James Ruggia | December 18, 2015 12:00 PM ET
Friday Flashback: UNESCO and Greenpeace, A Study in Contrast
Editor’s note: TravelPulse features an editorial column from one of our editors on a rotating daily basis. Destinations Editor James Ruggia has traditionally held the Friday spot, making it his own and sharing his views as someone who has seen nearly every point on the globe and has a story to tell about them all. With our friend Jim being under the weather, we wanted to keep his Friday spot warm for him by bringing you this Dec. 19, 2014 column, written in the wake of Greenpeace’s desecration of the famed Nazca Lines. We wish our friend the best for a speedy recovery and can’t wait to hear the next story from his travels.
An unprecedented clash of big name conservation organizations is happening in Peru, as UNESCO and Greenpeace sort out the desecration of the UNESCO-listed Nazca Lines by moronic Greenpeace zealots who basically drew over part of the mysterious 1,500 year old images to put up a slogan, “Time for Change! The Future is Renewable. Greenpeace.”
According to experts the damage done by these sanctimonious vandals may not be renewable. To paraphrase the Bard, “We thinks they did protest too much.” The story underscores the tactical contrast of two conservation organizations that are pursuing very similar strategic goals. The Greenpeace approach has been confrontational, while UNESCO has coaxed and cajoled through education, promotion and in praising the treasures on its World Heritage List.
I, for one, appreciate both organizations. Greenpeace has been way out in front in fighting climate change, defending wildlife, resisting the spread of nuclear weapons, challenging whalers and dragnet fisherman. Sometimes confrontation is necessary and Greenpeace has been willing to do it, sometimes at great risk.
The problem with confrontation is that it engenders a romance of daring-do that leads to the protesters seeing their heroic acts of defiance as the point of the story or as Bob Dylan put it, “romantic acts of musketeers foundationed deep somehow, ah but I was so much older than. I’m younger than that now.”
On the other hand there’s the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), which has raised awareness of environmental and cultural heritage with a very enlightened approach that somehow manages to make people, wherever they’re from, think of these treasures as belonging to all of us. That is an incredible achievement.
UNESCO affirms what it would protect by establishing a well spring of appreciation for its sites. There’s a real cache that comes with membership on the list and there’s no question that being listed increases traveler interest. That’s why the German National Tourism Office made Germany’s 38 World Heritage Sites the main focus of its international marketing this past year.
The UNESCO World Heritage list came into being in 1972 and has grown incrementally ever since. UNESCO meets annually to consider new additions as well as expulsions from the list. As of now there are 1,007 World Heritage Sites from 161 countries. The sites are broken down into Cultural (976 sites), Natural (197 sites) and Mixed (31 sites).
From Feb. 4 to 6, the UNWTO/UNESCO will host the first World Conference on Tourism and Culture in Siem Reap, Cambodia, just outside of UNESCO-listed Angkor Wat. The conference hopes to bring together ministers of tourism and ministers of culture as well as experts and stakeholders to explore new models of partnership between tourism and culture. With its hordes of tourists on the one hand and its clear majestic significance to world culture on the other, Angkor Wat will give the conversations a clear example of what’s at stake.
While Angkor Wat demonstrates how a recognized monument can attract the sort of tourism that can lift a country’s economic fortunes and social development, it also demonstrates how unmanaged tourism can damage a historic treasure.
Damage comes to these sites in many forms. We all remember when the Taliban celebrated their victory in Afghanistan by destroying the Giant Buddhas of Bamiyan in 2001. Last year the destruction of certain prehistoric ruins in Malaysia’s Bujang Valley by a land developer got less attention but was equally savage.
I don’t believe the Greenpeace activists meant to damage the Nazca site. Their zeal probably blinded them in their excitement to make a point in a place that draws so much attention from tourists and others. Since the incident occurred, Greenpeace has been saying and doing all of the right things. Now they should learn from UNESCO. UNESCO has encouraged all of us to think about the world’s best treasures as something we’re all collectively responsible for, whether they are in our own countries or not.
Greenpeace should think about that.
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