Can Eco-Travelers Save the World’s Rainforests?

Travel Blog  •  Joanna Kakissis  •  05.08.09 | 2:19 PM ET

Photo by leszekwasilewski via Flickr (Creative Commons)

I’ve been thinking about this question since I saw a public awareness video released on YouTube by Prince Charles’s Rainforests Project. His Royal Highness rightly points out that climate change is the “greatest threat facing mankind” and that deforestation worsens global warming. (Burning trees releases their stored CO2.) At home, we can buy coffee tables and cabinetry made from sustainable wood. But what can we do when we travel?

How about trekking through the rainforest with an ecopreneurial tour operator whose money sustains local villages? As it turns out, ecotourism can actually do its part to slow deforestation. Rainforests are clear-cut to support commercial farming and mining, and the wood sometimes becomes that cheap coffee table that’s not cool to buy. But those trees could become much more valuable alive if successful, locally-based ecotourism ventures bring in enough money to support both bordering villages and a sustainable economy for the country.

The World Wildlife Federation says such ecotourism ventures could help curb deforestation in Brazil, where an estimated 60 percent of carbon emissions are linked to clear-cutting. A study on behalf of the WWF by the Copérnicus Institute of the Netherlands’ Utrecht University shows that successful ecotourism projects could yield an average of $3.26 to $6.58 per hectare of standing forest per year. Yes, Brazil has a few jungle lodges with the right spirit. But the country could embrace rainforest ecotourism on a much larger scale, like Costa Rica, where such lodges help run the country’s so-called “green economy.”

Here’s hoping that Prince Charles’s next rainforest video features Daniel Craig and a Brazilian ecotourism entrepreneur exploring the banks of the Aripuanã River and showing the rest of us just how much we have to gain, and lose. Until then, here’s the current video (which includes Mr. Craig, Princes William and Harry, the Dalai Lama and a computer-generated, Kermit-green frog) on YouTube rotation.


Joanna Kakissis's writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe and The Washington Post, among other publications. A contributor to the World Hum blog, she's currently a Ted Scripps fellow in environmental journalism at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

3 Comments for Can Eco-Travelers Save the World’s Rainforests?

sinbad 05.10.09 | 5:34 AM ET

I would think in order to slow/stop the destruction of the world’s rain forests then stopping eating meat wold be a more effective method as the forests are being cleared, in Brazil at least, for cattle and soy crops to feed cattle.

Grizzly Bear Mom 05.11.09 | 8:56 AM ET

Although I eat meat ocassionally myself, I agree with Sinbad.  Let’s stop talking about it do what’s most effective.

Kent 05.11.09 | 6:06 PM ET

In Borneo, ecotourism at Danum Valley Conservation Area and along the Kinabatangan River not only brings in substantial revenue but is significant in educating people from around the world. Visitors experience the complexity of the rainforest firsthand and many go on to share the understanding gained with others.

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