While 99% of the participants at the World Travel Market were blithely conducting “business as usual” in their brightly lit booths, the intellectual equivalent of shock and awe was being unleashed by the climate change equivalent to Greek rebel and former Deputy Prime Minister, Yanis Varoufakis.
November 4th 2015 may, with hindsight (and, probably, some wishful thinking), turn out to be an historic and symbolic moment in the history of mass tourism. That morning we witnessed a clash of two mindsets and two styles of power. Kevin Anderson was the gladiator brought into the ring by a very brave Harold Goodwin to stimulate debate and discussion on what apparently has become a rather boring topic in tourism industry circles.
Undeterred, Anderson, one of Britain’s top climate change scientists, delivered a brilliantly succinct speech that seemed to impress even the “I’ve seen it all” Stephen Sackur. The professor come mountain climber provided just the right mix of data and acerbic insight in 17 minutes to prove to even the sleepiest in the audience that apathy, resistance and denial of the need to change course might be suicidal. His key points summarized:
- Based on science, the international community agrees that 2 degrees warming is the limit of acceptable warming – if the planet’s average temperature rises beyond that then humanity is in serious trouble.
- But we’re not to deceive ourselves by averages as staying within that boundary will still produce incredible hardship and pain to the planet’s poorest, most vulnerable and innocent of inhabitants. Anderson pressed home the point thus: “At a two degrees rise many millions of poor people, mostly in the southern hemisphere, will die. it means we are prepared to sacrifice the lives of many poor, low emitting people.”
- The only way we can have a 66% chance of staying within that boundary is if we act now by reducing our generation of CO2 emission by 10% per annum and stop pumping any carbon into the atmosphere at all by 2050!
- Unfortunately, our track record for changing our life and business-styles thus far has not been encouraging. Since we first became globally aware of the problem in the 1990s, humanity has pumped 60% more carbon into a stressed atmosphere.
- This graph below shows the gap between carrying on as normal (the purple line) and meeting the reduction’s target that society at large has identified as tolerable (the trajectory depicted in orange). It gives a whole new meaning to the phrase most delegate heard on their tube journey; “Mind the Gap!”
- If we don’t alter course, we’re headed towards a rise of between 4 and 6 degrees in average global temperature which even the most conservative of organizations, such as the International Energy Authority and the IMF, now believe to be disastrous for humanity. Again, Anderson made sure we understood the implications: “Four degrees centigrade warming is incompatible with an organised global community. We will reach for a kalashnikov and start killing each other.”
- To make the reductions necessary and deliver some equity (i.e., take care of those who have not caused the problem in the first place), the wealthy nations, who produce the lion’s share of emissions, need to take drastic action now and start reducing carbon missions annually by 10% and produce 90% less carbon in 2030 than we did in 1990.
- To do that we need to consume less and produce less. In the tourism sector, and particularly within wealthy western economies, that means flying less often to far away places and making sure all the infrastructure that supports tourism around the world produces virtually no greenhouse gases at all. That will radically affect lifestyles and incur costs. The pain is unavoidable.
- Unfortunately because the tourism sector is growing at such a rate (doubling in traffic in less than 20 years and moving towards more carbon intensive forms of tourism), it will, despite all efforts to become more efficient, generate 1.3 times more CO2 by 2030 and 2.64 times more CO2 by 2050 than it does now. That’s our contribution to the gap.
In order to send his dumbstruck audience away with a positive message, Anderson ended with this quote, clearly having delivered on its first pre-requisite:
So it was with bated breath, we all awaited for signs of the second requisite, imagination, from the panel of industry leaders representing Boeing, Hyatt, UNWTO and a Tourism Minister from South Africa.This is when the real essence of the problem became apparent. What we witnessed in the next half hour was the clash of mindsets that Anderson identified as the crux of the problem and a subject I have been banging on about for the past 20 years. Anderson framed the challenge at its core as:
There’s absolutely no point in getting angry and blaming – we’re all slaves to our dominant paradigms and I can see why the industry leaders took the position they did – their immediate personal survival and prosperity depend on taking the prevailing corporate view – business as usual with some greening where necessary. Mr. Boeing talked about the fuel efficiencies they had achieved, stated that governments should invest more and then suggested, somewhat incredibly, that he didn’t know what profit his company made; Miss Hyatt took the same route – the hotel company is investing heavily in becoming more sustainable but its spokesperson claimed to have no knowledge of Hyatt’s expansion plans; and Mr. UNWTO asserted that to not grow tourism was to be defeatist; that no one should be afraid of growth and, in fact should embrace growth – even though growth was never defined and, if it meant more people taking trips more often, would certainly be at odds with the carbon reduction requirements Anderson had so eloquently and passionately just described. Interestingly, the only panelist who agreed that painful changes to our lifestyles might be necessary was a politician who also confessed he wouldn’t be running for office again!
There is nothing defeatist about facing the truth head on. Continuing to do what we’ve always done will simply worsen our situation. Imagination and creativity are vital. We simply can’t afford stubborn resistance or intellectual laziness. Kevin Anderson is completely right to suggest that a complete systems change is needed along with leadership, courage, innovative thinking, engaged teams and difficult choices – little of which were evident from the panel but were evident in the subsequent Responsible Tourism Awards session that followed. The next 45 minutes provided a veritable cornucopia of imagination, creativity, joy and even playfulness all rising up from the messy but fertile soil of “grassroot communities” and small businesses experimenting and imagining a better future. If you don’t believe me, have a look: it’s all on video here…(Kevin Anderson’s presentations starts at 9:31 minutes in)
The whole motivation underpinning Conscious Travel is to create a space for both clarity and imagination to flourish. If the same amount of energy and money were to be spent exploring alternatives to the current model as are spent defending and justifying the old one, we would have found several ways to close the gap. As has been demonstrated year after year at the numerous award ceremonies held by all major tourism associations, there’s no shortage of imagination, leadership, courage, innovative thinking and a willingness to make difficult choices in the face of seeming intractable problems.
In two subsequent post to this, I’ll identify where we need clarity and some approaches to imagining a tourism that is better and better for more.
The ideas presented under the banner Conscious Travel are not original. What is perhaps new to tourism, is a fresh way of seeing, being and doing that enables us to shift into different patterns of behavior with less fear and more confidence. Once you get that this planet is not only our only home but a living organism of which we are a vital part; that we’re each and all connected participants in an amazing web of life; that each of our personal decisions matter; and that we can create conditions for our collective wisdom to guide us, much will become possible. It also helps to see that we’re playing our part in a vast, epic drama – an evolutionary shift from ego to eco consciousness and that such shifts are a natural part of life’s grand journey towards more complex and beautiful ways of being.
Jeremy Smith, publisher of the amazingly content rich TravIndy wrote a concise and less critical summary of the debate here:
Previous Posts on this Blog Relevant to the subject:
- My response to the notion that growth is not to be questioned was summarised in this post: Walking the Halls of Hope and Despair, WTM 2014
- The notion of carbon budgets and the need to divest from fossil fuels was discussed here:
The Burning Issue of Carbon
- A Licence to Grow or Get better – Which Do You Choose?
- Climate Change: Implications for Business as Usual Tourism
- My first attempt to assess the impact of climate change on tourism was published by the Icarus Foundation in 2007 – The Climate Change Challenge: Implications for Tourism