Main image of article: Interview : Yann Arthus-Bertrand for Vialala.

Interview : Yann Arthus-Bertrand for Vialala.

yann arthus bertrand

Interview: travel after Covid-19 and the rise of environmental awareness

What an honor! Yann Arthus-Bertrand, the eco-friendly globetrotter who has been alerting us for over 20 years on the fragility of the planet, gave Vialala an exclusive interview as part of the promotion of his new film: "Legacy" (broadcasted on French national TV channel M6 and M6 Replay). The subject of the interview? The future of traveling. Obvious in these special circumstances...

In "Legacy", you mention the Earth Summit in Rio (1992) as the starting point of your commitment to the environment. What do you think has changed over the last 30 years? And has the pandemic accelerated or slowed down the changes you have been perceiving?

First of all, the subjects are no longer the same.  At the time, in 1992, despite the fact that the Rome Club was already 20 years old, only certain very specific topics, such as the ozone layer, had reached the ears of most people. The general public was not aware at that time of how quickly the environment was being affected by human activity.

Since then, everything has changed: the hot topics have multiplied and the most urgent ones, global warming and the decline in biodiversity, are widely known and accepted today, whereas they were not mentioned at all in the early 1990s. Among others, Al Gore's film (An Uncomfortable Truth), the IPCC reports and COP21, have all gone through these topics.

The pandemic has further accelerated this awareness by allowing us to better perceive the contradictions of the model of “growth at all costs” that endangers our planet. We stop, and yet life goes on. Awareness of the seriousness of the phenomenon is all the more pressing.  On February 1, 2021, Le Monde published a chilling article (sic) on the results of a study by Météo France on the effect of global warming in France, with very pessimistic predictions for the horizon of 2100. 4 or 5 degrees of temperature increase in France is not insignificant!

But the propensity of mankind to make everything grow and to want to constantly improve everything, this tendency to productivity so characteristic of our species, pushes us to want to go ever further in the exploitation of the planet's limited resources. Even if it is our downfall!

Let’s take a closer look at the situation of the oceans: overfishing by the Chinese, and other Asian countries, affects all the seas of the globe. As for the transport of containers, the figures are staggering. As we speak, today alone, 20 million containers are being transported between every country in the world.

People, goods and capital are constantly on the move at a very fast pace. Because growth finances everything, and we don't really have a solution to simply get out of it. It's a kind of headlong rush as a never-ending race for growth, a subject I cover extensively in the episodes of my podcast on the @Majelan application.

We have been following with great interest your work and commitment. How can we resolve the contradiction in which we all find ourselves? How can we continue to travel while combining the discovery of the wonders of the Earth with respect for the environment and the population?

Here again, Covid has been a powerful catalyst for change. Visio conferences have largely replaced business travel, and the younger generations are able to manage just about everything on video, including their own studies. The epidemic allows us to mourn the "world of before" because it has forced us to focus on the essential, on the people we love. We accept the constraints, because these constraints save lives. We all have to adapt, myself first as a director, and all of us as travellers.

But we can continue to travel, while better respecting the Earth. Obviously the miracle solution does not exist! We will have to slow down. The weekend you planned in Marrakesh to sit by a swimming pool and nothing else, is not "sustainable". One can travel close to home. You can also travel without taking a plane most of the year, and limit yourself to one tourist trip by plane a year for example, to enjoy it better. Taking a plane must be your last option, only if you can't do otherwise!

Let us place ourselves on the scale of our continent, Europe: the train is clearly to be privileged for all the routes. But going by train to Lisbon in 2021 is 30 hours. It is absolutely necessary to improve infrastructures because it is possible to do it much faster. During the COP 2018, I suggested the idea of chartering a train to take the whole French delegation to Katowice (Poland), but it was impossible to organize according to the government. It is absolutely necessary to accelerate the development of a cleaner form of mobility. Favouring night trains instead of certain short flights is another simple solution, but people don’t use it.

In any case, we must stop confusing vacations with travel. Travel involves a discovery process that is totally absent from certain types of vacation; once again, no need to go to Tahiti to stick to a deckchair for a few days.

We take it for granted to travel without thinking, whereas multiplying express trips, as we have all done in the past, does not always mean we are travelling.

To travel better is not only to take better advantage of rarer distant journeys: it is probably to consider the journey in a different way, returning to the almost initiatory approach of the traveller, who makes the road a part of his trip. The so-called "off the beaten track" trips, which are more immersive and respectful of the environment and are already a real step forward, as are eco-responsible trips.

And thanks to the revolution in L.N.G. (Liquefied Natural Gas) propulsion, which nowadays concerns primarily the transport of goods, it will take very little time to cross the Atlantic on clean boats. We can imagine that one day soon, it will be possible to get a taste for boat travel again; just like before, when we used to spend time crossing the Atlantic, but still much faster than before! For any real trip, the way you get there is important: "There's no way to happiness, happiness is the way".

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