ENN Weekly: May 16th - 20th

ENN's editors summarize the most compelling environmental and sustainable economy themes of the week. In the news, May 16 - 20: Cow controversy in India, progress in U.N. climate talks, an important new species discovery in Tanzania, and questions about what it will take to save the world's rain forests.

Top Ten Stories of the Week
Sustainable Economy News Roundup
EarthNews Radio Review
ENN Commentary: You Make the Difference!

Photo: A bald eagle draws wings back as it
comes into the nest for a landing in Kodiak, Alaska.
By Dave Menke/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Week's Top Ten

In the news this week: Cow controversy in India, progress in U.N. climate talks, an important new species discovery in Tanzania, and questions about what it will take to save the world's rain forests.

1. Kenyan environmental activist Wangari Maathai, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004, urged tree-planting as a means of tempering the rapid destruction of the world's forests. Her Green Belt Movement, founded to fight deforestation is launching an incentive program aimed at tree preservation.
>> Nobel Winner Maathai Urges World Leaders to Plant More Trees

2. In Tanzania this week, the exciting discovery of a new species of monkey. Approximately three feet tall, the highland mangabey is rare -- scientists estimate that fewer than 1,000 live in the highland forest -- making it a critically endangered species.
>> New Monkey Species Found in Tanzania

3. At an informal meeting of the U.N. in Bonn, Germany this week, participants contemplated strategies for including the United States in global warming accords in 2012 and beyond, after the Kyoto protocol ends.
>> U.N. Climate Talks Start Hunt for Kyoto Successor

4. In many urban areas of India, a challenging problem is emerging: Stray cows are interfering with traffic, spreading disease, and generally making a mess. But what's the solution for controlling populations of an animal worshipped and held sacred by India's Hindus?
>> Crowded India Cities Face Conflict on Cows


5. In a move that stands to cost U.S. sewage plants upwards of $90 billion in facility upgrades, the EPA issued a decision that plants will not be permitted to omit a process that kills potentially harmful micro-organisms after heavy precipitation.
>> EPA Does About-Face, Won't Allow Partial Treatment at Sewage Plants in Storms

6. The monumental effort to rebuild areas hit hard by December's massive tsunami has encountered a political roadblock. Reconstruction plans have been a long time coming, with infighting in the Indonesian government cited as largely responsible.
>> Tsunami Rebuilding Stalls as Survivors Confront Government Delays, Political Squabbling

7. By the year 2009, predicts the Coast Guard, funds earmarked for oil spill cleanups will have run dry, in large part because fees imposed as penalties on those responsible for spills fail to cover cleanup costs. The Coast Guard and Congress are working in concert on a much-needed funding solution.
>> Report Warns Oil Spill Funds Will Be Empty by 2009

8. Off-roading enthusiasts who favor U.S. parkland might want to get out there ASAP, since this pastime could soon be subjected to new regulations. The Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service have plans in the works to restrict the use of off-road-vehicles on public lands as a conservation measure.
>> Authorities Plan to Restrict Off-Road Vehicles in Western U.S.

9. On Tuesday, Robert Aisi, a delegate from Papua New Guinea, described a new extension plan under which developing nations would receive cash incentives to spare trees rather than cutting down and selling them.
>> Cash Incentives Needed to Save Rain Forests

10. Mount Rainier might seem innocuous enough, looming majestically over the Seattle skyline, but scientists predict that one day the volcano will wake up and wreak havoc in the lives of many of the 3 million people who live in relative close proximity.
>> Mount Rainier Ranked Third Most Dangerous Volcano

Sustainable Economy News Roundup, by Paul Geary

This week in Sustainable Economy, we showed you some examples of the increasingly common practice of companies to voluntarily report for public consumption their environmental compliance practices. No longer something companies do grudgingly and merely to be in compliance with government regulation, today's companies often will tout green practices, and use them as marketing points. Having a favorable environmental reputation is becoming almost a necessity for many companies now.

Large companies especially, perhaps because of growing public pressure to do so, are publicizing their efforts at a better environment by issuing reports specifically about environmental practices. No longer just a page in an annual report, some companies are issuing separate reports about attempts to be more green, and be better corporate citizens. Anheuser-Busch, the largest beer brewer in the US, recently issues theirs. It's a good example of the type of report that high-profile companies are presenting to a more demanding public: Anheuser-Busch Issues Annual Environmental Report.

