In our daily urban lives is very easy to forget how our entire existence is linked to our climate, and how every drop of rain of ray of sunshine are part of a complex system of interconnected phenomena. And there is nothing like a short trip to the untamed nature to remind ourselves how fragile our perceived greatness is.
Regardless of how accessible travelling has become and how many films and tv shows feature them, it remains extremely humbling to stand in front of landscapes that existed thousands of years before us. Yet, due to our extensive use of fossil fuels, constant expansion, and intensive exploitation of natural resources we have managed to disrupt many ecosystems during our comparatively short time on the planet. Human-made global warming can trigger or exacerbate a number of processes such a desertification, mass extinction, and many more, the most emblematic being the retreat of glaciers.
Iceland, despite its small population and excellent track record in sustainability, is not immune to the effects of global warming. Vatnajökull is Iceland's and Europe's largest ice cap, covering about 8% of the country's surface, and it has retreated about 1000 sq. km since the 1890s. In the meantime, the Ok ice cap in the west has lost its status of glacier and is about to disappear completely. Iceland has also seen then number of foreign visitors skyrocket since 2015, reaching over 2.2 million in 2018 (compared to a population of about 340,000), which means additional strain on the country's environment and resources.
Tourism can have positive effects, such as boosting economies and promoting conservation, and yet remains a fundamentally non-sustainable activity, that people engage with for selfish, personal reasons. On the other hand, travelling and the curiosity towards different cultures and places are undeniably part of the human experience and teach us empathy and allow us to open our minds.
Even if travelling can't be inherently sustainable, it can be conscious. We should embark with a greater goal than bringing back a few fire selfies and add another flag emoji to add to our online bios. In my case, I always try to share what I learned when I come back, and to use my photography to inspire others to understand, respect, and protect the environment and the people who live in it.