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The Most Ethical Travel Destinations for 2017

Ten countries that protect their environment and respect human rights

The year 2016 brought many challenges, and a sense of loss to many people. Many of us will begin the new year wondering if the world – already girdled by too many borders and conflicts – will become a less welcoming place for some of us to travel.

Paradoxically, though, it’s times like these when travel is critically important. Nothing, as Mark Twain pointed out, shatters our prejudices and preconceptions more effectively than visiting foreign countries – or parts of our own country that seem foreign to us. Few activities are more useful than visiting these places with an open mind, and remembering that the humanity we share is stronger than any attempt at wall-building.

photo of an expansive dryland vistaphoto by Danielle Pereira / FlickrChile made the list of the ten most ethical travel destinations for 2017, in part due to its expanding solar industry in places like the Atacama Desert, pictured above.

Today, more than ever, the people on this small and singular planet recognize how interconnected and interdependent we are. This becomes strikingly clear when we travel. We become both courageous and vulnerable; an unusual combination that makes us open to (and dependent on) random acts of generosity, sudden friendships, and the spontaneous invitations that Kurt Vonnegut Jr. called “dancing lessons from God”.

Every journey, if we wish it so, is a series of surprises. A life-changing encounter could be waiting in any museum, café or train car. It’s during times like these – when those in power seem most intent on accentuating our differences – that we instinctively express our solidarity. Whether we are traveling to Chile or China, to Mongolia or Mexico, we recognize the opportunity to unravel the knot that Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters defined in three words: Us and Them.

But travel is more than an opening for good will. It is one of the world’s most powerful economic engines, and can drive the way countries treat their citizens, indigenous peoples, wildlife and the environment. Travel is the world’s largest industry, with a trillion-dollar annual footprint. This means that travelers have enormous power. Where we put our footprints has reverberations reaching far beyond our personal experience. By “voting with our wings” – choosing our destinations well and cultivating our roles as citizen diplomats – we can help to change the world for the better.

Every year, Ethical Traveler reviews the policies and practices of over one hundred developing nations. We then select the ten …more

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Nonnative Species are Posing Management Challenges in Parks Across the US

Problem exacerbated by climate change, which has plants and animals moving beyond their historical ranges

While heading to the Bear Lake parking lot in Rocky Mountain National Park, I was aware of the preserved, splendid wilderness in all directions. The road meanders from civilization in Estes Park, Colorado, to the deep environs of a vast wild land that sits 9,475 feet above sea level. My goal for the day was a hike from Bear Lake to the Fern Lake trailhead, a trek of nearly 10 miles that allows hikers a chance to experience cascading waterfalls, high peaks, and dense forests.

Rocky Mountain Goat sitting on a rockPhoto by Justin RatcliffRocky Mountain goats, usually found in the northern Rockies in and around Glacier National Park in Montana, occasionlly stray into the boundaries of Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, putting the park's bigorn sheep at risk of contracting diseases.

Breaking a sweat and taking in the environment were the objectives, but I would not have been opposed to some wildlife sightings. Elk, bighorn sheep, and moose are common distractions in the park, resulting in traffic jams and selfie-taking tourists attempting to snag a closer look. Perhaps an elusive mountain lion or black bear would be in the cards — from a safe distance, of course. In reality, the largest species I saw was a pika, a small mammal that looks like a cartoon mouse with adorably large ears. However, unbeknownst to me at the time was that one species could have be seen on the hike, and if the sighting occurred, it would have been a rare and historically inappropriate encounter.

Defenders of Wildlife estimates there are 100,000 mountain goats in North America. The shaggy, cliff-dwelling mammals are often found in the northern Rockies in and around Glacier National Park in northwestern Montana. However, on occasion, a mountain goat will stray into the boundaries of Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, and then the National Park Service has a predicament on their hands. The goats are listed as a nonnative species for the park, but because they were introduced in the Mount Evans area by Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the animals sometimes travel north and enter the national park, according to the RMNP website.

