What needs to be given up

I recently read that going forward, since nothing is being dramatically done to curtail climate change, that intensely hot summers like this past summer is not only going to be “the new normal” but it is just a sneak peak of what is to come. ah

…the trend line is clear: 17 of the 18 warmest years since modern record-keeping began have occurred since 2001.

“It’s not a wake-up call anymore,” Cynthia Rosenzweig, who runs the climate impacts group at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said of global warming and its human toll. “It’s now absolutely happening to millions of people around the world.”

Be careful before you call it the new normal, though. Temperatures are still rising, and, so far, efforts to tame the heat have failed. Heat waves are bound to get more intense and more frequent as emissions rise, scientists have concluded. On the horizon is a future of cascading system failures threatening basic necessities like food supply and electricity (Sengupta).

ah Despite these alarming facts, nothing dramatic or global or far-reaching is getting accomplished. The journalist, David Wallace-Wells who wrote the biggest story on climate change last summer for NYMag is now asserting that, ah

climate change is not a matter of “yes” or “no,”…[but is] a binary process where we end up either “fucked” or “not fucked.”

It is a system that gets worse over time as long as we continue to emit greenhouse gases. We are just beginning to see the horrors that climate change has in store for us —but that does not mean that the story is settled. Things will get worse, almost certainly much, much worse.

Indeed, the news about what more to expect, coming out of new research, only darkens our picture of what to expect: Just over the past few weeks, new studies have suggested heat in many major Indian cities would be literally lethal by century’s end, if current warming trends continue, and that, by that time, global economic output could fall, thanks to climate effects, by 30 percent or more. That is an impact twice as deep as the global Great Depression, and it would not be temporary (Wallace-Wells).

ah The facts are only becoming more and more dire and as reported by Wallace-Wells, journalists are trying to honestly report but are also still hesitant to attribute summer fires and more commonly occurring heat waves to the effects of climate change.
All of these facts were incredibly heavy on my mind as I left for a week holiday with my family. My family had planned to go to Cusco, Peru for one week to explore Peru, visit our cousins, and to spend time together. I was excited to go back to the natural splendor of Latin America, the ease of la vida cotidiana, and to taste winter weather in August. Additionally, starting with this past trip, I planned to pause my news consumption to temporarily freeze anxiety and to use that extra mental energy to focus on a theme that I hope to learn and grow from. The theme manifested at an intersection between the environment, indigenous peoples, climate change, the harms of tourism, and the cost of plane travel. As of the past two years of my life, I have quickly redefined myself as a (somewhat) seasoned traveler by doubling the amount of countries I’ve been too, living abroad, and taking every opportunity I can to leave the country, explore, and push myself out of my comfort zone. I’ve grown immeasurably and everything I’ve seen and done has so positively affected my outlook and my life. And I’ve benefited from this privilege by having more social clout, shamelessly and boastfully posting online, and experiencing things that I’ve never thought possible. But there and many unavoidable and truths and pressures about travel that a traveler needs to reconcile with and they include the damage you manage to contribute to voluntourism, the influx of tourism in vulnerable locations, the mere carbon emissions from a single flight alone, the negative affects of climate change on those who contribute the least to it, and the “need to present a life free from the tyranny of a nine-to-five office job in the tight frame of Instagram” (Guardian Opinion).
I continuously struggle with the question of how to be an intentional and sustainable traveler and to emit as little emissions as possible. Previously, I would argue in favor of traveling intentionally and like a local, carrying around reusables, offsetting your emissions from your flight, doing research, being nothing short of courteous and willing to learn as much as possible, to purchase from local merchants, and suggestions like that. Since finishing the genuinely insightful and delightful book Being the Change by Peter Kalmus I’ve concluded that those attempts are not enough. The emissions produced by being a passenger of a flight is comparable to all of the emissions produced by someone living in a rural area in a single year. Bottom line, you cannot claim to be concerned about climate change and reducing your impact if you are a flyer or a frequent flyer. I struggle with this non-negotiable considering that I am a consultant, I have family who live internationally, and the internal cost of my desire to travel. But it is something to consider especially because Kalmus continues to argue that attempting to offset your emissions doesn’t do enough.
Back to Peru, I want to highlight vulnerable tourist locations and indigenous people by looking through the lenses of my trip. Peru is a country that was brutally colonized by the Spanish back in the sixteenth century and that has continue to shape its’ history. However, Peru is also a country with a 45% indigenous population that still has Quecha being prevalently spoken. In 2017 it was reported that, “tourism in Peru’s protected natural areas generated $720 million” (Zuazo). Due to the natural beauty and history of Peru there really is an abundance of (photographic) sites to visit including Machu Picchu, la montaña de siete colores, valle sagrado, la amazonía, and more. These sites are nothing short of a testament “of a longstanding harmonious and aesthetically stunning relationship between human culture and nature” (UNESCO). The pictures I took and instagrams I posted come incredibly short of actually portraying the real beauty of Peru and I cannot say enough good things about the people, the city, the country, and everything. Again, going back to the impact of climate change I want to focus on la montaña de siete colores. Interestingly, la montaña de siete colores was only added as a tourist attraction 5 years ago. Strange, right? Especially considering that you’ve probably seen plenty of saturated pictures of this colorful mountain….but it was because up until 5 years ago the mountains were covered by snow year-round and hid the mineral rich colors underneath a bed of snow. Due to the warming of climate change, the mountains are now visible and susceptible to an influx of tourists (like myself). ah

