Last-Chance Tourism Spurs Eco-Consciousness and Climate Change

The last-chance tourism market is booming. As many of the world’s natural wonders deteriorate and vanish, glaciers and coral reefs especially, people are urged to see them before it’s too late. Social media and tourism markets are massively influential in spurring wanderlust and driving our desire for travel.

Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, a once vibrant coral reef busy with thousands of fish species, is suffering severe coral bleaching and loss of fish habitat. (Source: Jorge Lascar/Flickr)

Last-chance tourism is paradoxical. Tourists often visit remote destinations to take in the beauty and experience a place that may not be the same in the future. But in doing so, they are contributing to climate change, negatively impacting these destinations through carbon-intensive travel.

A recent study published in Annals of Tourism Research discusses the ethical challenges of last-chance tourism. Lead author Mark Groulx and colleagues examined tourists’ willingness to offset the environmental footprint of their travel by participating in carbon offset programs. The study is significant in understanding the role of place identity and attachment in this sector of tourism and the complexities around stewardship.  

Schemes are often presented as a voluntary fee. They allow travelers to invest in carbon reduction projects that balance out the carbon footprint of their travel. These projects could include carbon capture technologies or forest conservation efforts, as well as prevention of new emissions through investing in building wind farms and other green technologies. However, many tourists do not engage in offsetting schemes with rates of engagement below 10 percent for most popular tourist destinations.

The team compared two locations in Canada vulnerable to climate change: polar bear tourism in Churchill, Manitoba and glacier tourism in Jasper National Park. Polar bear populations are well known to be threatened by climate change. The call to save these beloved animals is a key selling point by activists in combating climate change. Warming directly impacts glaciers, and many of the world’s most important glaciers may disappear within the century.

Churchill is famous for its polar bear viewing, which has grown significantly since the 1980s. Birding, beluga whale watching, aurora borealis viewing, and dog sledding are also popular activities. Polar bear populations are in decline as seasonal sea ice diminishes especially during summer. According to a previous study, the Churchill polar bear population could become extinct in as little as 30 years.

Three polar bears enjoying some sun in Churchill. (Source: Trevor Bauer/Flickr)

Jasper National Park is one of the most heavily visited parks in Canada with a total of 2.33 million visitors in 2016. According to the authors, the Athabasca Glacier is a considerable tourism draw at the park. It hosts a number of visitor infrastructures such as the Columbia Icefield Discovery Center. The glacier, however, continues to retreat from climate change. Historical photography referenced in the new study reveals that the Athabasca Glacier receded approximately a kilometer between 1917 and 2006.

The survey conducted at the two sites was designed to measure visitors’ willingness to participate in carbon offsetting. Visitors were asked if they were willing to participate in carbon offset schemes, and if so, how much they were willing to spend. They were also asked how concerned they were about climate change: extremely concerned, concerned, or not concerned. Since the researchers knew that many visitors were unfamiliar with carbon offsets, they provided a simple explanation in the survey. Data was collected from visitors who engaged in glacier or polar bear viewing activities. They amassed a total of 267 surveys for Churchill and 396 for Jasper National Park.

Researchers found that visitors at Churchill were significantly more concerned about climate change than visitors in Jasper National Park. A greater percentage of people were willing to buy carbon offsets. Churchill visitors were also willing to pay far more for carbon offsets than JNP visitors, with a mean of $166.03 (Canadian) compared to $54.99 from JNP tourists. Those from both sites who were willing to purchase offsets also had a much greater sense of nature relatedness, place identity, and place attachment than those not willing.

Snow crawlers transport tourist up and across the glacier before returning to the lodge at Jasper National Park. (Source: diffuse/Flickr)

A review of 66 studies suggests that a stronger sense of place attachment and identity may foster climate change concern, which might influence travelers to engage more in carbon offsetting schemes. One explanation for the difference between Churchill and Jasper National Park tourists is the attraction of polar bears. Polar bears are considered to be a “highly-charismatic mega fauna” and are seen as the international mascot for climate change. People are able to connect more easily to the plight of these cute and endangered animals, and they are much better at capturing public attention and promoting emotional involvement relative to physical landscapes.

