneously. Industry demand for fossil fuels drives social dysfunction locally. In turn, the local dysfunction has correlating global impacts. One illustration of this is the prospect of culture loss when corporations encircle disenfranchised Indigenous Peoples and the people(s) struggle to balance the economics of cultural recovery with customary law concerning stewardship.

In Canada, dysfunctional corporations - which are non-functional in their short-sighted accounting systems32 - are eyeing the sizeable territories of Indigenous Peoples, where many communities face 'Third World' conditions yet are described as 'Fourth World' because of the extent of colonial poverty. The dynamic has intensified from land grabs to land assembly, as companies seek access for the massive infrastructure investments linked to pipelines and refineries (especially for crude oil refineries, whose profit margins are rising). This brings a new set of geopolitical considerations amid land rights conflicts, negotiations, litigation and reconciliation initiatives. 

The national political landscape in Canada, framed by outdated concepts of bilateral Indigenous/non-Indigenous relations, is now upended by transnational corporations, whose 'war chests' dwarf other corporate budgets for community outreach. Nexen Energy, a petroleum corporation purchased by China for $15.1 billion in 2013 via CNOOC Ltd., dominates the oil sands in the province of Alberta. Petronas, a state-owned company of Malaysia, is making headlines in the province of British Columbia (BC).  

In 2015 Petronas offered the remote Lax Kw'alaams community (population 3,350) of the Tsimshian People an eye-popping $1.15 billion for their approval of a proposed LNG terminal on Lelu Island, Pacific NorthWest LNG: a $36 billion investment that would include a pipeline. This project, key to government plans to export LNG to Asia, would have a 25-year lifespan. So far, the proposed site has been rejected (because it would harm salmon, a culturally significant fish), but the proposal itself remains under community consideration, prompting speculative purchases of land by retail property developers. Exxon is also courting Lax Kw'alaams for a $25 billion LNG project, West Coast Canada LNG.

Elsewhere in BC, Indigenous Peoples and/or communities already have opted for provisional approval or partnerships for similar projects, due to poverty fatigue. The Squamish First Nation has set conditions for approval of the Woodfibre LNG project - which is a subsidiary of Pacific Oil & Gas Ltd. of Singapore - including its own environmental assessment process. The Haisla First Nation has endorsed the LNG Canada project, led by Royal Dutch Shell PLC, the Korea Gas Corporation (KOGAS), Mitsubishi and PetroChina. The Malahat First Nation is proposing an offshore facility and undersea pipeline in partnership with Steelhead LNG (a company led by a former executive of Shell International).

A voice of opposition to the LNG frenzy is Dave Ige, Governor of tourism-soaked Hawaii, who has rejected imports of LNG from BC, saying 'It's time to focus our efforts on renewables'.33  Still, despite reports that LNG is not credible as a 'bridging' fuel,34 investment enthusiasm is not slowing. Many Indigenous Peoples understandably want LNG perks and ownership - in other words, a return to economic independence - after the historic and game-changing Tsilhqot'in court decision (2014) in Canada, which recognised their legal title to ancestral lands.35 

The BC government is brokering many of the deals and defusing concerns over environmental impacts. Fracking by Progress Energy - another project of Malaysia's Petronas - has caused earthquakes of as much as 4.4 magnitude, yet will continue once basic mitigation plans are filed.36 New LNG projects will be staggered to 2020 or later, as the Asian market price for LNG recuperates. This means an extended horizon for fossil fuel impacts provincially, nationally and globally.


Industry spinoffs: a real snapshot of tourism

Should we applaud the economic spinoffs of tourism, benefiting Indigenous Peoples in Canada?  Is this a glimpse of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in action? 

The emergence of Indigenous Peoples as energy power-holders in Canada is an offshoot of 'pro-poor' tourism ideology, which promotes tourism as a stimulus across sectors. If we decipher the investment web, the same 'pro-poor' ideology facilitating tourism growth also appears in oil and gas proposals, helping government to circumvent historic grievances while maintaining conventional business. On record, the massive public-private partnerships for fossil fuels extraction enable government to deliver economic development to rural areas, claiming that it brings prosperity for involved communities. Informally, however, they essentially privatise reparations for colonialism, deferring state financial liability. Transnational corporations become part of the 'benefactor' apparatus of the state.

