Criticized for their lack of ecological awareness, more and more influencers are taking the measure of their responsibilities and use their aura to raise awareness about sustainable development issues. This is the case of Anthony Verlaine. Portrait of this committed explorer-influencer.
Anthony Verlaine’s first adventures were in the difficult neighborhoods of Grenoble, where he grew up.
” I think my passion for travel came from a frustration. The frustration of living in Grenoble, surrounded by the mountains, but not being able to go there for lack of means”.
So to compensate, the young adventurer climbs buildings, climbs trees… and spends a lot of time in front of the TV, dreaming in front of Nicolas Hulot and Commandant Cousteau documentaries. When asked what job he wants to do later on, the answer worries his relatives: “Nicolas Hulot”.
“I had this chance to realize pretty early on that I wouldn’t be making my trips around the world selling drugs. In my senior year, there was one too many homicides among my acquaintances. So, a few months before graduation, I started working on the most difficult studies that would allow me to travel: international relations, diplomacy, political science, geopolitics. I was admitted thanks to a merit-based scholarship and I went to study in Canada, Paris and the United States”.
This opportunity enabled Anthony Verlaine to specialize in issues important to him: discrimination against minorities and environmental geopolitics. He completed with a thesis on water conflicts in Las Vegas. In short, it is the revenge of an adventurer who was able to cross social boundaries (PASCALI P.).
“At the end of my studies, I was lucky to be contacted by people working at the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other institutions. Gradually, I was able to gravitate around them to work in conflict zones.”
Anthony Verlaine becomes a young diplomat in Namibia, works for the UN, the French National Assembly… A faultless career. Until the day he was seriously injured while traveling abroad and was forced to stop everything… for the best. “By studying, I wanted to improve the world. But from one month to the next, our friends became our enemies and vice versa… Everything was linked to conflicts of interest, gas, arms sales… After my injury, I decided to drop everything and to go walking around the world without a plan”. This trip, which was supposed to last a few weeks, ended up lasting several years.
For this first great adventure, Anthony has two conditions:
In short, to sail to the rythm of meetings, without any particular project.
In 2015, Anthony Verlaine becomes The French Adventurer and starts posting his committed adventures on Instagram.
At the time, the concept of sustainable tourism already existed, but it received far less media coverage than it does today and the vast majority of travel influencers were not involved. Since then, many have evolved and now share more sober adventures.
“I’m not perfect,” nuances Anthony Verlaine. “When you start living from influence, you have more and more sponsorship requirements. I don’t have the same freedom as before, when I could take my time and travel without motorized means. In Europe, I always take the train, but internationally, it’s more complicated.”
If you’re interested in the role of influencers in the ecological transition, we’ve dedicated a podcast episode to it with the Paye Ton Influence Group.
For this article, we were interested in asking Anthony to share with us the environmental degradation he has observed during his expeditions.
This shows that travel, even if it is a polluting activity, allows to bear witness to the degradation of the planet, thus becoming a tool for raising awareness.
How can we protect something we don’t know? That’s what Anthony Verlaine’s work is all about.
We hope that the few lines that follow will provide you a few new insights and inspire you (even more) to take action for the environment.
Sin City was founded in the mid-19th century in the middle of the Mojave Desert, the driest of the four American deserts. Paradoxically, between the big hotels, casinos, golf courses, private swimming pools and incessant air conditioning, Las Vegas consumes a lot of water!
“It’s completely dichotomous, there’s this water stress and then there are the lobbies, the economic interests, the conflicts between politicians that prevent the cause from advancing…” explains Anthony, who wrote his thesis on the subject.
Murmuration‘s engineers, (Flockeo’s parent company), have kindly concocted this little gif to give us a better idea of the issues involved in Las Vegas.
Satellite data show that between 2001 and 2019, urbanization increased by 31%. One of the consequences of this expansion is a spike in water requirements, particularly in this desert region. Las Vegas relies on Lake Mead, an artificial lake built on the Colorado River, for around 90% of its water needs. The lake’s resources have been overexploited for several years, leading to its gradual drying-up. This trend can be observed thanks to satellite data: between 2001 and 2019, the lake lost 36% of its water cover.
To ensure its future, Las Vegas needs to rethink its business model. For the past twenty years, measures have been imposed on the population to save water. But will this be enough?
What is desertification?
The United Nations Council defines desertification as “a global issue, with serious implications worldwide for biodiversity, eco-safety, poverty eradication, socio-economic stability and sustainable development. […] Some 50 million people may be displaced within the next 10 years as a result of desertification.”
“I have the opportunity to return to the same places every 2-3 years, and what really shocks me is the speed of climate change. Villages that I visited in Namibia in 2019 no longer exist, either because they have been covered by a 100m-high dune as the desert advances, or because living conditions have dried up all the springs and the soil has cracked... So people move to the capital or the nearest town. I’ve also seen it in the Middle East and North Africa.
What is gold panning?
