Circle of Unreason Climate Change and Tourism

Climate change and tourism are inextricably interlinked, and we should be worried
Circle of Unreason Climate Change and Tourism

I love to travel. Ive written a great deal about travel. Ive been travelling all my life. I enjoy fine hotels and good travel destinations and so on. So, being familiar with tourism and the travel industries, I know that these industries care a lot about perception. Tourism is in many ways about creating positive impressions, about making oneself feel good and, Im sure, making customers and clients feel good. In light of that, some of you may find what Im going to say rather jarring. Please dont, however, interpret what Im going to say as a criticism directed towards anyone in particular. That is not my intention at all. What I hope to do is to convey a realistic impression of the situation that we are all in, in relation to tourism, the climate and much else. Let me say also that much of what Im going to say is supported by tourism industry analysts and specialists. Theres been the Djerba declaration by tourism industry professionals in 2003 there was the Davos Declaration in 2006. So,both these declarations accept that climate change is happening, its manmade and that its the greatest challenge humanity has ever faced. And climate change and human activity are inseparable, especially industrial and economic activity. So lets ask, what is the tourism industrys contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions

Tourism is a very big industry. Some people say that it is the worlds biggest industry. It commands 10.4% of the world economy 73.7 million jobs worldwide depend on tourism2.8% of total world employment. India has a very small part of this. Total arrivals in India in 2013 were about 7 million people. The Louvre Museum had 8.5 million and the Eiffel Tower had as much as India. Venice had 9.8 million arrivals. In 2006, the number of international tourist arrivals was 846 million, spending $500 billion 54% of this was in Europe and 52% of all the receipts stayed in Europe. So, as we can see, Indias share in this is very, very small.

Now, tourism contributes 5% of the globalcarbon dioxide emissions 75% because of transport, 40% mainly because of aviation. This strikes me as something curious because in India we have a very long coastline and wonderful rivers, yet so little is invested in sailing, which is one of the most environmentally friendly forms of transport.

Now, if tourism were a country, it would be the 5th largest on a country list of emissions. So tourism emissions are a very big part of the global greenhouse-gas emission scenario. The founder of Rough Guides actually says now that flying is killing the planet. But tourism sector emissions will still grow 152% over the next two decades. So, as you can see, the growth we are speaking of will make a huge impact on the climate change scenario. Now, its wonderful to think of small sustainable tourism facilities, but if the person whos going to make use of those facilities is going to take an airplane to travel there, then the footprint of the traveller is huge.

Of course, the scale makes a difference.Large hotels pollute more than those on the smaller scale. And, of course, luxury means more emissions. Now, we like to think efficiency will help. Unfortunately, this is not the case. One thing proven by one of the earliest energy economists in the mid 19th century, a man called Stanley Jevons, was the Jevons paradox, which states that greater efficiency leads to more emissions.

So energy efficiency is not going to solve this problem. Stopping all emissions today will make very little difference. Today, were seeing the impact of greenhouse gas emissions that occurred 20 years ago. So, emissions of today will impact world climate 20 years from now. Even if the whole world system would stop today, the breakup of Antarctic ice sheets would continue. So, thats one aspectthe way tourism is impacting climate change. But what about the other way round

To many, its surprising that this is possible at all, because we tend to see climate change as affecting polar bears andfishermen and not tourism. But tourism is a profoundly climate dependent industry, in that sense it is no different from agriculture. Why Because tourists like good weather. Studies have shown that 70-80% European tourists cite a desire for better weather as the chief reason for tourism. And think of arrivals in India, which are extremely concentrated in wintersentirely climate dependent.

Lets think of some of the ways ongoing climate change is affecting weather-related tourism. One sector directly affected is skiing. Europe has over 600 alpine resorts generating 50 billion per annum. But many European and American ski resorts dont get enough snow anymore they have to manufacture artificial snow. With a 2% temperature rise, which now seems inevitable, the Alps will lose 40 days of snow cover. Germany will lose 60% of its winter sports potential. Generally speaking, the Mediterranean coast will be the worst hit, as tourism shifts towards the poles. So Patagonia and Tasmania will have better climate, Russia better climate and these places are going to be more and more important in terms of weather-related tourism. In Asia, in these adverse weather conditions, Tajikistan is really going to flourish.

Other than skiing, beach resorts will suffer. We already see erosion in many parts of the worldrising sea levels mean beachfronts are being eaten away. But one thing we arent paying attention to is the changing sea flora and fauna, where overfishing and rising oceanic temperatures result in it catastrophically changing were seeing more jellyfish, huge blooms of green algae. India is a subcontinent jutting out into the sea, with one of the worlds longest shorelines. However, on both sides, huge dead zones have appeared, anaerobic zones where water has too little oxygen to support any life. In the Bay of Bengal, a dead zone is 60,000 sq km in size. The entire business of sea tourism is going to be affected in multiple ways.

