It would be difficult to describe the last three months without mention of Covid-19. Nor would I wish to, for it has affected the entire world to such a degree that some people, some industries, and some economies may never recover. And yet, I would hate to give so much consideration to it as to lose sight of other, further-reaching concerns. This brings me to something that’s been on my mind, a particular aspect of the current situation that has impressed itself upon me.
In spite of all the striking of activists, opining of celebrities, efforts of NGOs, and discussions of intergovernmental panels, humanity, en mass, has continued to consume, destroy, alter, deforest, and pollute at rates that threaten its own future survival, all while continuing to reproduce at a rate that callously exceeds our planets ever-diminishing capacity to sustain us. Many forward-thinking individuals I have spoken to, and many writers who have proposed articles for publication, have either hinted at or outright stated the idea that the current pandemic is an opportunity. The simple irony is that all of our past efforts at addressing climate change have been absolutely dwarfed by this virus.
To be clear, this is a human tragedy of unfathomable proportions. Some countries have been very slow in their response, or have responded with policies that later turned out to be terrible mistakes, and those of us in safer places have watched in impotent horror as the death tolls have risen. It’s been terrifying for me personally to watch the numbers rise in the U.K., where so many of my gardening and writing heroes reside, and several countries are fairing even worse The shocking situation in the United States is likewise sobering, leaving one only to hope that at the very least this will finally be the catalyst that allows the U.S. to correct the obvious flaws in the financial aspect of its healthcare system.
With these humanitarian concerns considered, however, I return to my central point that this crisis is an opportunity. This year, our emissions have plummeted, air travel has all-but-ceased, non-essential travel, services, businesses, and activities have ground to a halt. And the climate has breathed a long overdue sigh of relief. My biggest fear now is not a resurgence or mutation of the virus, not that economies will suffer, not that there will be rioting, and not that society will be forever changed for the worse. My biggest fear is that things will return to normal. In New Zealand, where I live, tourism has taken a nosedive–countless jobs have been lost, livelihoods have been irrevocably altered–and yet it has to be said that, if we momentarily put aside the terrible cost in human lives, this negative impact on tourism is ultimately a good thing.
Don’t misunderstand me: I love travel. It energizes me to discover and explore new places, and I will always feel incomplete until I have seen with my own eyes certain well-known landmarks: The Amazon River, the Grand Canyon, Iguazu Falls, the Great Wall, Mecca, La Tour Eiffel, the National Gardens of the U.K… the list is endless. But, during lockdown, my perspective on tourism changed. Tourism has a lot to answer for in terms of waste, transport emissions, and of course, as we now know only too well, the spread of disease. In fact, it could be argued that tourism ultimately contributes only one thing of importance: It promotes global understanding and equality. It helps different cultures to understand one another, it allows people to experience life in different places, it allows us all to gain perspective, to see how much better or worse our lives could be. Seeing marginalized communities in out of the way places encourages us to do what we can to help. Seeing women treated equally in some parts of the world makes it that much harder for inequality to persist in other parts.
All of these things are noble and beautiful outcomes, but in today’s global age, where we can travel the world without leaving our bedroom or office, where technology allows people in previously obscure places to share their lives with the world, where almost every issue can be explored by almost every person regardless of geography, perhaps travel has served its purpose. What remains of tourism, when it is removed of the one thing that made it special? It becomes an unnecessary mover of people. Planes, buses, helicopters, campervans, rental cars… all of these are just moving people around to see things that millions of other people have already seen, to take the exact same photograph that millions of other people have already taken. While travelling, we shop, it is true, but we purchase goods which could just as easily be purchased at home. We indulge in local cuisine, but the culinary delights of almost every culture may be found on home soil, just around the corner, and the internet offers a million ways to explore the world in one’s own kitchen. Finally, it may be argued that tourism creates jobs, and the critical question concerns how these jobs might be replaced in a global society that placed less emphasis of exploring the world, and more emphasis on protecting it for future generations. I don’t have an answer–that might be a questions for economists and policy-makers–but I do know there’ll be no jobs on a dead planet.
By this point, it should go without saying that you will find many new articles within these pages that relate to the current pandemic. Digest and appreciate them, and I welcome your feedback. In the meantime, please, stay safe, be sensible, and take care of yourself. And, once again, thank you for joining me.