In another recent post I expressed some opinions about what I think are some of the causes of the catastrophic flood of frivolous visitation to most natural, cultural and historic sites throughout the world. I left out my thoughts on another aspect of this problem, as it was not relevant to the issue that originated that commentary. Some recent posts initiated by EBerstein, however, touch on what I left out, and I feel that I need to speak up. I realize that what I am about to write will not go down well, but I will be honest in saying things that I feel must be said.
A random sampling of the members of Nature First shows a multitude of offerings for “workshops” or some other comparable services that consist of taking people to those same places that we wish to protect. Also on offer are guidebooks, ebooks, videos, etc. that fulfill the same basic role: help people discover places that they did not know about. I realize that this may be the livelihood of some (many?) of you, but, no pun intended, there is no free lunch. You cannot have it both ways. When you take people on a “workshop” you are contributing to the abuse that you decry. First because you are physically putting more people there. You may think that the few people who you shepheard do not make a difference, but multiply that by the number of “workshops” operating in the same place. There are places that I used to go to that I have completely given up on, because I have no interest in sharing my space with such groups, and it is impossible to avoid them.
Even worse is the multiplicative effect that running those “workshops” has. I believe that at least some of you tell your customers to be discreet about locations. This is commendable, but do you follow up later to see whether they heeded your advise? Can you enforce something like that? I am a cynic when it comes to the human species. Thirty years as a University professor in the Earth and Planetary Sciences have made me that way. I cannot begin to count the number of times that students have written in their tests well-reasoned explanations about the human origin of climate change, or about the finite nature of non-renewable resources, only to then see them become well-paid employees of some of the worst offenders, such as Exxon-Mobil, or in some cases even writing in their course evaluations that they did not give a hoot about what they had written in their exams, and that they their only interest was to get an A. I suspect that most of the people who go on your workshops just don’t care, they will happily tell their friends about this new “instagrammable” place, and those friends will tell their friends, and so forth. Even if you have only one bad apple in each group that is a problem. Are you familiar with geometric progressions?
If you offer guidebooks or videos about how to photograph such and such place or when and where to go to photograph xyz, then you are unleashing the same chain reaction, but in an even more nefarious way, as it is a lot cheaper to buy an ebook than to go on a “workshop”, and you don’t even have to take a pledge to be well behaved, it is enough to give a credit card number. By signing up to Nature First you take a pledge to be responsible about sharing location information. Commendable but naive - do you really think that this will deter the type of people responsible for the vandalism of natural areas? It is enough that one person who has no qualms about divulging this information gets access to it, and then tells his friends, and so on.
Juana Inés de la Cruz was a seventeenth century Spanish-Mexican nun and poet, who is considered to be among the earliest feminist writers. The opening stanza of her most famous poem goes like this (my translation):
Vacuous men, you who accuse
Women without a cause
And fail to see that you´re to blame
For that which you bemoan
She could have been writing about abuse of the planet, rather than about an even more wretched type of abuse. I don’t expect to change any minds, nor will I change mine. But I thought that it was important to present a very different perspective on this catastrophe. If I were in charge of the National Park Service or of any other agency that manages public lands I would, among many other things, ban ALL commercial activity, including photo “workshops”, and I would institute very high entrance fees, significantly higher, for example, than those for Disneyworld or those for taking some vapid 3 days cruise in a floating hotel. Of course, the U.S. is only a small fraction of planet Earth, so this would have to be a global initiative. And of course I’m just daydreaming.
Is this an elitist point of view? Without a doubt, but the problem is so serious and urgent that we cannot afford not to do whatever it takes to stop the cataclism. Although I’m afraid it is too late already. As I often tell my friends, hardly a day goes by that I don’t wish that I had been born 50 years before I was. Fighting against evil in the 1940’s was a noble cause, fighting against selfie sticks is not.