Interview with Dr. David W. Randle
Dr. David W. Randle has a unique curriculum in the world. Dr. David W. Randle is one of the co-founders of the Blue Community Consortium (https://www.bluecommunity.info/about/team-members). He is Managing Director of the Blue Community Consortium and President and CEO of the WHALE Center.
He previously served on the Board of the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC), represented the GSTC at COP26 in Glasgow Scotland, serves as Vice President of the Florida Society for Ethical Ecotourism, as well as an ambassador for Aptera, the world's first solar electric no charge vehicle.
As the world's first ordained environmental minister, Dave has successfully coordinated a national campaign to preserve water, wildlife, and wilderness areas on behalf of the Pitkin County Commissioners and served as John Denver's policy and environmental advisor and initial programme development coordinator for John Denver's Windstar Foundation.
Dr. David W. Randle was selected as one of five key witnesses for the U.S. Presidential Commission on a Peace and Conflict Resolution Academy hearings and helped lead a 150-person team to the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
During the Salt Lake Olympics, Dr. Randle worked with UNEP and URI to develop the Earth and Faith Leadership Development Programme, which was piloted in the Salt Lake City Olympic Village and received an Olympic award and a United Nations award.
Dear Dr. Randle, is the environmental situation as bad as some people say it is?
Today we face environmental challenges on many fronts that if not addressed can be tipping points for the planet. Science has identified nine planetary boundaries which if exceeded put all of us at risk. While many are aware of climate change, that is just one of the nine planetary boundaries. The other planetary boundaries include ocean acidification, loss of biodiversity, loss of fresh water, land use changes especially deforestation, overloading of phosphorous and nitrogen, in large part due to poor agricultural practices, atmospheric aerosol overloading, chemical pollution, and ozone depletion. Of these nine challenges, we are only seeing improvement in one of the nine, ozone depletion. So yes, I would say the situation is not only as bad as some say but maybe worse.
Do you think we, the inhabitants of the Earth, are aware of the reality?
For years, many in the fossil fuel industry funded large disinformation campaigns and portrayed climate change as either uncertain or a hoax. With the increased heat waves and other climate change related disasters, it had become more difficult for climate deniers to have credibility. Unfortunately the damage has been done and we have far less time for catch-up. On other planetary boundary issues I would say the awareness is much less than with climate change.
I think that you are a great believer in God, how do you understand life on the planet with the belief in a higher being?
One of my favorite theologians when I was studying the theology of ecology, was Albert Schweitzer. Schweitzer observed that all life has a will to live amidst other life with a will to live. So for Schweitzer all life, not just human life, is sacred. I would not say that I have a belief in a higher being as I do not hold an anthropomorphic idea of God. I come from the tradition of process theology where I would say I have a belief in a higher process not a higher being. My friend George Leonard, author of the silent pulse, observed that one of the things common to all cultures is music and rhythm. Nature has is own form of music and rhythm as does the larger universe. As Martin Luther King Jr. stated in one of his sermons regarding injustice, “you can’t fool the universe.” No matter how much we attempt to deny reality there is a larger process that is moving that we would be wise to be in tune with.
Dostoevsky said that "everything is permitted when man does not believe in God as his Creator and Judge". How does this statement align with respect and protection of the environment?
I think Dostoevsky has a good point to make in that often religious doctrine or belief systems get in the way of what otherwise might be obvious solutions. In many cases these religious doctrines or practices were established with some good environmental justification yet as we have gained more knowledge, understanding of science, developed new technology, etc doctrines in many religious traditions did not change with these changes, thus creating unnecessary conflict.
At the same time it is not just religion that causes this effect, it can also be political ideology, cultural norms, or traditions that do not permit needed changes as well.
This will be an increasing challenge as environmental pressures increase, we has one human family will need to increase, not decrease our ability to change.
Tourism and environment go hand in hand. What do you think are the keys to successful work with these two concepts?