Another climate change aftermath is rain bomb events. We saw the 2005 Mumbai rains, Chennai floods in 2016, Houston 2016-17. These phenomena will affect tourism in unpredictable ways. As you saw in Uttarakhand, the rain bomb event killed so many people and wiped out an entire landscape.

Sea level rise, again, will have multiple impactsits absolutely one of the certain climate change effects. We just dont know how much it could be maybe 2-3 metres. So many Pacific and Caribbean islands will disappear. One thing we Indians dont account for is that the Laccadive chain is almost certain to disappear. Large parts of the Indian coast will disappear. To this day, it horrifies me when I drive around Goas coast and see these buildings going up right on the coastall of this will disappear. Miami is soon going to be over, we already see flooding along the beach. The only way to deal with this is managed retreats. Some countries are doing so, but we seem to have no plan.

Another thingcoral reefs have huge global bleaching. The Great Barrier Reef in Australia is badly hit 80% of it is badly bleached. Last year I went to one of the remoter parts of the Bay of Bengal, to the Mergui Archipelago in Tenasserim in Burma. This was once said to be one of the most pristine reefs in the world. I cannot tell you how badly its devastated. The only really healthy reefs are in Indonesia, because the seas around it are very deep. So you have upwellings of cold water that prevent the bleaching process from advancing further.

Another impact we will see will be glacial retreat. The Glacier National Park in the US will be glacier-free in the foreseeable future. Gomukh has been retreating for years, as you know. Tibet could be glacier-free quite soon. But one aspect of the glacier collapse scenario that we dont talk about is the glacier lake collapse. Glaciers create these lakes, which are blocked by moraines. But these moraines soon break and lakes overflow. In Bhutan alone, 50 sites could have this collapse. Though, thanks to the last king there, great attention has been paid to climate change and preparations are underway. But, in Uttarakhand and Nepal, we can be sure there will be these glacial lake collapses and disasters accompanying them.

Were living through the sixth great extinction in geological history 40% of life forms could go extinct in the next 20 years. Already in Africa huge decreases in wildlife population have been detected. Along with wildlife, one of the major impacts we will see is desertification. Huge numbers of lakes around the world are drying up. India is particularly water-stressed. The most touristy areas are the most water stressedRajasthan, Gujarat, Hampi. So long-term tourism in these areas is really open to question. In Europe, there was a heat wave in 2005, which was centred in many big tourist destinations and we often dont take account of the mortality rate46,000 deaths. How will tourists cope with such a situation

But this is just the direct impact. What about climate changes indirect impact For example, as a driver of conflict. In the Mediterranean, theres a 1,000-year drought that has impacted the place in many unpredictable ways. For example, its one of the drivers of the Syrian conflict. Egypt is a country Ive known very wellI wrote my PhD on it. But its a collapsing state. Theres sea level infusion, the Nile Delta is sinking fast and the sea is coming further and further in. When I lived in Egypt in the 1980s, the population was 40 million. Today, its 95 million. And its this one river supporting all of it. Its unsustainable.

All the refugee flows are also climate-driven. So many refugees going across the Mediterranean are from Darfur and Mali where agriculture has collapsed due to climate impacts. As an Indian tourist, would you be advised to go to Sicily or Lampedusa I dont think so. Because, what these events are also doing is creating huge amounts of racism inside Europe.

Lastly, indirectly driven by all these, is increase in terrorism. Of course, you cant say terrorism is climate-driven, but there is a certain aspect of it that is related to climate. One thing that we see about contemporary terrorism is that its specifically targeting world tourism. Think of the Bataclan attacks in Paris the murders at the temples of Hatshepsut in Luxor attacks on air transport in the Red Sea region. I think this is something were going to see escalate in the years to come.

So, I think if I were in the tourism industry the things I would really need to think about is not just sustainability and so on, but very basic things such as insurancehow much longer is insurance going to be available to people in vulnerable conditions In Miami, for example, they have trouble insuring their hotels. This will be the case in many beach areas. The second thing is safety. How would you guarantee safety to your guests from extreme events such as wildfires Look at the way those are breaking out these days. They broke out in Indonesia to such a degree that it impacted Singapore, Malaysia and brought tourism to a halt in those countries. So I think these are really the issues that one needs to confront. Im sorry for the really grim picture, but once you really start looking into climate change you realise the impacts youre looking at in the immediate future are really frightening and theres no way to make this look positive.

Celebrated novelist and non fiction writer, Amitav Ghosh, spoke on the impact of tourism on climate change as well as the impact of climate change on tourism attheOutlook Traveller Responsible Tourism Summit. This is the transcript of hisspeech. His latest book,The Great Derangement Climate Change and the Unthinkable, looks at the urgent need to tackle climate change.

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