When a goat is found in Rocky Mountain, disease spread to the native bighorn sheep becomes a real possibility. “We’ve had a couple of instances where we’ve seen mountain goats come into Rocky Mountain National Park,” said John Mack, acting chief of resource stewardship for RMNP. “To tell you exactly where they came …more

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Protests Escalate Over Louisiana Pipeline by Company Behind Dakota Access

Residents are making themselves heard about the disputed Bayou Bridge pipeline

Scott Eustis did not stop smiling for hours. The coastal wetland specialist with the Gulf Restoration Network was attending a public hearing in Baton Rouge. Its subject was a pipeline extension that would run directly through the Atchafalaya Basin, the world’s largest natural swamp. Eustis was surprised to be joined by more than 400 others.

photo of Atchafalaya SwampPhoto by Matt Northam, Flickr If approved, the Bayou Bridge pipeline extension would pass through the Atchafalaya Basin, the world’s largest natural swamp.

“This is like 50 times the amount of people we have at most of these meetings,” said Eustis, adding that the proposed pipeline was “the biggest and baddest I’ve seen in my career.”

The company behind the pipeline, Energy Transfer Partners (ETP), had seemed to turn its attention to Louisiana just one day after Native American protesters thwarted the company’s Dakota Access project last month.

A spokeswoman for ETP, Vicki Granado, said the Bayou Bridge pipeline extension was announced in June 2015. If approved, the project will run though 11 parishes and cross around 600 acres of wetlands and 700 bodies of water, including wells that reportedly provide drinking water for some 300,000 families.

At the public hearing in Baton Rouge on Thursday, the first speaker, Cory Farber, project manager of the Bayou Bridge pipeline, said it was expected to create 2,500 temporary jobs. When Farber then said the project would produce 12 permanent jobs, the crowd laughed heartily.

“Those who have airboat companies and equipment companies that specialize in putting in equipment, they’re not opposed to pipelines because of the short-term jobs,” said Jody Meche, president of the state Crawfish Producers’ Association, one of dozens who spoke at the hearing.

“But once that pipe is in there, the jobs are gone.”

Other attendees applauded in favor of the pipeline, and former US senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, a supporter, was in attendance. But Native Americans also dotted the crowd, many of them fresh from Standing Rock.

“The Native Americans in North Dakota get a lot of credit for showing people their power,” Eustis said.

Protester Cherri Foytlin, organizer of the pro-sustainability Bridge the Gulf project, brought her teenage daughters, Jayden and Erin. In November, Erin and 20 other kids from around the country filed a lawsuit against the federal government for ignoring …more

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Death of Silicon Valley Grey Foxes Point to Urgent Need for Wildlife Corridors

DNA bottlenecks, inbreeding make animals susceptible to disease, says “Fox Guy”

Bill “Fox Guy” Leikam hopes the most recent chapter in the story of the Silicon Valley urban fox is not the beginning of a tragedy for connecting healthy ecosystems. As reported by the San Jose Mercury News last week, up to 18 urban gray foxes belonging to four different “skulks,” or groups, that Leikam has studied and researched over the last seven years in Palo Alto, California, died last month of canine distemper – a contagious viral infection with no known cure.

photo of a dead foxphoto © Bill LeikamA dead gray fox pup. In December, 18 gray foxes belonging to four different skulks in and around Palo Alto died of canine distemper.

This is the first time in recent memory that local wildlife observers have seen such a big wildlife die-off. “We have 12 fox carcasses and six more that are missing and presumed dead,” Leikam, , founder of the Urban Wildlife Research Project,  told Earth Island Journal. “[December] was like a dark wind carrying the virus as it swept through, taking all of the foxes throughout the region and possibly even up into East Palo Alto. “

The gray fox, a small, tree-climbing member of the canid family, is one of the few wild carnivore species that seems to have successfully adapted to living in and around big cities, though it still faces many threats.  A small population of these urban-dwelling canids, comprising several skulks, have captured the hearts of residents and researchers in California’s Silicon Valley, including Leikam who has been researching their role in the local ecosystem as well as the challenges urban habitats present to grey foxes.