Tourism is one of the largest sectors in the global economy. As a result it has the opportunity to drive change for more sustainable communities. The first key to sustainability is to realize that protection of the natural environment is key the foundation for any sustainable tourism destination. This protection must be within the limits of nine planetary boundaries. The second key to sustainability are policies and programs to protect the culture and heritage and create opportunities for health and happiness. The third key is to provide economic equity including a fair and living wage for the individual workers to make sure that the tourism industry is giving back to the community.
At present the world as a whole is using 50% more resources than the planet can sustain. If everyone lived like the average European, we would need three planet Earths of resources to sustain that lifestyle. If everyone lived like the average North American, we would need five planets of resources.
The key is to design, develop, and operate a tourism resort or destination with the equivalent of only one planets resources. This was done at the Villages Nature resort in France using the process called One Planet Living.
In your opinion, and considering the impact of the pandemic, what do you think are the keys to the awareness of today's tourists?
The pandemic has exposed many vulnerabilities to the tourism industry.
Going forward some key strategies include:
Strategies for protecting livelihoods of workers, especially underserved populations, especially women.
Develop strategies to improve community resilience
Improve use of technology that can provide work for workers as well as make tourism destinations more safe, efficient, and cost effective.
Develop more sustainable destinations and resorts that are carbon zero
Integrate the UN SDG’s into tourism planning and development
You are a man of great international experience, what do you think are the main changes in tourism in relation to the environment?
We are fortunate in that we have many best practices for sustainable tourism in the world today. We don’t need to invent new approaches as much as replicate the successful approaches already in operation today. Three examples that I have had personal involvement with include:
Villages Nature, Paris: France that has provide a model for one planet living development that can be a potential game changer for sustainable tourism.
Aulani, Hawaii: A Model for Honoring Cultural Heritage
Anna Maria Island, FL: The Chiles Hospitality Group: A Model for Sustainability and the Circular Economy
If we can get more in the tourism industry to replicate best practices like these as well as others, we will be well on our way to making major shifts toward a more sustainable planet.
What do you think of the so-called "New World Order" thinking?
The term “New World Order” has been around for a few decades now so in that sense it really isn’t new. There are many different definitions, understandings of those definitions, and priorities that people have.
One thing is clear to me, global problems need global solutions. We are not going to solve issues like climate change, biodiversity loss, and the degradation of our oceans without increased global cooperation and stricter enforcement of agreements. Our present system at the United Nations has made some great strides in all these areas but has not been able to get the job done due to limited authority.
Perhaps rather than a new world order, maybe we just need to tweak some of the governance structures and authorities at the U.N. so it can be more effective.
Do you think this thinking is related to the SDG 2030?
No, i don’t think this is related to SDG 2030 as talk of the New World Order goes back decades including a conference on the topic held by the Prime Minister of Malaysia back in 2015.
Do you think that international politicians are aware of the importance of their decisions in relation to the conservation and maintenance of the environment?
I think that many politicians have at least some awareness of the importance of their decisions. Unfortunately far to many of them seem more concerned with keeping their jobs in office than they are in making the choices necessary for the planet.
We need leadership not only with vision and knowledge but also courage.
Are university curricula prepared to raise awareness and respond to the needs of preserving natural life?
University curriculum varies significantly. For the most part I see that it does a better job in raising awareness among its students than it does in responding to the needs of preserving natural life.
I think we are past the time for research and need to move now to applied research. Yes, I know that new research will always be needed and is often helpful in new solutions. We have run out of time thoughts wait for new knowledge. We need to start applying the knowledge we already have.
What does the Blue Community Consortium offer?
The Blue Community program provides a process for communities to become more sustainable, contribute to achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, (SDG’s), and has an emphasis on coastal habitat protection, enhancement and restoration. Some of its key features or the Blue Community programs and services include a new app for assessment, planning, tracking, and evaluation, processes for creating a shared vision, more engaged community, and transforming the culture, and a companion certificate program offered through the University of Central Florida Rosen College of Hospitality Management.
In addition we have many consortium members who are leaders in their field and have developed new products, services, and practices to help make a better world. Some examples include:
Aptera - Aptera is the most efficient Solar Electric Vehicle that requires no charging for most daily use — giving you the freedom to do more with less impact on the planet. I was proud to represent them as their ambassador at COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland, last year.
