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The VolunTourist™ is a premium Newsletter for the Travel Trade. For those interested in discovering what is happening in the world of VolunTourism™ and seeking emerging practices, general information, and case studies, this is your Source.

Volume 5 Issue 4 Highlights



How Will Global Climate Change Impact VolunTourism in Decade 2.0?

If climate change wasn't something on your radar as a voluntourist or voluntourism operator in the first decade of the new millennium, then it most assuredly will be in Decade 2.0. In order to discover what impacts climate change will have on VolunTourism, we might first consider how VolunTourism might impact the effects of climate change. Even a cursory analysis reveals that there are indeed projects that could be adopted by voluntourists and voluntourism operators to counter the consequences of climate change. If Copenhagen polluted your positivity regarding a unilateral, geo-political 'solution,' then the least we can do is proactively review what the VolunTourism Community can do in regard to Global Climate Change in the year and years ahead.


Travel has been battered by those who focus solely on the carbon emissions associated with jet-setting across the planet. Very little attention, however, is given to how travel can serve as a mechanism for offsetting carbon emissions and their impact, either directly or indirectly. Is such a thing even possible?

To think that people will not travel seems utterly ridiculous. One could even argue that the elimination of travel could prove far more detrimental to human beings than the results of climactic change. Nonetheless, if travel can become genuinely involved in contributing to the mitigation of the consequences of global climate change, a harmonious balance between the two may be achieved.

In December 2009, we (members of my team and I) spent several days with representatives of rural community development corporations (CDCs) from Alaska and Maine. It was truly a 'mind-opening' experience on many, many levels - - I am sure you will be hearing more about it in the weeks and months ahead.

Besides the possible historic implications (to my knowledge a voluntourism workshop for rural CDCs has never been convened), there were numerous opportunities to hear about the struggles, challenges, and potential opportunities that voluntourism represents for rural CDCs.

One of the biggest challenges, as you might imagine, is simply the word "tourism" - particularly in indigenous communities, this term has many negative connotations associated with it. Yet, and I very much appreciated the input of those present, rural CDCs do understand the importance of the economic contributions that tourism can make and how these can lead to greater sustainability for rural communities. [Thus, the question for the ages: "Is there a way to utilize tourism without calling it tourism?"]

Ironically, in a week that coincided with the Climate Change discussions in Copenhagen, we, ourselves, were learning about the challenges associated with climate change, in particular what it means for rural communities, in a truly sobering manner.

Case in point: In rural Alaska, one of the results of climate change is the fact that permafrost is melting and villages are flooding. These villages will need to be relocated in the years ahead; this, as you might have guessed, will require many hands and many feet dedicated to the task. Voluntourists may very well have an important role to play in an endeavor such as this; time will tell, of course.

The Bigger Picture

When we consider climate change at the global level, the example of rural Alaska is merely one on a list of engagements that will comprise an ever-increasing majority of the supply chain of voluntourism offerings worldwide in Decade 2.0. Some of these experiences will come in the form of relief voluntourism, as travelers with a particular affinity for a destination or its culture will voluntarily return to these locations in an effort to support local residents in recovering from natural disasters.

In addition, climate change will generate unprecedented interest in the environment - particularly projects that can assist the native vegetation in flourishing and offsetting carbon emissions. Carbon offset programs will start to 'employ' voluntourists in such projects as:

  1. Minimizing the impacts of their travel via the removal of invasive species (which allows the local flora, oftentimes responsible for absorbing more CO2, to thrive),
  2. Planting and caring for native species that mitigate flooding, erosion, and similar threats,
  3. Planting and caring for native species that are both edible and drought resistant, and
  4. Planting species that allow local residents to realize alternative income streams and reduce the likelihood of impacts from slash & burn agriculture, for example

And, this list will continue to expand as more and more creativity, within carbon offset models, is integrated into voluntourism programs.

Karmic, Carbon, Or Perhaps The Combined "Karbon" Offsets

It would be an oversight on my part not to mention that VolunTourism will also have a reciprocal impact on how we deal with offsetting our carbon footprint worldwide. As previously mentioned, we will likely see an increase in voluntourism products & services designed to directly address CO2 absorption by mother nature; this is something that we would expect.

What we may not expect, however, is the dialogue regarding how certain other forms of voluntary service, particularly at the community level, may offset emissions or the direct & indirect impacts of climate change. For example, the construction of solar-powered toilets and restrooms in open spaces – public parks, federal lands, etc. To think that voluntourists could ‘power’ such projects through the financial resources they bring to a destination seems more than plausible.

Introduction of green technologies in rural and urban communities could take place in a phased manner.

Copyright © Chris Christensen, All Rights Reserved

First, local residents could afford voluntourists the opportunity to assist in large-scale construction projects utilizing rammed earth or straw bale 'technologies,' as examples, in remote communities around the world. Transferring this wisdom, via voluntourism experiences, opens the door to recognizing the assets, not the needs, which rural communities and villages possess.

Following from that, skilled technicians, coming in as a first wave of a two-wave set of voluntourists, could train local residents in both the installation as well as the maintenance of additional 'green technologies.' Subsequent voluntourists (unskilled) could then provide funds and labor to assist in any additional construction.

There is also the possibility of a dramatic growth in water-related voluntourism projects over the next decade. We saw the proliferation of projects related to drinking water in Decade 1.0. But in Decade 2.0, we may see the evolution of projects designed to reduce the consumption of water for usage other than that directly affecting human beings. These may involve water capture via the construction of large tanks for fighting forest fires in Argentina or Australia, for example. Also, the possibility of initiating drip irrigation into locations that will, by sheer necessity, require water conservation in order to achieve the survival of crops in a given region.

Concluding Thought

Though this is certainly not a complete list of what we can anticipate in the decade ahead, it does introduce the potential impact that global climate change may have on the existing voluntourism products and services presently being created and offered around the world.

Will there be a move to more domestic-based experiences? 

It is a question worth exploring. Quite possibly, those who look upon the transportation aspects of travel as contributing to global climate change will set their sights on 'traveling local.' This will open doors to an entirely new stream of development of voluntourism products & services in places we have traditionally called the 'developed world,' yet have, to this point, not considered as viable options because of their seeming lack of appeal amongst voluntourists. Rural CDCs, like the ones in Alaska and Maine, may then be able to offset the challenges of introducing 'tourism' to their constituents in the form of 'VolunTourism,' while attracting visitors via a low-cost, low-climactic-impact alternative - a balance that may prove acceptable to all parties.

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