Sunday set: Eyes wide open

Warning signs …

By Bob Berwyn

The Summit Voice Sunday Set is  set aside for scenic landscape shots or nature photo essays, which is usually a nice break from the previous week’s news. But today we have a public service announcement instead. Travel as we know it is threatened by a rising tide of right-wing, nationalistic populism around the world.

Living in the new political post-factual, post-truth era is going to require journalists to take their game to a much higher level if they want to regain credibility with readers who have come to distrust any source outside their immediate cybernews bubble. Travel writers could be a big part of the much-needed journalism revival. Nobody is in a better position to help show how interconnected the world has become in the past few decades. It’s an illusion to think that what happens in one country won’t affect many others.

Nationalist policies espoused by a wave of new strong-arm bosses around the world could limit the freedom of travel we’ve come to take for granted and threaten progress on tackling climate change. Protectionist trade policies won’t encourage travel and tourism, and disastrous climate change won’t be good for business.

Of course it goes far beyond that, as we already know. Fundamental human rights will be at risk in the next several years, as well as the environment and the global climate. Already, major new barriers for travelers have been created in Europe in the past year.

Every journalist has a duty to be part of the solution, rather than the problem. I’d love to see the vibrant network of travel bloggers — and the whole social media travel community, for that matter — engage with political, social and environmental topics. That doesn’t mean every story has to be goat-choker. Travel and travel writing should continue to reflect the happy part of life, but that doesn’t mean we have to ignore real issues. Tell your readers what the people where you’re traveling are saying about what’s going in the world right now.

I know some parts of the outdoor gear industry are socially and politically active and involved, and it would be cool to see some of that same energy from the travel sector.

The election result in the U.S. has thrown into doubt the world’s ability to keep global warming below disastrous levels. We can all agree that’s not a good thing for travel, with nearly every climate scientist projecting epic-scale extreme weather like droughts, heatwaves, megastorms and flooding by 2050. We can all agree that’s not going to be good for the travel business.

Instead of national-level policy led by the federal government, it is now up to cities, states and businesses — and the rest of the world — to save us from that fate, and it’s far from certain that’s going to work. Absent government regulations, business is going to have a big say in whether it does, and the travel industry is a carbon-intensive enterprise.

Put another way,  we all need to reduce our personal carbon footprint by the amounts spelled out under the Paris climate agreement, because President Trump is not going to do it for you. The only way we can do that is to make sure that the things we use when we’re travel are carbon-neutral. I know this all sounds like a huge challenge, but we can break it down.

For example, I have several people who are in my Twitter and Facebook feeds who are rated as social media influencers in their field. Those folks could work toward providing solid information about the environmental performance of airlines, hotels and cruise ship companies. It seems like it wouldn’t be too hard to nudge some of those companies toward carbon-neutral operations, since it’s surely in their self-interest.

Stay tuned for more on this topic, and remember, don’t take the freedom to travel for granted.

Check out the Summit Voice Sunday Set archive here. Most of my recent environmental reporting is featured at the Pulitzer Prize-winning InsideClimate News website, and I’ve also been doing some features for Pacific Standard.

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