Although travelers produce a substantial carbon footprint through last-chance tourism, it may help bolster the sense of place attachment and identity that encourages tourists to engage in carbon offsetting. People sometimes build personal connections to places they visit, and this value they put on locations may lead them to take meaningful action to preserve them. Tourism is one of the most effective methods to getting people to engage in offsetting schemes. Once we develop an attachment, we are more likely to take on a responsibility to caring for the destination and contributing to environmental wellbeing.

Read More on GlacierHub:

Assessing the Environmental Impacts of Tourism in Tibet

Glaciers, Geoheritage, and Geotourism

The Andes Challenge: Extreme Sports, Tourism, and Science in Peru

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Photo Friday: Rephotography Captures Mountain Change

Mountains are some of the most rapidly changing landscapes on Earth thanks to climate change and other drivers. To observe these changes within the Canadian Rockies, the Mountain Legacy Project has utilized repeat photography of images taken from past surveys. Exploring changes is as easy as traversing to the project’s website and clicking a point on the map, revealing historical images and their modern counterparts.

Check out four of these photo comparisons below, and visit the Mountain Legacy Project Explorer to discover more wonders from the full catalog.

 

Mt. Edith Cavell within Jasper National Park

 

1915 Photograph of Cavell Meadows
Photograph taken in 1915 of Mt. Edith Cavell and the Angel Glacier within Jasper National Park (Source: Mountain Legacy Project).

 

1999 Photograph of Cavell Meadows
Photograph taken in 1999 of Mt. Edith Cavell and the Angel Glacier within Jasper National Park (Source: Mountain Legacy Project).

 

Thunderbolt Peak within Jasper National Park

 

1915 Photograph of Thunderbolt Peak
Photograph taken in 1915 of Thunderbolt Peak within Jasper National Park (Source: Mountain Legacy Project).

 

1999 Photograph Thunderbolt Peak
Photograph taken in 1999 of Thunderbolt Peak within Jasper National Park (Source: Mountain Legacy Project).

 

Mt. Majestic within Jasper National Park

 

1915 Photograph of Mt. Majestic
Photograph taken in 1915 of Mt. Majestic within Jasper National Park (Source: Mountain Legacy Project).

 

1999 Photograph of Mt. Majestic
Photograph taken in 1999 of Mt. Majestic within Jasper National Park (Source: Mountain Legacy Project).

Columbia Ice-fields within Jasper National Park

Photograph of 1918 Columbia Ice-Fields
Photograph taken in 1918 of the Columbia Ice-Fields taken within Jasper National Park (Source: Mountain Legacy Project).
2011 Photograph of the Columbia Ice-Fields
Photograph taken in 2011 of the Columbia Ice-Fields within Jasper National Park (Source: Mountain Legacy Project).
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Tensions Flare Over Glacier Skywalk in Jasper National Park

First Nations in Canada have long gotten the short end of the stick in deals with federal agencies. Recently, inside Jasper National Park, things are tending toward more of the same, with indigenous people raising objections over a newly installed glass skywalk 918 feet above the Sunwapta valley.

Like Canada’s other early national parks, Jasper was formed through colonial territorialization, in which indigenous people were forced from their lands to make way for wilderness preservation. As a result, the government must still consult with indigenous communities that hold Aboriginal or treaty rights in the area, a process fraught with controversy, according to an article by Megan Youdelis, a researcher at York University. In Jasper National Park, interests of First Nations overlaps with that of Parks Canada, causing friction over the development of the Glacier Skywalk.

A couple taking a selfie on the Glacier Skywalk (Source: Cezary Kucharski/Flickr).

Jasper, located in the Rocky Mountains of Alberta province, is a few hours drive west of Edmonton, and is the second most visited park in Canada  with over two million visitors a year. Replete with glaciers and snow-capped mountain peaks, it is home to the Columbia Icefield, the largest ice field in the Canadian Rockies, as well as the Athabasca Glacier, the most-visited glacier in North America. First Nations are the descendants of people who immigrated to the area as far back as 9,000 years ago, after the big glaciers receded from the present-day park.

