LoST in landscapes – thoughts on sustainability and slow travel

LoST in landscapes – thoughts on sustainability and slow travel

I recently put a post up (available here) where I make some points about the importance of taking landscapes as a basis for thinking about sustainable futures.

In that post, I’ve highlighted the following:

  • thinking about landscapes actually integrates our thinking and understanding
  • the foundations of landscapes are ecosystems
  • landscapes let us understand the intersection of human values/activities and ecological processes
  • this in turn means that a mosaic of uses, values and ecosystems is important to sustainable futures
  • by understanding this, we actually understand more about the complexities of sustainable futures and our roles in supporting them.

But what does this mean for LoST? If our aim’s to support sustainable futures through local slow travel, how does thinking of landscapes help this?

Let’s look at three very important points and ideas.

The travel gaze and the landscape

How much of our time when traveling is focused on single things?  The people, the rice field, the handcrafts, the civilisational markers, the ‘whatever’? We don’t want to become too accustomed to experiencing our travels with a gaze that’s too focused on single parts of very complex relationships.  For example, the national park we visit may well come at a cost to local people living nearby who have to deal with the impacts of wildlife on their crops and therefore their income. So our engagement with the national park is one thing, but to more fully understand the national park in the landscape means we need to change the gaze.

If our gaze takes us to the park and not beyond, we see areas of natural beauty, areas of conservation (perhaps even of endangered species such as the tiger).  But our gaze doesn’t reach out to the people who inhabit the landscape, to understanding the politics of it all and to figuring out how we should and shouldn’t engage with this if our interest is in sustainable futures through LoST.

So we need to widen the gaze, to get beyond the singular and engage with the multiple. Through this, we can more fully understand the landscape and its people.

Engaging through landscapes

With this, engagement becomes a central part of our travel. This engagement is with both the landscape and its people.

Landscapes are complex things and by engaging we not only begin to understand the complexities, but we more fully understand the extent these complexities are or are not brought into policy making, tourism management, local development, wildlife and protected area management and so on.  Importantly, we also see how we, as engaged travellers and as engaged concerned citizens, are able to become social actors for sustainable futures.


Building the constituency for sustainable futures

The important things about changing the gaze and engaging within and via the landscape is that you get a greater understanding of landscapes, the people who inhabit them and the kinds of environmental challenges they face.  Importantly you get a sense of the social actors who are in these landscapes, their strengths, their own challenges and their own possibilities.

Social change to sustainable futures rarely happens in isolation from broader processes, broader voices and broader advocates.  For me, one of the really important parts of all this is the way we as travellers become advocates – a constituency for sustainable futures not only of the landscapes within which we’ve travelled, but landscapes, local people and actions for change more generally.

This doesn’t mean we all go out and join protests or whatever.  We have to figure our own paths for this.  Mine, for example, is working with international conservation agencies on this, particularly those with a political reach and which recognise the importance of the socio-economic, cultural and political components to sustainable futures.  Through this I bring my ideas, my experiences and my values which have been developed over 20 years working in the field to this blog and to other professional activities.

But it does mean that we all can become constituents, in our own ways, to the landscapes and people we have visited, or to landscapes and people more generally.  Perhaps the more important thing is that, from engaging with landscapes and their people, we also engage with ourselves, with a common humanity and with a common concern of ensuring this amazing place is protected for generations to come.