It’s hard to pin down the exact number of foxes living in the South Bay Area. Leikam says they seem to be living in “pockets” and regions from south Redwood City, south through Alviso and up the eastern side of the Bay to at least the southern edge of the Oakland International Airport. They have also been spotted in the foothills of Los Altos, Saratoga, and on south.

photo of Gray fox pup One Eye - Last pic alivephoto © Bill LeikamThe last living image of a pup called One Eye, who too, succumbed to the disease. Animals dying from distemper is not something Leikam ever wants to witness again.

Watching animals die from distemper – especially animals you have studied and protected and know by name – is not something “I …more

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Environmental Bloopers from the Obama Era

Smears, hoaxes, and whoopers on climate and the environment, including a few from the president himself

As the curtain comes down on Barack Obama’s eight years in the White House, most Americans seemed convinced of one of two things: We’re either about to Make America Great Again®, or we’re about to hurtle into an uncertain epoch that I like to call the Idiocene.

photo of President ObamaOfficial White House photo by Pete SouzaThere were some big environmental wins during the Obama years, but there were also some farces and scams when it came to climate and the environment.

But before we turn the page on this administration let’s take a look back at the tall tales, regrettable pronouncements, farces and scams on climate and the environment during the Obama years. Anti-regulatory zealots led the pack, but President Obama contributed a few of his own — starting on his first full day in office:

1) January 2009: The most transparent administration? Not quite.

A day after his inauguration, President Obama signed a memorandum promising: “the most transparent administration in history.”

By May 2016, a different verdict came in. Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan called it “one of the most secretive.” In August 2015, 52 journalism organizations, including the Society of Environmental Journalists, sent an appeal to the White House, asking for an end to restrictions on government employees’ contact with reporters.

2) October 2009: Global warming stops (except it totally doesn’t)

Scientists begin asking questions about why the pace of rising temperatures seems to be defying projections and slowing. Despite the emergence of serious, credible reasons for this — notably that the oceans are working overtime to absorb excess heat — climate deniers have a field day with cherry-picked data.

Even as daily, monthly, and annual warmth records continue to be broken, there’s been “no global warming at all” for nearly two decades in Deniertown.

3) November 2009: War is declared, a slogan is born

In a press release, the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce declares the “War On Coal” is underway.

4) November 2009: Russian hack (no, the other one)

Hackers, believed to be Russian-based, steal thousands of emails from the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit. Climate deniers spin a few poorly worded correspondences between scientists into a vast conspiracy to fake climate research.

The faux scandal upends coverage of the Copenhagen climate summit, the scientists are cleared of any wrongdoing by multiple investigations, and the hackers are never caught. But their work foreshadows the 2016 election hack. 

5) January 2010: Moderate Republicans join Endangered Species List


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Lockdown at Trans-Pecos Pipeline Site Consecrates New Indigenous Resistance Camp

West Texas Water Protectors aim to protect Rio Grande, sacred sites

An Indigenous Water Protector and an Alpine, Texas, resident were arrested Saturday morning after locking themselves to pipe-laying equipment at an Energy Transfer Partner (ETP) easement and work site in Presidio County, Texas. The lockdown temporarily halted construction on the company's 143-mile Trans-Pecos pipeline that, if completed, would carry 1.4 billion cubic feet of fracked gas from West Texas to Mexico every day.

Frankie Orona with the Society of Native Nations speaks with Truthout as an Indigenous Water Protector and an Alpine, Texas, resident lock themselves to pipe-laying equipment, temporarily shutting the site down, Saturday, January 7, 2017. (Photo: Garrett Graham)photo by Garrett GrahamFrankie Orona with the Society of Native Nations speaks with Truthout as an Indigenous Water Protector and an Alpine, Texas, resident lock themselves to pipe-laying equipment, temporarily shutting the site down, Saturday, January 7, 2017.