Parks Canada, founded in 1911, is in charge of all national parks in Canada, and approved the $21 million Glacier Skywalk, but many First Nations felt that they weren’t properly consulted, according to Youdelis. Youdelis found that park management traditionally marginalizes First Nations’ input in the decision-making process in parks across Canada, including in Jasper.

“It’s not right that certain First Nations enjoy fairly advanced comanagement arrangements with the state (such as in Gwaii Haanas, for example), while the First Nations living in Treaty areas are only ‘consulted’ in a very cursory manner,” said Youdelis in an interview with GlacierHub. “I think this is a major problem for the older, southern parks in Canada, like Jasper, where Indigenous territories continue to be appropriated so that corporations and the state benefit economically.”

The 2011 Consultation and Aboriginal Engagement Report gives an account of the stakeholder meetings and open houses in which First Nations were consulted about the skywalk, but the report does not give any indication of which tribes were consulted, what issues were raised and what was done to address these issues. Parks Canada did not respond to requests to comment.

According to a public forum put forth by Parks Canada, “Subsequent site visits with Elders from communities that expressed an interest in the project either confirmed that there were no concerns with the project or that no follow-up was required.” Some First Nations members refute this claim and have expressed that Parks Canada didn’t consult them properly by using only a forum meeting instead of a formal consultation with First Nations. Forum meetings are considered inadequate by some members of First Nations because not all Indigenous people can attend because of either the time or location. Furthermore, if Indigenous people don’t speak up during the meeting, their opinions simply aren’t heard.

Jasper National Park (Source: Bernard Spragg. NZ/ flickr)
Jasper National Park (Source: Bernard Spragg. NZ/ flickr)

One member from the Aseniwuche Winewak Nation told Megan Youdelis, “We just felt it was very inappropriate that the Forum be used for consultation.” Another member of the Stoney Nakoda Nation said, “They did a brief presentation on what they wanted to do with the Glacier Skywalk and they asked for some feedback. The first thing I remember one of the members saying was, ‘This meeting is not a consultation. It’s not regarded as a consultation.’ What Jasper likes to do is have one or two meetings and say it’s a consultation.”

Others interviewed by Youdelis felt that the decision to go ahead with the skywalk was already made by the time they were consulted, even if they had rights to lands that overlapped with Park boundaries. A member of Confederation of Treaty Six Nations said, “We went in there frustrated, and we left even more frustrated. It’s really sad when you know that all that’s happening is they’re going to ask us for the sake of asking. Just so they can give the appearance of ‘Yeah, we asked them.’”

However, not all feedback from Indigenous people was negative: respondents of the Alexis Sioux Nakota Nation and Sucker Creek First Nation had a better experience with regards to the Skywalk and received one on one meetings, even negotiating terms with Parks Canada. A member of the Alexis Sioux Nakota Nation told Youdelis, “I guess if we didn’t seek them out that’s probably what would have happened with us as well, them coming to the Forum and doing a presentation. That’s the point where you start going after things… If you’re proactive with consultation, you can pounce on that [opportunity] and get your own wheels rolling.”

Road to Jasper National Park (Source: Pascal / flickr).

Other concerns with the new Glacier Skywalk stem from the fact that no Indigenous people work there, according to Youdelis.  While Indigenous people may be told about employment and economic opportunities from new projects, they are rarely followed up on. Near Maligne Lake in Jasper, there have been discussions about First Nations selling their crafts, but many see this only as a way for Parks Canada to curry favor with First Nations tribes. This may lead to a system where First Nations are incentivized to accept deals put forth, while not having any say on the park’s authority to build projects on their land.

“The community has always questioned why there are not more opportunities for Aboriginal groups among the private sector in the park,” said a member of the Aseniwuche Winewak Nation to Youdelis. “I know there has been discussions along these lines of tourism opportunities, visitor centers and partnerships, but nothing has ever really come to fruition.”

Though Parks Canada has taken steps to redress injustices in Jasper, like hosting annual Aboriginal Days where First Nations perform songs and dances, sell crafts, and showcase their culture, severe inequities remain. Much work still needs to be done across Canada to bridge the gap between Indigenous communities and park management, so that all Indigenous people feel that they have been properly consulted in park decisions.