The varicolored mountain, with sediment created from mineral deposits over millions of years, was discovered only about five years ago, locals say. But it has become a must-see attraction for hikers, bringing much-needed cash to the area but also prompting concern about possible damage to the previously unspoiled landscape…But there may be a high price to pay for the tourism boom….John Widmer….lamented the environmental destruction occurring from the large number of tourists, adding that “the beautiful and fragile alpine environment is getting completely demolished” by the hordes of eager hikers who journey to the mountain. “I’m ashamed at the fact that we, too, personally destroyed a bit of the Andes during our trek to Rainbow Mountain (Magra y Zarate).

ah The struggle truly is, how do you balance the need to protect vulnerable sites but also benefit from “the flood of tourists [that] also brings with them a flood of cash to the small community of indigenous Pampachiri​ people living near the mountain” (Fessenden).
In order to protect unique sites like these conversations need to centrally focus on preservation and the indigenous people who are most affected by tourism and climate change. Throughout the trip, I could not get over the irony that the wealthy and tourists, who contribute to exploitation and climate change and who harm vulnerable sites, negatively impact climate change the most. ah

Indigenous peoples are among the first to face the direct consequences of climate change, owing to their dependence upon, and close relationship with the environment and its resources. Climate change exacerbates the difficulties already faced by vulnerable indigenous communities, including political and economic marginalization, loss of land and resources, human rights violations, discrimination and unemployment (UN).

ah The irony is not lost on me and it is something that was incredibly heavy on my mind during my travels. How can I even pretend to claim that I care about the environment, empowering global majority groups, and learning from others when I contribute negatively to sources that will ultimately hurt the world and the people and places in it? The earlier article cited about la montaña also very hopefully suggested that “just as photos on the internet helped establish Vinicunca’s popularity, perhaps reporting about the dangers of over-tourism at the colorful mountain can mobilize preservation efforts for its future” (Fessenden). I definitely agree that reporting and raising awareness can be helpful but I am still unclear on where I stand and what I should do about air travel. Kalmus suggested that quitting air travel would help enormously and that alternate modes of transportation like “slow travel” would be sufficient replacements–suggestions I don’t disagree with. The disconnect and the denial is something I know that I and plenty of others struggle to grapple with…it’s easy to be busy with the rest of your life and dismiss your impact. But, I would argue that individual impact is huge and that anything you can do to ~reduce, reuse, recycle~ would help but I would encourage you to really think about what else can you do and to empower your decisions. Can you cut out air travel or car travel or change your diet or not use an AC? Can you recognize that using fossil fuels might not even be making you happier? Think about all the misery (and emissions!) caused by sitting in traffic and getting stuck with a flight delay. Doing something is better than nothing…because we can’t look back to 2018 and realize that all we did was debate about the harm of straws. You can’t rely on politicians, celebrities, and scientists to fix this problem because I believe that individual decisions and choices have an empowering impact that act as a ripple effect. As Kalmus advises, you need to try to make these changes out of a sense of joy and love because we love this planet, the beautiful places we visit, and people we meet and you can’t forget that they’re nothing but our neighbors and our community that we need to work towards protecting and preserving. Now consider what really needs to be given up–because the answer is plainly apathy.

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