Confronting the reality of paradox in sustainable tourism
Sustainable Tourism is a ubiquitous term that has accumulated considerable attention and controversy from researchers, policy makers and practitioners. The concept of sustainable tourism emerged in the late 1980s through the assimilation of the sustainable development and tourism development paradigms in the wake of the seminal Brundtland Report (Welford et al. 1999). A growing mainstream awareness of human influences on ecological processes and a realisation that functioning natural systems are needed to support human life contributed to the perceived need for sustainable development. How this awareness and concern should be applied in practice has been a subject of often heated and ongoing local, national and global debate. Not surprisingly, the adoption of sustainable development ideology into the field of tourism also stimulated a multitude of conflicting ideas and perspectives (Hunter 2002). The idea that human activity can impact on the natural systems and subsequently threaten human prosperity, and even survival, has a long scholarly history. For example, Hans Carl von Carlowitz (1713) wrote about sustainable forestry practices in Germany as a means for continuation of the resource and the survival of local communities. Carlowitz was in turn drawing on the principles of silviculture dating from the sixteenth century (Hasel and Schwartz 2006; Müller 1992). Modern recognition of a need for sustainable living, though without explicitly using this rhetorical frame of reference, gained prominence in mainstream thinking during the 1960s and 1970s. This growing popular awareness was exemplified by publications such as Carson’s (1963) Silent Spring and Erhlich and Erhlich’s (1968) The Population Bomb, both which became best sellers. The Erhlichs’ book was derivative of arguments made almost two centuries earlier by Malthus (1798) on the limited capacity of society to feed a continually growing population. The Erhlichs and Malthus were writing in historical periods of significant social and political change, and Malthus’ work was ground-breaking for his time. However, The Population Bomb had the advantage of international mass print production, international mass media and a generally higher level of education amongst the wider population, arguably making the Erhlichs’ book more readily accessible. The general rediscovery of a need for sustainable development coincided with social and political pressure to take action, especially in the face of high profile environmental disasters publicised
by that same international mass media. Infamous environmental ‘firsts’ of that era included the grounding of the oil tanker Torrey Canyon off the UK in 1967, the Three Mile Island partial nuclear meltdown in 1979 and the Union Carbide chemical disaster in Bhopal, India, in 1984. Institutional recognition of a need for sustainable development manifested in reports such as The Limit to Growth, released by the Club of Rome in 1972. This landmark report recognised that natural resources are limited and overexploitation could have very serious consequences for human society (Meadows et al. 1972). In 1983, the United Nations convened the World Commission on Environment and Development to consider the issues associated with long term economic and social development and its relationship with natural resources. A subsequent report set out to define the parameters of sustainable development (Brundtland 1987), fuelling a considerable amount of debate. Subsequent United Nations sponsored conferences on environment and development through the 1990s and 2000s have attempted, with limited success, to clarify and obtain agreement on how sustainable development translates into policy and practice. The on-going debate about the meaning and application of sustainable development is a product of both ideology and practicality, that is, where the emphasis should be placed with regard to economic, social and environmental imperatives (Hunter 2002).