Boulder, not unlike other college towns, is filled with people on the go. Researchers from our town are constantly trekking to all corners of the Earth. Others travel for pleasure — desiring to get away from it all by going on vacation to an idyllic spot — and people from everywhere visit Boulder.
During a recent trip to Bangkok, Thailand, I looked for books on the environmental situation in Thailand. I found that searching in Bangkok bookstores for books on the environmental situation in Southeast Asia is like looking for water in a desert. It may be there, somewhere, in an oasis or deep underground, but it is not on the surface or easily found.
During this search for popular environmental publications, I was attracted to a unique travel book — the first I've ever seen on the Antarctic! Fascinated by the fact that such a travel book existed and by the fact that I would come across it in a Bangkok bookstore, I looked through it. In addition to the usual travel information about what to wear, how to get there, and what sites to visit, the book contained sections on environmental problems and on scientific research in The Antarctic. What a great idea ... a travel guide that serves not only the interests of tourists who want to visit exotic cultural and natural sites but also the more adventuresome or curious tourists who want to know everything about the places they have always dreamed of visiting, warts and all.
I thought about how interesting it might be to have information about Thailand's environmental situation. When people first glimpse Thailand, it is usually in a tourist brochure that pictures beautiful statues of religious icons, exotic architecture, pristine waterways (klongs) in Bangkok, or perhaps lush agricultural fields contouring the mountain slopes.
However, the real environmental situation in Bangkok, for example, serves as a rude awakening. The streets are full of trash, and beggars tug at your heartstrings and your wallet. Air pollution is as thick as pea soup at midday. In fact, many motorcycle taxi drivers and tuk tuk drivers wear masks in an attempt to filter out pollutants. Traffic is often gridlocked, and there seems to be little that city planners can or want to do about it.
A few years ago, I had proposed to oversee for a publisher a series of travel books for tourists who might want to visit areas facing environmental crises. These areas could vary from the rainforests in the Brazilian state of Rondonia or deforestation in the African country of Gabon, to the site of the worst-known nuclear accident in Chernobyl (in the former Soviet Union).
There is a risk in publishing such books. A travel guide book that discusses environmental problems could discourage potential tourists from visiting that "dream" vacation spot. But, is a tourist better served by not knowing about the real environmental conditions they will face when they travel? Or, is a tourist better served by knowing what to expect with regard to the environmental realities of their dream spots?
Personally, I think such information inserted into travel guides, such as what I found in the "Lonely Planet Travel Survival Kit: Antarctica," would not only make us better tourists but would also make us better citizens of the world.