Within 'pro-poor' ideology, there is hoopla over industry benefits such as career training and jobs, but little mention of costs or liabilities - such as Petronas' performance audit revealing past safety issues which could cause 'massive' harm to both the environment and people.37 Consequently, new opportunities for Indigenous Peoples in the political economy of energy are fuelling rifts, along classic 'jobs versus environment' lines. An anti-LNG rally took place in Vancouver in October 2015, drawing 180 protesters from disparate interest groups, but largely environment-focused. 

Among the Wet'suwet'en People, hereditary and elected chiefs hold differing views on LNG pipelines, some split by clan; representatives of the Unist'ot'en clan have tended a protest camp for several years and now are blocking construction crews, which were granted access by the elected band council. The Pacific Trails and Coastal GasLink pipelines to Kitimat, BC, thus offer an instructive example of how divisive 'pro-poor' platforms can be. The neighbouring Haisla People, who reside near Kitimat, are chiming in, calling on the Wet'suwet'en to resolve their internal impasse without court or police action - so that investments can proceed. Nonetheless, a new regional alliance of Indigenous leaders has emerged opposing fracking on the basis of customary law.38

As this plays out, the Allied Tribes of nearby Lax Kw'alaams are launching court action to protect fishing rights from LNG development. A hereditary chief of the Gitwilgyoots tribe of Lax Kw'alaams has been instrumental in establishing a protest camp on Lelu Island to block Petronas. Yet other hereditary chiefs of Lax Kw'alaams say the protest camp is unauthorised and have given Petronas conditional access to Lelu Island for studies. Beyond Lax Kw'alaams, two other communities of the Tsimshian People - Metlakatla and Kitselas - already are negotiating benefit-sharing agreements with Petronas. Metlakatla has declared its overlapping title to Lelu Island and support for the intended Petronas pipeline.

Thus, a crisis of representation is underway among the Wet'suwet'en, Tsimshian and other peoples neighbouring the coveted deep sea ports, over monetary versus spiritual values.  Agreement is elusive, because each is grappling with colonial legacies such as poverty, inter-generational trauma, suicides, social isolation and culture loss - in the midst of competitive bargaining with corporations.    

Alongside these community implosions over LNG, many Indigenous Peoples are leading coalition protests against crude oil being transported through their territories via tankers, railways and the Northern Gateway and Keystone XL pipelines. Indigenous women have become vocal in protests since the Idle No More movement. Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa recently stood in solidarity on the frontlines. Still, some individual Indigenous communities are endorsing divisive initiatives, such as the Trans Mountain pipeline.39 The proposed Eagle Spirit pipeline, which would transport refined bitumen from the Alberta tar sands to the BC coast, has consolidated support - including from Lax Kw'alaams leaders - amid widespread objections to tar sands oil.40 Many communities desire a profit share (which is viewed as a chance for self-determination), despite reports of the oil-infused Bigstone reserve in Alberta being 'Filthy Rich. Dirt Poor.'41

Transnational corporations are adeptly navigating these cultural landscapes. Pacific Future Energy, affiliated with the giant Grupo Salinas of Mexico, enlisted two former chiefs of the national Assembly of First Nations, Shawn Atleo and Ovide Mercredi, plus another prominent regional chief. Engineering firm SNC-Lavalin then recruited the A-in-Chut Business Group, jointly owned by Atleo, to co-create the feasibility study for Pacific Future to build a bitumen refinery for exports to Asia.

Although fissures among affected Indigenous Peoples have become public, and internal concerns about cultural protocols and customary law are mounting, there is one collective reality. As these fossil fuels mega-investments advance - major airlines being linked to the dirtiest of them42 (namely, the tar sands, which are a climate change tipping point43) - extreme weather patterns are hitting locally. During the summer of 2015, both British Columbia and Alberta suffered extreme drought, bringing water bans on farms, uninhabitable river conditions for the salmon cherished across Indigenous cultures in BC, and risk of catastrophic beetle infestations in forests. Extra fire-fighting crews were flown in from South Africa and Australia to contain the extensive forest fires. Evacuation of communities is the new 'norm' as summer becomes the season of wildfires.

With this in mind, it would be prudent to question future impacts of 'pro-poor' tourism spinoffs on the Arctic, among the Inuit and neighbouring peoples, as Russia and other circumpolar nations vie for its oil and gas. It also would be responsible to investigate the irony of Indigenous Peoples being induced (or internally motivated, by systemic colonial poverty) to adopt economic policies which put peoples from the Arctic to Kuna Yala to Tuvalu - plus coastal zones globally - at risk of becoming climate refugees. If Indigenous participation in the national economy heightens biosphere instability, jeopardising future generations, it is a sign of continuing colonial duress and limited opportunities for self-determination.  

