Questions of climate change press heavier on me than ever before, surely enhanced by my experience of cycling the length of Australia’s longest river, the Murray, last year. The river starts in the Australian Alps and runs roughly west / northwest to Adelaide. Long droughts, less rainfall, higher temperatures and increased salinity are leaving ecosystems in the river basin there very damaged and fragile. Whilst Aboriginal wisdom would move man to water, modern-day life moves water to man via vast pipelines: from a near-desert to a desert, from one river to another: extreme manipulation to support short-term economics or lifestyle. Water-hungry crops like cotton and citrus fruit are grown in abundance in this land that struggles for water. Water costs more than wine, even though it takes 1000 litres of water to produce 1 litre of wine. On and on the facts go; facts that scream out: the way we are living is UNSUSTAINABLE.
This week I had the privilege of talking about my journey with the Murray River at the Royal Geographical Society in London. I spoke alongside investigative journalist Katie Arnold, who told a not dissimilar story of the Naryn River in Kyrgyzstan. She showed images of lakes completely dried up, and spoke of the climate refugees who have had to move to Russia in search of a sustainable means to make a living.
Cycling is my passion – which sounds eco-friendly, but….! Since I became a full-time athlete I have flown more than ever in my life: to training venues, international races and Paralympic Games. My current project to cycle on 7 continents has also seen me catch a few long-haul flights, but has really opened my awareness to our changing planet, particularly how water is becoming the new oil, or liquid gold.
I’ve been asking myself for a while what I can do to reduce my own impact, and so I’m excited to embark on a journey to consider and learn how. Travel less is one obvious answer, but the hard facts are that we have become a global society. I live in the north of Scotland, train in Spain, have a Spanish boyfriend, family spread across England, and friends spread around the world. This is a typical scenario for many people. How do we stay connected to our loved ones? How do we refresh and nurture our bodies starved of Vitamin D through long hard northern winters without hopping on a flight to warmer climes? How do we make a living in a society that expects us to be everywhere, at a meeting or a conference anywhere in the world? I don’t have any answers, and I’m a little scared about how to change: but I’m also scared of watching beautiful places on our planet slowly get dirtier, drier, and more abused. Nature is powerful. It heals us. If we don’t help protect it, we are only hurting ourselves.
I am not an eco-warrior. I am a regular person, living a slightly irregular life, and I’m wondering what I can do to help stop making things worse.
I’m excited to have the opportunity to work with Responsible Travel on their Tourism Manifesto. The Manifesto looks at various ‘chapters’, or aspects of responsible travel and tourism. I will be learning from them, sharing ideas, and writing blog posts about the topic. If you’re interested, have a watch of this video
Or try this documentary about overtourism, before you book your next mass package escape….