The action was the first to be organized by a new Indigenous-led prayer and resistance camp on private land in far west Texas' pristine Big Bend region. The camp is acting in solidarity with the Sacred Stone and Oceti Sakowin camps' historic standoff against the Dakota Access pipeline at the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota. The same Dallas-based company is behind both the Trans-Pecos and Dakota Access pipelines.

Jakki Hagans and Mark Glover, the two Water Protectors arrested Saturday, have been working to organize the "Two Rivers" or "La Junta de Los Rios" camp as members of the Society of Native Nations (SNN) and the Big Bend Defense Coalition (BBDC), respectively, during the last several weeks. They were each charged with trespassing and released on $250 bonds that same afternoon.

"It isn't right what [ETP] is doing," Hagans, who is Cherokee, told Truthout as she sat, locked to a sideboom (a machine used to lay pipe) during the frigid morning hours on January 7 before police arrested her and Glover. "It isn't right that they're able to take the land from people. It's not right that they're able to run these pipelines, contaminate the water with their fracking. It's not right that they don't care about the people."

Jakki Hagans speaks with Truthout as she sits, locked to a sideboom, temporarily halting construction on Energy Transfer Partner's Trans-Pecos pipeline in Presidio County near Marfa, Texas, January 7, 2017. (Photo: Garrett Graham)photo by Garrett GrahamJakki Hagans speaks with Truthout as she sits, locked to a sideboom, temporarily halting construction on Energy Transfer Partners' Trans-Pecos pipeline in Presidio …more

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The Maasai, Wildebeest, and a Warming Serengeti

Climate change may pose threat to pastoralist communities, great migration in East Africa

Walking across the plain in the 95 degree Farenheit heat, I marvel that the man beside me, Lekoko Torongei, seems perfectly comfortable in his bright red, woolen robes. Torongei, a 23-year-old Maasai warrior, is giving me and my group of 35 American tourists a tour of his village in northern Tanzania. The sizzling air blurs the huts in the distance, and as we approach, Torongei explains that the Maasai people were originally pastoralists, or nomadic cattle herders who moved throughout the savanna landscape. But now that their rangelands have been dramatically reduced through wildlife preservation efforts and development, his community also has to farm (which is challenging given the overused soils and dry climate of the region), and relies increasingly on revenue from tourists. “The Serengeti is a world famous safari destination, but to the Maasai, this land is home,” Torongei says. 

One of the most famous attractions in the Serengeti is the annual wildebeest migration. Serengeti National Park, which attracts over 90,000 tourists annually, experiences its peak visitor season during the migration. “It is a truly spectacular event … Wildebeest move through the ecosystem in search of green pasture, in a regular pattern,” Torongei says. “This is surely one of the greatest wonders of the natural world.” 

photo of wildebeest Photo by Emma HutchinsonWildebeest drink from a watering hole in the Ngorongoro Crater in northern Tanzania.

The stories of the Maasai and the wildebeest are intricately woven together in this complex and gorgeous ecosystem. Now, climate change is threatening to alter the fundamental nature of the entire Serengeti. 

For more than 300 years after they first settled in East Africa in the 15th century, the Maasai roamed the plains freely, and their lives revolved around their cattle and the changing seasons. The geological nooks and crannies of the Serengeti provided a crucial diversity of resources that fueled their large cattle herds. The Maasai set landscapes ablaze, replenishing the soil of the savanna. The hooves of their cattle mixed the soils, regenerating new grassland that helped the droves of native wildebeest thrive. Young Maasai boys, as part of the process of becoming Maasai warriors, were taught how to care for the cattle and how to protect them from predators.

But in the late 1800s, all of that changed. The Germans arrived, then the British, and they began setting aside land for sport hunting and wildlife preservation. In the name of conservation, the British colonists forcibly removed the Maasai …more

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