Companies of all sizes want the public to know when they've created a new product or process that is more environmentally sound, or if they've won and award or met a standard for environmental compliance. We showed you two examples this week:

Canadian Vineyard First Winery Worldwide to Earn LEED Certification
SafeNet Begins Shipping Environmentally Friendly Software Protection Keys

Growing organic food is a challenge; marketing that food is arguably more of one, as we found out in this story: Caribbean Farmers Find Growing, Marketing Organic Crops a Tough Row to Hoe. However, some farmers have come up with creative ways to squeeze more cash out of each acre of land: Agritourism Grows as Cash Crop.

Of course, alternative energy is always a hot topic on ENN, and this week was no different. Last week we told you that gas prices were easing. However, with gas still north of $2.50 per gallon in many parts of the US, an alternative ethanol-based fuel is catching the eye of many consumers because of its price. Read that story here: Lower Price of E85 Fuel Catches Consumers' Attention.

Wind power has great potential as a sustainable energy resource. We brought you this story about the challenges and opportunities faced by three wind energy companies: Profiles of Three Wind Energy Firms.

Be sure to check out ENN's Sustainable Economy section regularly for the latest news about business and the environment.

EarthNews Radio Review, by Paul Geary

This week EarthNews Radio covered a number of varying topics ranging from water to bike transit to art to astronomy.

Thursday, May 19 was "Bike to Work Day," which is designed to popularize the idea of using the more healthy and environmentally friendly mode of commuting. EarthNews Radio's Jerry Kay featured two interviews about the benefits and increased popularity of commuting by bike.

Listen to EarthNews Radio: Bike to Work Day

Listen to EarthNews Radio: Bikes to Transit

EarthNews Radio listeners learned about environmental indicators from the scientists at California Academy of Sciences. And one indicator that we're using too much water is that rivers are drying up, according to the author of the book "Water Follies."

Environmental Indicators

Water Follies

Jerry Kay introduced us to an organization that is at the intersection of art and nature:

Green Museum

And, we learned about the new moon from one of EarthNews Radio's regular guests, the always interesting Bing Quock of the Morrison Planetarium:

New Moon

Be sure to visit EarthNews Radio's home here at ENN, where you can hear more of Jerry Kay's interviews with interesting environmentalists and scientists. You can find it at www.enn.com/enn_radio_main.html.

You Make the Difference! -- An ENN Commentary
by Ronald Sanabria, Rainforest Alliance

Accompanied by the roar of crashing waves and the song of tiny frogs practicing their nocturnal serenade, we arrived at the end of another workday on Costa Rica’s southern Caribbean coast-- a region blessed by natural beauty and rich local culture. Twenty of us had gathered in this natural paradise to discuss the importance of developing responsible tourism. My colleagues and I spent three days in workshops with owners of small hotels spanning the region from Cahuita National Park on Costa Rica’s southern Caribbean coast to the beautiful Panamanian islands in Bocas del Toro.

We met to learn about effective business management practices for tourism businesses, designed to help us interact responsibly with the natural and cultural resources that attract visitors to the region. These resources are the “green gold” that has made tourism one of the most important industries of the Costa Rican economy. Almost 1.2 million tourists visited this country in 2003. They stay in Costa Rica for approximately 12 nights on average and spend a bit over $100 each day. Most of them travel on their own. Forty percent are between 30 and 40 years old and 56% have concluded university studies. In 2003, there were more than 34 thousand rooms available and, very importantly, approximately 80% of all hotels are small and medium enterprises with less than 40 rooms (only 26 hotels have more than 100 rooms).

Undeniably, Costa Rica’s national parks play an important part in making tourism a successful industry. Twenty percent of the national protected areas are open to the public and 70% of the tourists visit public protected areas. Interestingly, visitation is not only by foreign visitors but also from domestic tourism. It is estimated that 26% of the protected areas’ income comes from tourist fees.

After 20 years of experience promoting nature-based tourism, this industry has become the primary source of income for this Central American country’s economy since 1994. The hotel owners from the Caribbean region of Costa Rica were conscious of the need to protect the natural riches that have brought thousands of clients to their doors. We worked as a group analyzing ways to develop sustainable tourism products and services that would operate in harmony with the environment, surrounding communities and local cultures. Our goal was to make sure that the local people will be the permanent beneficiaries of tourism development. Based on these concepts, sustainable tourism as an industry depends on the protection, rather than the exploitation, of natural resources. Potentially, sustainable tourism (and by extension, ecotourism) offers many local benefits to communities, including education, job opportunities and respect for traditional ways of life. But how do we translate these concepts into practical actions that will guide the tourism industry toward sustainability? A strong commitment from all stakeholders delivering, purchasing and benefiting from tourism is necessary.

