The Value of Diversity and Inclusion in Ecotourism

“Climate Action” is the thirteenth of the United Nations’ seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Climate action via implementation of the Paris Agreement is critical to the success of climate change mitigation, adaptation, and achieving other related SDGs. The voluntary nature of the of the Paris Agreement needs national cooperation between the public sector, private sector, and civil society. The for-profit nature of the private sector and its contrast with the goals of the public sector make it difficult to come to consensus on environmental regulations.

The lowest common (and most influential) denominator between both sectors is its constituents – us, the public. For the public and private sectors to engage in climate action, they must engage with what constituents view as critical issues. Rather than top-down regulatory measures, we must instead focus on a bottom-up approach that identifies issue linkages between climate change and other pressing issues to catalyze effective climate action.

Ecotourism can serve as a potential call-to-action for climate change if it is open to and advertised to a broader audience–diverse in its racial and ethnic makeup, sexual orientation, political leaning, etc. Diversity and inclusion in ecotourism have the potential to allow diverse populations to experience the serenity of the environment, but also inspire conservation and climate action in their own communities, rather than only the white upper-class citizens that ecotourism traditionally appeals to. If national parks and monuments services include diversity and inclusion initiatives in their services, ecotourism has the potential to inspire widespread climate action.

Just as diversity and inclusion practices are needed in schools and in the workplace to build an infrastructure conducive to social equality, they are also needed in national parks within the United States. Environmental conservation and national parks have historically been targeted to suit predominantly white, upper-class citizens in the United States. This follows the antiquated notion that access to ‘pristine’ and ‘untouched’ nature is a luxury only meant to be enjoyed and appreciated by the upper echelons of society.

More recent research, however, states that minorities, typically thought to be dissociated from environmentalism, are actually very concerned with environmental conservation, preservation, and protection, especially the communities of color that are affected by pollution and environmental degradation. Researchers suggest that increasing environmental awareness among minorities has led racial minorities, specifically Latinos, to become more sensitive to environmental issues than their white counterparts. Communities of color in areas suffering from pollution and other forms of environmental degradation are thus united by a shared experience, leading them to unite on environmental issues.

Diversity and inclusion practices in ecotourism are critical in providing affected communities of color with the information they need to learn about means of conservation and environmental protection and to connect with other communities that may also engage in climate action and environmental protection. Thus, diversity and inclusion initiatives in national parks can strengthen and widen the base for climate action in the United States.

The Muir Woods model for ecotourism includes specific diversity and inclusion initiatives that have proven successful in uniting various communities in understanding the value of and engaging directly in climate action. Muir Woods is a national park in Northern California which was officially established in 1908 as a Redwood tree monument and reserve. The park was named after environmentalist and founder of the Sierra Club, John Muir, whose efforts helped initiate the United States national park system. Although Muir Woods did not always include diversity and inclusion practices–ranging from hiring rangers and staff of color, sexuality, etc.–today’s Muir Wood reflects California’s (and the greater United States’) population in both its park-goers and its staff.

A park ranger who goes by the name, “Ranger Hector” explained how the park follows diversity and inclusion practices which include displaying quotes from famous African American conservation leaders like Teresa Baker, Founder of the African American Nature and Parks Experience and other representatives of conservation and communities of color all over the park (Ranger Hector. Personal Interview. April 14 2017). The rangers at Muir Woods are also diverse in terms of their racial and cultural backgrounds, and sexual leanings as to represent the constituencies the park is trying to attract. The Muir Woods staff itself states that “we empower staff and visitors to challenge power structures historically rooted in this place to make Muir Woods, our communities, and our world more equitable”. Muir Woods’ staff also educate park-goers on how climate change is affecting redwood growth, putting it and other environments at risk. Their guided tours often serve as calls to action on climate change. The new Muir Woods model for ecotourism allows various communities to see the value of environmental conservation and unite them on the front of climate action as inspired by shared experiences and by rangers and park staff that inform the public about environmental degradation and climate issues.

The primary catalyst for individuals to join a cause is a sense of community. National parks can provide people with a sense of community via shared experiences to engage in climate action. Like the Muir Woods model, national park services need to include diversity and inclusion practices to appeal to a broader community of people and inform them on the value and means of conservation, preservation, and the threat of climate change. The movement for climate action needs a broader base in order to convince politicians to work towards more stringent regulations for environmental protection and promote clean energy, and for businesses to work towards more stringent corporate sustainability initiatives. If politicians and business peoples’ constituencies begin to prioritize climate action, they will too; diversity and inclusion in ecotourism is just one way to get these constituencies to prioritize it. The U.S. National Park Service is working towards diversity and inclusion in ecotourism one park at a time.


Image courtesy of Flickr. Originally published by S&S on June 26, 2018.

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