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The Promise of Ecotourism

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Tourism plays a major role in economic growth for countries with wildlife and scenic landscapes. In Kenya, tourism contributes significantly to economic growth, surpassed only by agriculture. Sadly, both tourism and agriculture are very vulnerable to climate change. If action is not taken in time, drought, floods, diseases and other climate change–related disasters will kill both sectors and ultimately Kenya’s economy.

During our Excursion, Ecotourism & Field Studies activities, we witness firsthand the ravaging impacts of climate change: the melting snows of Mount Kenya; the dying Yala swamp; the receding Lake Victoria; increased prevalence of malaria; the rapidly declining populations of lions, Grévy’s zebras and ostriches in the African savannah; and submerging islands along the coast, among other degraded lands and lost ecosystems.

The tourism sector is partly responsible for climate change because of the emission of greenhouse gases caused by the burning of fossil fuels during travel and the destruction of forests for luxurious tourist hotels that rely on unsustainable energy. Often tourism also generates waste that ends up in landfills and pollutes oceans with water-related tourist activities.

However, there is a solution: Ecotourism.

Ecotourism is responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.

Ecotourism offers a perfect opportunity to create environmental awareness, change people’s attitudes toward the environment, educate and sensitize people about environmental issues like climate change, and inspire them to take action.

Some of the lessons relevant to climate change mitigation and adaptation in the tourism sector we share with learners and clients in the field include:

1. Energy conservation: Adopting clean energy in tourist facilities — for example, solar, biogas and energy-saving stoves for cooking, lighting and warming bath water — and switching off lights when not in use help to mitigate climate change.

2. Waste management: Kitchens and restaurants generate a lot of waste. Such waste in landfills generates the greenhouse gases responsible for global warming. Organic waste can be converted to compost or used in biogas digesters to generate energy.

3. Sustainable agriculture: Kitchen gardens next to tourist facilities can absorb composted kitchen waste, supply vegetables and promote organic farming.

4. Water conservation: Closing taps when not in use and installation of press-only taps help minimize waste of water. Water harvesting and storage should be a priority.

5. Protection and management of water catchment areas: Using forests and wetlands, through tree planting, reforestation and rehabilitation, helps ensure water availability as well as increases absorption and storage of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

6. Poverty reduction: To curb poverty-induced activities such as charcoal burning and deforestation, proceeds from tourism should be invested in community development.

7. Respect for indigenous cultures: Some traditional beliefs and practices such as totemism contribute toward protection of nature, for example indigenous tree species that play an important role in overall carbon sequestration.

8. Sustainable land use practices: Promote agroforestry and reliance on nonwood forest products such as honey, fruits, fibres, resins, gums and essential oils control loss of forest cover.

9. Pollution: Use of sustainable transport curbs emission of greenhouse gases during transportation of tourists.

These practices can be replicated at home, school and other areas. Ecotourism can therefore be a solution to climate change and a dozen other environmental challenges.

The article was first published on Young African Leaders Initiative Network website.

Why Kenya Environmental Education Network?

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Kenya is faced with a myriad of environmental challenges that range from pollution, global warming, climate change, deforestation, desertification, land degradation, poaching, loss of biodiversity, poor sanitation e.t.c to mention but a few. These challenges are largely anthropogenic. They arise as a result of unrestrained human activities on the environment and threaten our very own existence.

Addressing these challenges and preventing new ones from occurring requires an approach that aims at changing how humans interact with the natural environment. This approach must encompass change of attitude and behaviour towards the environment, knowledge and deep understanding of the environment, its associated problems and mitigation measures and must move beyond awareness and appreciation to stewardship and practical action.

Humans must adopt a new set of sustainable lifestyle and values to make the earth a sustainable and habitable place.This radical shift requires active dissemination of environmental information and mobilization of citizens to play an active role in environmental problem solving through a robust environmental education program that inspires action.

The goal of environmental education as envisaged in Belgrade Charter, 1976, is to develop a world population that is aware of, and concerned about, the environment and its associated problems, and which has the knowledge, skills, attitudes, motivations, and commitment to work individually and collectively toward solutions of current problems and prevention of new ones.

Even though various recommendations have been put forward to implement and strengthen environmental education across the globe, environmental education in Kenya is still at a nascent stage and growing at a slow pace. This can be attributed to shortage of trained and experienced personnel and professionals in the field, inadequate resources, inadequate collaboration among stakeholders and to some extent the overloaded and examination oriented curriculum in learning institutions among other challenges. It is for this reason that Kenya Environmental Education Network has been established.

Kenya Environmental Education Network aims to work strategically and collaboratively towards advancement of action-oriented environmental learning in Kenya in order to enhance environmental literacy and ensure that Kenyans are actively engaged in environmental stewardship and contributing to a healthy and sustainable future.

At Kenya Environmental Education Network, we believe that for active and meaningful environmental learning and action, both in school and over a lifetime, critical and creative thinking, decision making, communication, as well as collaborative, participatory and experiential learning are essential and must be emphasized.

Kenya Environmental Education Network supports and advocates for radical shift from environmental awareness and appreciation to stewardship and action; to promote practical environmental management and conservation in Kenya.