Gold panning is the search for gold in gold-bearing rivers.”According to the French Guiana Federation of Mining Operators, 90% of gold production in French Guiana is carried out illegally in the forest. This corresponds to an annual production of between 10 and 15 tonnes of gold, with sales of around 600 million euros, involving between 10,000 and 15,000 illegal workers”. (KARPE, 2022).
Anthony tells us about his field experience on the border between French Guiana, Suriname and Brazil. “Poachers and gold miners come into the forest to find gold. They take areas measuring 2km by 2km. In 1 month, the area no longer exists. They cut down all the trees, eat everything they can find to eat : toucans, birds, snakes, jaguars. Every form of life is destroyed.“
To amalgamate gold, gold miners use chemicals such as mercury. As it infiltrates rivers, mercury becomes part of aquatic food chains, contaminating local populations who eat the fish.
What are oil sands?
Canada is the world’s 4th largest oil producer (BP – Statistical Review of World Energy 2022 ). 97% of the production comes from oil sands. Whether open-pit or deep-seated, oil sands mining nibbles away at the forest, poisons the Athabasca River, pollutes the air and causes an increase in the number of cancers…
For Anthony, what’s striking is that no one talks about it, even though this exploitation is a real ecological and social disaster for the First Nations who live in this region of Canada (water pollution, contaminated fish, increase in cancer…). To find out more, click here.
“What impressed me the most on all my expeditions to the north of the Arctic Circle, in Canada, Alaska and Lapland, was not necessarily the polar bears that were moving further and further south, but the forest fires.”
In principle, these areas have permafrost, i.e. frozen ground. Climate change is causing this permafrost to thaw, making forest fires possible (and frequent). During his trip down the Yukon River in the summer of 2019, Anthony talks about this issue on video. To find out more, click here.
At the end of our interview, Anthony tells us a story from the island of Komodo in Indonesia. It’s a particularly revealing anecdote about the role of education and awareness-raising in the fight to preserve our planet. In the early morning, like any self-respecting Instagrammer, Anthony gets up to photograph the sunrise on the beach.
“I see hundreds of women arriving with huge plastic bags on their heads to empty them into the ocean! I run up and ask them why they’re doing that. One of them explains to me that it’s good for the environment because on the plastic plates, there’s a bit of food left for the fish, and the glasses and cans can serve as homes for them. And in fact, when you put yourself in their shoes, it makes sense. That day, I realized that we judge with our eyes as Europeans who have been taught everything. I realized that education is really the thing that could change the world.”
Anthony confesses : he’s anxious. Anxious because in 10 years of traveling around the world, he has seen with his own eyes the damage done to the planet. Anxious because every summer gets hotter and hotter. In Annecy, where he lives, the ISO last week stood at 2,900 meters, whereas “at this time of year, in February, it should be at 800-900 and here, from my window, I can barely see the snow on top of the peaks”.
Anthony is anxious because he feels that nothing is changing for the best. “For a long time I used to organize garbage collects on the beaches. And then, you come back 3 days later and plastic is back again.“
For Anthony, the transition to action is now more likely to take place on a local scale, because “it brings tangible results, changes that we see on a daily basis, and it takes away the frustration of thinking we’re going to change the world when the decision-makers are politicians, big business…”.
Doing things locally, in my town, in my department, helped me a lot to be less anxious about the future. I’m not stopping world hunger, but things are changing a little at my level. So if you’re like me, get involved!
At a time when influencers are increasingly criticized for their lack of commitment (we remember the scandal of influencers promoting Bayer pesticides at the 2023 agriculture show), Anthony reminds us that influence can also serve a worthy cause and promote new travel imaginaries, more compatible with reality.
BENAZA Lisa (2020), « L’exploitation des sables bitumineux de l’Alberta : entre sécurité énergétique et impératifs environnementaux et sociaux », Recherches-Ressources, https://ressnat.hypotheses.org/567
Bp Statistical Review of World Energy (2022, 71ème édition), https://www.bp.com/content/dam/bp/business-sites/en/global/corporate/pdfs/energy-economics/statistical-review/bp-stats-review-2022-full-report.pdf
KARPE Philippe (2022), « La lutte contre l’orpaillage illégal en Guyane française », Revue juridique de l’environnement, (vol. 47, no. 1), pp. 9-12. https://www.cairn.info/revue-juridique-de-l-environnement-2022-1-page-9.htm
Géo (2022), « Incendies : Les feux dans l’Arctique menacent de relâcher des quantités “catastrophiques” de CO2 » https://www.geo.fr/environnement/incendies-les-feux-dans-larctique-menacent-de-relacher-des-quantites-catastrophiques-de-co2-212445
Organisation des Nations Unies « La désertification » https://www.un.org/fr/observances/desertification-day/background
Vakita (2023), « Le géant des pesticides Bayer s’offre des influenceurs », https://www.vakita.fr/fr/bayer-influenceur