The current coronavirus pandemic presents an unprecedented challenge for our planet. The scale of human loss in countries both rich and poor and the sadness of so many deaths prompt urgent questions about how we run our world.
Interconnectivity and ease of travel have no doubt contributed to the spread of the virus. Dream cruises have become floating nightmares with passengers trapped in a test tube on sea. A week of winter skiing in Europe can lead to the infection of family and friends back home. People flying in and out of different countries become carriers importing and exporting an illness for which there is as yet no vaccine or cure. Despite the best efforts of the medical professionals, the pressure on health provision is intense. All of this combines to make us assess the real cost of all our journeys within the “Global Village”. As colour and clarity return to the canals of Venice with visitors gone and Peru empties of gap year travellers, is it time to assess our whole approach to mass tourism?
In the midst of this crisis, it can be hard to get an accurate picture of what exactly is going on. How reliable are the statistics emerging from industrialised countries? How real is the optimism from President Trump? What’s really going on in less-developed nations where governments report no cases at all? All of these questions impact on people’s lives making it important to balance concern about economic consequences with an awareness of the human cost. This is especially true when looking at how the coronavirus pandemic places pressure on the working poor.
It’s too easy just to report that factories have shut down because of the virus. Yes, there’s a health benefit by enforcing social distancing but behind that headline about closures are real people who rely heavily on their work income. We talk too much about “interruptions to the global supply chain” without thinking about the cost to those who make the things which our economies demand.
So much of world trade is globalised in this way underpinned by low skilled, low paid jobs often in the developing world. As the pandemic began to develop, whole cities became cordoned off with workers suddenly no longer required. This happened not just at the manufacturing level: in the Philippines, due to a lack of travel, 300 ground staff at Manila were out of a job. As foreign travel becomes impossible, what sort of future is there for those who work in the tourism industry? It’s not just the workers, of course – families need the income they bring to the rest of the household. The inevitable result of this is pressure and poverty for those who are already poor.
Cracks seem to be appearing in the globalisation model and COVID-19 helps to underline them. Take just one example – the decision by India to restrict the export of Paracetamol has had a serious effect on supply in the west. An overreliance on imported drugs and food creates challenges dismissed for far too long. Once normality returns, as it will, maybe we should consider if there is an alternative – one that would be beneficial to ALL affected by globalisation.
Always Summer Somewhere?
We have to remain upbeat at this time of concern with the coronavirus and look forward to that moment when we can book a holiday with confidence that it will happen. The world of travel is set to change but the lure of the beach will always be there especially for those living in colder northern climates. But, don’t relax and think too much about how beautiful your social media photos will be. Will the white sands and outstretched palm trees actually be there at all for you to enjoy?
If you love the beach and this is your typical holiday destination then it’s worth reflecting that this type of tranquillity and sense of escape may be under threat over the next 30 years. There’s no real surprise in recognising that the key threat here is global warming and our increasing failure to manage our planet in a sustainable way. How many “unprecedented weather events” will it take for us to see that something serious is going on with our planet?
Scientists analysing the data have concluded that beaches, which occupy one-third of global coastlines, are threatened by coastal erosion and rising sea levels due to climate change. It almost goes without saying that they are at risk given that they are the first line of defence against our swelling seas and the storms that roll off them.
So many of us want nothing more than a sandy beach at the heart of their holiday. This is an understandable human emotion and desire but it comes with consequences. It’s not taken long for sleepy Spanish fishing villages to become high-rise coastal resorts. Remote islands like Boracay in the Philippines get developed almost to the point of destruction and cruise ships disgorge passengers to laze/swarm on Caribbean beaches. So, hotels spring up and so does accommodation for the staff who work in them. Infrastructure like sewage and coastal defences gets neglected making it apparent that so much tourism has an eye only on the short term.
The threat to the beaches we love is real. Popular places where beaches will disappear in the near future include:
- The Maldives
- Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
- Miami Beach, Florida
Losing these beaches and their associated ecosystems will damage regional economies, wildlife and the habitat for so many migratory birds. It will also undermine much of the tourism industry as certain resorts become no longer viable. It will take a concerted approach to make our beaches last for the next generations. Cutting greenhouse gases is just a part of reducing sea level rises – we have also got to bring in more sustainable coastal management practices as argued by the Nature Climate Change study. It’s late but perhaps not too late to “turn the tide”.