Vortechs - Vortechs technology recycles 80-90% of the world’s plastic. We are currently involved with the United Nations plastic Initiative where we hope to share this technology more broadly.
Patriot Power - The world's first wireless power utility, ready to serve you. We are working to convert existing tourism resorts, and condominiums in resort communities to solar energy.
Read more about the Blue Community program at https://www.bluecommunity.info/program/programs
What is its current relationship with UNWTO?
The Blue Community Consortium is a program of the WHALE Center. The WHALE Center is an Affilate of the UNWTO, a member of the UNEP Major Stakeholders Group, has membership in the UN COP process, and holds special consultative status a the United Nations through ECOSOC.
Where is an institution like the Whale Center headed?
The WHALE Center has several programs including Global Healing created in cooperation with the United Religions Initiative and UNEP, the Waves of Change Program created in cooperation with the International Ocean Institute, the Blue Community Consortium that is a UNWTO Affiliate, and the Flagship Schooner Wolf program that provides education and support to many sustainability issues.
The WHALE Center continues to seek ways to bring best practices to light and to facilitate when possible their replication.
Do you feel that there are still political and corporate lobbies that gain from environmental degradation?
Yes, there are many corporations that seek to weaken environmental initiatives. All one needs to do is follow the money and note who shows up at places like the UN COP meetings and watch how they work to weaken or resist effective change.
What do you hope will happen so that we work in a coordinated way for nature conservation in general?
My hope is that individuals, organizations, and communities will realize that if we are going to meet the serious environmental challenges such as climate change, loss of biodiversity, and the degradation of our oceans, that we will need to develop stronger mutual cooperation and support.
Do you think that, on the principal issue of water, human beings in general, and tourists or travelers, are aware of their actions?
Some are and some are not. More important than the awareness of the tourists though is the culture that tourism destinations establish to encourage the behavior and outcomes it desires.
For example a few years ago people who would never think of littering in their normal routine, thought nothing of littering at a sporting event. This culture though is now changing where the littering is decreasing as well.
The culture we create in our tourism destinations and/or resorts will have more influence in changing behavior than awareness will. People don’t usually go on holiday to become more aware but they do like to fit in with the local place they are visiting.
Tourism, environment, and sustainability have a great weight in international debates, will it do any good?
Tourism, environment, and sustainability can be leading topics for much needed change. Whether it will or won’t is dependent in large part by the leadership in the tourism industry, the value that people express for protecting our environment, and the rapid increased and rapid adoption of sustainability by society as a whole.
Do you have faith in a better future?
No, I do not have faith in a better future. I also don’t think that we are a doomed course of disaster.
An optimist believes that everything will work out whether there is any evidence it will or not.
A pessimist believes we are doomed to failure and has no faith or hope.
I prefer to be a possiblist , one who believes change is possible and thus something all of us would do well to work for.
Let us talk about the citizens living in tourist destinations and their role in local development. What actions do you think should be taken to raise awareness among these citizens?
I have lived and worked in a tourist destination where I became one of the co-founders of a new Town that was previously run by a Tourist Resort Association. My experience was that the citizens of our new town had a better sense of the needs for the community than the Resort Association did. While the Resort Association was driven by maximizing profits, the the new down was more concerned in creating a community that would be a good place for the people who worked their to live and also creating housing so people who did work in the community could actually live in the community as well.
Local citizens can give important perspective to the tourism industry and need to be included as partners rather than treated as adversaries.
What can the TSTT do to support the important initiatives it develops?
I don’t have a good answer to this question and I would very much like to explore this question more with TSTT.
One point to start the discussion might be to see how we might collaborate with the new App we have developed to assist tourist destinations in better assessing, planning, implementing, managing, and evaluating their sustainable tourism programs.
Finally, please have a personalized message for all the readers and professionals registered in the Tourism and Society Think Tank?
In one of our WHALE Center programs we say that there can be no peace without justice and no justice without sustainability. All three are connected and I look forward to working with others in the TSTT network to make a better world where peace, justice, and sustainability are more the norm than the exception.