I have a confession to make: I love to travel. I’ve travelled professionally for most of my adult life, and I’ve loved every minute of it – well, almost every minute.
That may not seem like much of a confession. But with global warming and in particular the effects of air travel on the atmosphere such a hot topic these days, I can’t help but increasingly engage in a certain amount of guilty navel gazing, fretting about my own personal contribution to the growing environmental tragedy. I’m sure I’m not alone.
A globe-trotting life
But why should I feel more guilt than anyone else? Well, as a professional travel photographer over the years I have racked up quite a number of air miles, touring around the globe, photographing a host of the world’s great locations, from Mt Everest to Tower Bridge, from the casinos of Las Vegas to the volcanoes of Iceland and the Philippines.
Over the past 30 years my work has fuelled quite a number of very well known guide books and magazines, enticing readers to go see for themselves. It has all been hugely enjoyable and fulfilling, but now I’m left questioning my own contribution to a developing catastrophe. It’s not just my own mileage that’s of concern, but my own small part in enticing all those readers to start travelling.
Perhaps I’m just paranoid, suffering from an delusional opinion of my own possible impact. After all, I’m just one of many such photographers (really very, very many these days), and I have never forced anyone onto an airplane. At least, that’s how I console myself. Paranoid or not, in recent years I have taken a few steps to redress my own perceived imbalance, producing a number of books that showcase the beauty and interest that is right on our own doorstep here in southwest England (Wild Southwest, Beautiful Devon and Beautiful Cornwall), requiring no great travel effort to reach (at least not by us that live here anyway!), and I shall continue to make this my contribution to promoting the ‘staycation’.
Travel and broadening the mind
But even if we agree that international travel – at least by air – needs to be curtailed, there is another side to all this that mitigates hugely in favour of travel. It has long been said that travel broadens the mind, and in general it is absolutely true. Admittedly, the type of travel that limits movements to those between restaurant and poolside sunbed are likely to rather restrict the level of cultural experience. However, for anyone willing to throw themselves out into the local streets, cafes, transport and – dare I say it – language, the mind-broadening effects can be massive, meteoric and sometimes both slightly unsettling and spectacularly exciting. I speak from my own experience.
So, before we all give up travelling, just imagine the possible effects of us all retreating back into our borders. After all, it’s not that long ago that our ancestors rather believed that the people of certain countries had two heads and a forked tail. Travel and communication have gone a long way to integrating us all, showing us everyone’s humanity and equality no matter what corner of the globe we live in. A return to isolationism – by whatever cause – would be no friend to continuing that process, and could end up having some very negative consequences for mutual understanding, respect and peace.
Perhaps, then, we should continue travelling, though with more selectiveness and care, travelling in a way that makes the journey longer and itself every bit as much a part of the experience, rather than something to be endured and finished as quickly as possible. Easier said than done, I appreciate. We can’t all get on a yacht every time we want to travel abroad, not matter how much more environmentally friendly it might be.
Travelling into the future
As for myself and my photography, well with travel having been so central to much of my adult life, I suspect that only old age will eventually stop me. I shall continue to develop my local projects to help promote the joys of exploring one’s home area, but by the same token I won’t be giving up entirely on some of those long distance projects. My most recent was to produce a book that showcases the incredible biodiversity of the Philippines and the work that’s going on to protect it (Wild Philippines), a hugely under-reported and yet vital area of conservation.
Hopefully, I’ll get to do a few more of those. Meanwhile, I’m guiltily looking forward to an imminent holiday in …… the Maldives. Ah, yes, one of the countries at most immediate risk from global warming and rising sea levels. I can’t think of any excuses for this one, so I’ll just blame the wife. I’ll console myself with the photography I’ll get to do of the islands’ magnificent marine life, capturing it on my camera’s sensor before it all gets killed off. Someone has to do it. Greta Thunberg is going to have a fit.
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