While 'pro-poor' initiatives seem to ease material poverty - if aloof GDP formulas or short-term household measures are used - participation may come at the price of cultural impoverishment.

Governance options: inter-generational care

Reflecting on this tourism context, we should bear in mind that climate change is just one element of the biosphere crisis driven by tourism, albeit an accelerator of ecosystem damage, biodiversity loss and stresses on endangered species - which in turn deepen the conditions for human rights violations (especially vis-a-vis child welfare, within and between generations).

The dossier on tourism holds startling examples of ethical blindspots - really, of mass dehumanisation. One standout is the human and ecological detritus of sweatshop factories supplying souvenirs: the Topkapi palace trinkets, Monet garden mementos and Kathmandu keychains produced in China, clinching its 30% share of global economic growth and a proportionate rise in global emissions. Another is the toxins seeping from tourism hubs into watersheds, groundwater, ditches, landfills and food chains as 'pristine' accommodations are prepped for tourists, without regard for impacts on local residents' health or the overall bio-accumulation. At hotels and resorts worldwide, each buffet staple such as coffee, bananas, mineral water or fish holds a story,44 revealing a corporate habit of abbreviated storytelling.

Although UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon provides strong moral leadership on the biosphere crisis, the UN agencies responsible for tourism oversight show little inclination towards crisis response. The UN World Tourism Organisation advocates economic growth; the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) promotes mass tourism to World Heritage Sites; meanwhile, the Secretariat of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (affiliated with the UN Environment Programme, or UNEP) shepherds a soft, cosmetic makeover for mass tourism. Overall, there is a marketing thrust allegedly about fighting poverty and safeguarding biological and cultural diversity, but which actually inverts the goals, packaging the 'near-extinct', 'disappearing' and 'poor' as value-added products for industry growth. Thus, tourism drives inequality instead of ameliorating living conditions, capabilities and life prospects for humanity's most vulnerable populations.

In the context of the UN's post-2015 development agenda, revisiting the goals for tourism is key to averting catastrophic shifts in the biosphere. Patterns of corporate and consumer behaviour linked to tourism are not sustainable, as the fossil fuels data and wider research attest. On the contrary, they represent a 'sure thing': a virtual guarantee of a planetary ecological collapse.              

The 'green economy' ideology adopted at the last UN Earth Summit (2012) - also known as Rio+20 - has proven particularly damaging in the tourism sector.45 It has set back innovation by decades. UN agencies are recycling tourism concepts generated in the 1980s-90s (such as 'eco' and 'sustainable' tourism), which industry coopted to maximise growth. A new generation of policy makers - unfamiliar with prior NGO submissions of community-based research on actual impacts - are finding these concepts compelling, although the predictable outcome is more mass tourism.

Given this stalemate, and the prospect of more unfettered industry growth, we need fresh angles from which to understand the severity of tourism impacts on our biosphere, the implications for humanity and specific impacts on children. The UN discourse as presently structured is part of the problem. Tourism is portrayed as a means of meeting sustainable development goals. Instead, tourism should be tackled for what it is: hyper-consumerism. Without this turnaround, transnational corporations will plot a course which scientific consensus tells us is untenable (socially, culturally and ecologically). 

To perceive tourism differently, it may be helpful to view it as an intense form of urbanisation: a flow of commerce producing an urbanised world. Urban planner Neil Brenner discusses the biosphere in relation to 'planetary infrastructures' such as tourism.46 His mapping of global corridors of commerce visualises 'the planetary urban condition', enabling us to see emergent patterns and rethink economics from a standpoint of interconnection. Brenner advises that we should evaluate 'the various forms of dispossession' that are inherent to the capitalist global economy. In doing so, we must acknowledge the inter-generational dispossession presently underway, which is the crux of the biosphere crisis. Spatial planning needs to embrace the well-being of children, including their future prospects.

Fundamentally, we need a concrete discussion about inter-generational care in relation to tourism. One model that exists is the emerging framework for Child Rights Impact Assessment, which uses the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) (1989) as a filter for decision-making. Using this approach, we would use the UNCRC as a baseline to implement the UNFCCC and other international law concerning care of the biosphere. However, the rights of today's children and future generations to a healthy biosphere extend further than the 1989 definition of child rights. They also include the broader human rights of children, as understood through evolving standards and law. 

