The Galapagos Islands are the Pacific island paradise where Darwin’s theory of evolution was born. It is a place filled with iguanas the size of small Fords, sandy beaches, and tropical flora. Now it will be famous for one more thing: the world’s first green airport.
The archipelago off the coast of Ecuador has recently contracted Argentine Corporaci√≥n America to manage the redevelopment of the airport on the island of Baltra, an estimated US$ 20 million project to be completed in 2009. Several highlights of the new development are the utilization of wind and solar energy, passive heating and cooling systems, as well as concrete tarmacs as opposed to asphalt, which are claimed to have a greater carbon footprint during its production cycle. (Note: links appear in Spanish)
This new development couldn’t be coming at a better time for the Gal√°pagos archipelago, which last year was added to Unesco’s environmental “danger list.” For Pacific islands like the Gal√°pagos, Easter Island, or Tahiti, economies are driven almost completely by tourism. However, people like Dr. Graham Watkins, executive director of Charles Darwin Foundation, think these are “unsustainable models of development.”
According to an article in the New York Times earlier this year, the number of visitors to the Gal√°pagos rose more than 250% from 1990 to 2006, while the number of commercial flights to the area has risen 193% from 2001 to 2006. As the Gal√°pagos’ popularity as a tourist destination increases, these types of rises impose serious strains on its resources and environment. The new green airport will allow the archipelago to be more efficient and self-sustaining with the amount of resources it consumes to accommodate such high numbers of visitors.
Air travel has often been reviled for its unsustainability, though recently practices like carbon offsetting have sought to reduce the overall environmental impact of the industry. The greening of airports is yet another one of those attempts. Nearly two years ago, Boston’s Logan airport received LEED-certification for its use of low-flow faucets, waterless toilets, and energy saving features.
However, there are also those who view carbon offsetting and the greening of airports as small band-aids on much larger wounds. The new redevelopment plan of Baltra airport also accounts for a 6,000 sq. meter increase that would allow the airport – and ultimately the archipelago – to receive approximately 450,00 visitors a year. That’s nearly triple the amount of people that visited it in 2006. Coming back to Watkin’s unsustainable model, some might criticize the new airport as a greenwash to make the archipelago more Disneyland-like than it already is, a characterization that Johannah Barry, the president of the Galapagos Conservancy, made in the previous New York Times article. And more Disneyfying, to critics, would only mean a continued hyper-consumption of resources and the further degradation of the “Mona Lisa of natural places in the world.”
What do you think? Will the new green airport serve as an example for more environmentally conscious development throughout the world? Or, in as much as it will have a smaller carbon footprint, will it also accelerate a downward spiral that we are moving on with our relationship with nature and the environment?