As Youdelis emphasized to GlacierHub, “The unquestioned authority of Parks Canada to make any and all land use decisions in these territories is entirely colonial, and I think this issue with ‘consultation’ across Canada needs to be addressed.”

Moving forward, one thing is certain, First Nations will not forget about the Glacier Skywalk.

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Roundup: Satellite Images, Plane Accident and Colonial Antipolitics

Each week, we highlight three stories from the forefront of glacier news.

Satellite Images Reveal Dramatic Tropical Glacier Retreat

From Plymouth University news:

SATELLITE IMAGES REVEAL DRAMATIC TROPICAL GLACIER RETREAT(Credit: Digital Globe)
SATELLITE IMAGES REVEAL DRAMATIC TROPICAL GLACIER RETREAT (Credit: Digital Globe)

“Scientists have obtained high resolution satellite images that paint a stark picture of how tropical glaciers in the Pacific have retreated over the past decade. The images taken from the Pleaides satellites reveal that the formerly extensive Carstenz Glacier of West Papua has almost completely disappeared, while the once continuous East North Wall Firn has split into a number of much smaller fragments.

The findings have been released by scientists at Plymouth University and the Britannia Royal Naval College Dartmouth (BRNC) and come on the heels of record-breaking temperatures around the globe.

Dr Chris Lavers, Lecturer in Radar and Telecommunications, based at BRNC, said:

‘The years 2011-2015 have been the warmest five-year period on record, with many extreme weather events influenced by climate change. So it is not surprising then that the present observed speed of glacier retreat world wide has been historically unprecedented. This is visual confirmation of the ablation of equ atorial glaciers, with the Carstenz Glacier revealed to have almost completely melted away in the last 15 years.'”

Learn more about the story here.

Failure to use carb heat while flying by glacier leads to accident

From General Aviation News:

Cessna 182(Credit: Wikimedia)
Cessna 182 (Credit: Wikimedia)

“The Cessna 182 pilot was flying down a glacier near Cooper Landing, Alaska, for an extended period of time at a low power setting without the carburetor heat on. Near the toe of the glacier, he attempted to add power to level the plane, but the engine did not respond. He said that their altitude was low and he landed on the glacier moraine. The plane nosed over, sustaining substantial damage to the wings and fuselage.

The NTSB determined the probable cause as the pilot’s failure to correctly use carburetor heat, resulting in a loss of engine power and collision with terrain.”

To read more about the news here.

“They could take you out for coffee and call it consultation!”: The colonial antipolitics of Indigenous consultation in Jasper National Park

From Sage Journals:

Jasper National Park(Credit: Wikimedia)
Jasper National Park (Credit: Wikimedia)

“Although Canada has been applauded for its co-management arrangements in recently established national parks, it continues to struggle with its legacy of colonial dispossession of Indigenous peoples, especially in its older and more iconic parks. First Nations were evicted from the earliest parks such as Banff and Jasper in a process of colonial territorialization that facilitated a “wilderness” model of park management and made space for capitalist enterprises like sport hunting and tourism. In Jasper National Park today, private tourism development proposals trigger a duty to consult with nations whose Aboriginal or Treaty rights may be impacted by development.”

Learn more about the study here.

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Photo Friday: A Glacial Fear of Heights

Deep in the Canadian Rockies a glass walkway has been constructed extending ninety feet off a sudden cliff edge. The Glacier Skywalk opened in May of this year, and allows you to walk out into the empty space off the cliff’s edge and enjoy panoramic views of Jasper National Park in Alberta. Engineered by Simon J. Brown and John Kooymans with Read Jones Christoffersen Engineering, and designed by Sturgess Architecture, the walkway made out of glass, wood, and steel, and supported by an intricate cable support system, blends into the natural environment and appears to suspend itself in midair with no obvious foundation. Standing on the glass bend almost eight hundred fifty feet above the Sunwapta valley floor you might even feel a little like a mountain glacier high above the wilderness. Photographers Eva Kurilova and Marc Roy provide some images.

Photo Friday highlights photo essays and collections from areas with glaciers. If you have photos you’d like to share, let us know in the comments, by Twitter @glacierhub or email us at glacierhub@gmail.com.

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