The post-2015 development agenda on tourism must reflect the deepest expressions of the rights of children, to assure inter-generational care. This must include special measures for children, as provided for in international law, to protect today's children and future generations from harm.  An ethic of care in the tourism industry will accept no less, in the face of the present biosphere crisis. The Responsibility to Protect doctrine, adopted by the UN Security Council, is our guide.                                        

Alison M. Johnston is director of the International Support Centre for Sustainable Tourism.


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13.  McLaren, Deborah (2003). Rethinking Tourism and Ecotravel: The Paving of Paradise and What You Can Do to Stop It. Kumarian Press, Boulder, Colorado, USA.

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20. Vocal groups have included the Ecumenical Coalition for Tourism (Thailand), Equations (India), International Support Centre for Sustainable Tourism (Canada), Rethinking Tourism Project (USA), Tourism Investigation & Monitoring Team (Thailand), and Third World Network (Malaysia) plus European advocacy networks.

21. Tourism Advocacy & Action Forum (2014). 'Istanbul Statement'. Outline of Rationale, Values, Principles and Action. 30 August.

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24. Bryan, Victoria and Tim Hepher (2015). 'Airbus Steals Show with Last-Minute $14-Billion Deal,' The Globe & Mail, Report on Business, 19 June, p. B7.

25. Milstead, David (2015). 'Canadian Pensions Raising US Airline Investments to New Heights,' The Globe & Mail, Report on Business, 26 June, p. B9.

26. Nelson, Jacqueline (2015). 'Race for the Runway: Bidders Circle Airports,' The Globe & Mail, Report on Business, 4 September, p. B1.

27. Klein, Naomi (2014). This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs The Climate. Alfred A. Knopf Canada, a division of Random House Canada Limited, Toronto, pp. 113, 225, 241-243.

28. Ibid., pp. 143-144, 199.

29. Ibid., pp. 12, 138.

30. Picard, Andr‚ (2015). 'In "Symbolic Gesture", Medical Association to Get Out of Fossil-Fuel Investments,' The Globe & Mail, 27 August, p. A3.

31. Gray, Jeff (2015). 'Canadian Courts Could Face Climate-Change Cases,' The Globe & Mail, Report on Business, 15 September, p. B3.

32.  Bakan, Joel (2004). The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power. Penguin Canada, Toronto.

33. Spencer, Kent (2015). 'Hawaii's Governor Says He's Against Importing BC LNG,' The Province, 27 August, p. 10.

34. Byrne, James (2015). 'LNG Is a Bad Choice for Our Environment,' The Vancouver Sun, Letters to Editor, 3 July. Also see: Jang, Brent (2015). 'Geoscientist Warns LNG Is Not So Green and Clean,' The Globe & Mail, 26 May, p. S1.

35. McKenna, Cara (2014). 'Chiefs Band Together to Pursue Benefits from LNG, Mining,' The Globe & Mail, 6 December, p. A8.

36. Sieniuc, Kat (2015). 'Fracking-Induced BC Quakes Are Among Largest on Record,' The Globe & Mail, 27 August, p. S1.

37. O'Neil, Peter (2015). 'Energy Giant Petronas Faced "Catastrophic" Safety Issues,' The Vancouver Sun, 11 September, p. 1.

38. Jang, Brent (2015). 'First Nations Form Alliance,' The Globe & Mail, Report on Business, 9 September, p. B1.

39. Penner, Derrick (2015). 'Project Supported by 20 Bands, Firm Says,' The Vancouver Sun, Business Section, 13 February, p. E2.

40. Jang, Brent (2015). 'Native Leaders Divided on Pipelines,' The Globe & Mail, Report on Business, 1 October, p. B3.

41.  McMahon, Tamsin (2014). 'Bigstone's Lost Opportunity,' Maclean's Magazine, 24 November, pp. 16-26.

42. Klein (2014), op. cit., pp. 248-249.

43.  McCarthy, Shawn (2015). 'Scientists Call for Halt of New Oil Sands Developments,' The Globe & Mail, Report on Business, 11 June, p. B1; Semeniuk, Ivan (2015). 'Oil Sands Must Remain Largely Unexploited to Meet Climate Target, Study Finds,' The Globe & Mail, 8 January, p. A4.

44. Kurlansky, Mark (2011). World Without Fish. Workman Publishing Company, Inc., New York.

45. Johnston (2013), op. cit.

46. Brenner, Neil (2013). 'Theses on Urbanization,' Public Culture, Vol. 25, No. 1: 85-113.

*Third World Resurgence No. 301/302, September/October 2015, pp 11-18