Costa Rica is not the only example of a country debating these issues due to its booming nature-based tourism industry. Since 1998 we have seen how nature-based tourism has become one of the fastest growing segments of the tourism industry. That year it was estimated that nature-based tourism represented 20% of total international travel. As a matter of fact, back in the 80s we had a handful of countries selling nature-based or culture-based tourism. Today, virtually every country sells similar products. For example, many Latin American countries are trying to position themselves in the market place by leveraging its natural and cultural assets. We can see these efforts being captured in national marketing strategies and in official slogans that feature nature or culture-based messages and connotations: Guatemala: Soul of the Earth; Belize, Mother Nature's Best Kept Secret; Costa Rica, No Artificial Ingredients; Panama, The Path Less Traveled; Peru, Land of the Incas; Ecuador, Life at its Purest; Chile, Nature that Touches You; and Uruguay, A Natural Country, just to name a few.

Strong marketing and promotion of our natural resources and increased visitation to natural sites or fragile communities represent risks. Latin America is ranked as the second world region in terms of international tourism receipts; according to the World Tourism Organization (WTO), in 2002 the Americas earned US$ 114 billion from tourism and between 1990 and 2000 the international annual average growth was 4.2%, just the Caribbean islands equaled this international average. Central and South America had percentages of growth higher than this international average, 8.4% and 6.8% respectively. In 2003, international tourism arrivals in Latin America and the Caribbean totaled 36.4 million. This same year the WTO stated that destinations in the Caribbean, Central and South America “kept their very positive performance enjoying the competitive advantage of a weak dollar and of the search for ”˜known and nearby’ destinations.”

Let’s take a closer look at the Central American region. Between 1999 and 2003 our region experienced a 41% increase in income from tourism and a 30% increase in the numbers of visitors. On average, all Central American countries experienced growth between these same years. El Salvador experienced a steady growth with peaks in 2000 and 2002 with a slight decrease between 2002 and 2003. Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Guatemala and Belize experienced a steady growth but without significant increases year after year. On the other hand, Honduras and Panama have experienced more rapid growth in the last couple of years.

Many companies and entire tourism industries in these countries depend on sound natural environments and good community relations in order to operate. However, described once as “an industry without smokestacks,” tourism provides opportunities as well as threats to environmental protection and the well-being of local communities. There are plenty of examples worldwide of unsustainable tourism development. According to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), some of the main risks are unsustainable consumption of natural resources, displacement of local people and wildlife, habitat destruction, pollution, erosion and introduction of exotic species, lack of respectful behavior towards local cultures, and, at the global level, loss of biodiversity, contribution to global warming, and depletion of the ozone layer. In summary, a lack of direct benefits to local communities and no direct support to conservation efforts have a direct effect on the sustainability of the tourism industry.

In order to remain competitive tourism companies need, to work on the three components of sustainability: environmental conservation, social well-being, and economic growth. These components guide our work on sustainable tourism at the Rainforest Alliance. In our journey we have come to realize that the application of voluntary tools to help transform the way we use the land and our resources, the way we do business, and the way we behave as consumers is one of the most effective ways to achieve our mission. For this reason we are committed to the establishment of partnerships with different sectors for the application of practical tools to help protect ecosystems and the people and wildlife that depend on them.

The public and private sector must work together formulating and implementing national and local policy planning guidelines and evaluation frameworks for sustainable tourism; helping governments and NGOs develop shared sustainability standards; ensuring that investments in the tourism sector implement sustainable practices; helping businesses implement sustainable practices; making technical and financial assistance accessible to businesses of all sizes; supporting sustainable tourism public-private partnerships; supporting voluntary, accountability mechanisms such as third-party, independent certification to monitor compliance with sustainable tourism standards; and increasing consumers’ access to information to help us make responsible purchases.

Yes, valued reader, as tourists we can contribute to the development of a more sustainable tourism industry. You hold in your hands the power to decide what kind of services and companies you choose to do business with. Where demand exists, supply will follow. Take home from your vacations more than just beautiful memories and photographs. Make sure you also have the satisfaction of knowing that you have contributed to sustainable tourism development through a careful choice of services. I encourage you to use your buying power to favor tourism businesses committed to conserving natural resources and promoting social well-being. Only in this way will the hotel owners from the beautiful beaches and rainforests of Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast — and many other equally committed business people in other parts of the world — be able to share nature in all her beauty and local customs with future generations.

Ronald Sanabria is Director of Sustainable Tourism for The Rainforest Alliance, a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting ecosystems and improving the quality of life for local populations through the implementation of better business practices for sustainability and conservation of biodiversity.

Related Link:
ENN Special Report: Sustainable Travel