Comment: Are Adventures Destroying the Planet?

Fresh air. Big skies. Mountain tops. Epic storms. Endless views. That’s what does it for me. Those big breath, deep sigh, wow moments. Those tiny pieces of time when you feel grounded and lifted and massive and minuscule all simultaneously. When you feel completely immersed and in awe of the world around you. When you feel really connected.

Humanity is complexly interwoven into many of the earth’s ecosystems. And yet, so often, we live as though we exist separately to the rest of nature. Many of us do not recognise how heavily we rely on so many other beings and organisms and processes.

I believe that this lack of ‘nature connection’ that we have, this barrier that we’ve created between ‘us’ and nature, is one of the main reasons for the environmental issues we see today. We justify cutting down rainforests because we don’t feel the bond between us and those trees. We don’t care about releasing vast amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere because we don’t understand that our own habitat is endangered by doing so.

And so how do we change that? That’s a question I’ve been asking myself for a while. How do we get more people to care about the Earth?

I think it’s about establishing that nature connection inside of us.

I think it’s about getting more people outside.

I love the outdoors, and I’ve realised that the reason I care about this world is because I’ve been privileged enough to explore it. I’ve looked out across mountain tops, I’ve been caught in storms out at sea and I’ve stood in silence in giant forests, staring at the deep night sky. I’ve been lucky enough to experience those moments of humility - when I’ve realised that I’m a tiny human being on a massive planet. When I’ve felt that nature is all around me and part of me too. It’s those kind of experiences that give you a deeper respect for our planetary home.

So in order to stop climate change and restore our ecosystems, we just need to get people outside? Seems easy enough right? There’s plenty of stuff to do. But the thing that I’ve been wondering about recently, is: are some adventures, experiences and outdoor pursuits better than others? Or is it just important to be getting people out there, into the thick of it?

I currently work in the winter sports industry. When you get to the top of mountains, the views are often incredible and you can have breathtaking ‘wow’ moments several times a day. But the cost incurred in getting people up to that summit is high. Heavy infrastructure and machinery is required to build chairlifts in ski resorts. Lots of equipment is needed. Clothing too. Sometimes people buy all this ‘stuff’ just for one week of skiing and then never use it again: creating a vast amount of wasted resources.

Some other adventure sports are similar. Anything which involves engines is obviously contributing to climate change: jetskiing, 4x4 off-roading, wakeboarding. Mountain bike trails speed up the degradation of hill slopes. Golf courses absolutely decimate ecosystems. The sheer amount of equipment that you ‘need’ to buy and which then sits unused in garden sheds is itself an environmental disaster. And what about modern day explorers? Getting dropped into remote locations by helicopter. Or using skidoos to cover vast expanses of Arctic terrain. All of these activities have environmental impacts which we often don’t account for, or which we choose to ignore in the chase for beauty and adrenaline.

Sometimes we’re all so busy working that we have to ‘cram’ our adventures into tiny time periods. We fly halfway across the world for a week long hike in the Nepalese foothills or a scuba diving adventure in the Mexican cenotes. We want the thrill of exploring and the rush of adrenaline, but at what environmental cost do these holiday adventures come?

So I’m conflicted. Is any outdoor adventure better than none? Or should we be steering people towards more local, eco-friendly activities? Does that make adventure less exciting? Will it still create those ‘wow’ moments which turn adventurers into environmentalists?

Maybe controversial, but I think they will. I think adventure can be found everywhere and ‘wow’ moments come when you take a moment to look around you and revel in the natural world. Overnight camping microadventures an hour down the road; a frosty Sunday morning hike up that hill in the next village along; jumping in the sea in the winter; a long weekend kayak trip along the Scottish coast. None of them will make the next Lonely Planet Top10 worldwide adventures list, but I’m sure all of them would contain a breathtaking moment or two.

Let’s get outside. Let’s reconnect with nature. Adventures are out there. And they don’t have to cost the earth.

Written by Bex Dawkes - a British born adventurer, with a love for sustainability and the natural world. Currently based in British Columbia, she spends her spare moments on a snowboard, a bike, a boat or telling stories around campfires. Follow her on Instagram @thebexplorer.