Masks, social distancing, and vaccines can't stop climate change. It isn't a competition to choose the most dire threat, climate change or Covid-19, because they are interrelated. But taking a long-term view, climate change will be an existential threat to the travel industry, and the world, even as coronavirus fades.
It’s always good to take the long view about world developments because our tendencies often are to get wrapped up in today’s headlines, and understandably, in the crises of the moment. So if you consider the potential long-term impacts of climate change on the world — and the world of travel — then the Covid-19 pandemic will likely come to be viewed as a very painful, tragic footnote.
That’s not to diminish the novel coronavirus catastrophe, which stopped the world in its tracks, and is on pace to claim one million deaths around the world before too long.
And that is not to say that Covid-19 is unrelated to climate change as there have been plenty of theories espoused on how the degradation of natural habitats has roused infected wildlife and brought them into increased contact with humans.
But with wildfires raging across much of California, Oregon, and Washington, meteorologists recording the highest temperature ever in Los Angeles County at 121 degrees, Hurricane Sally leisurely flooding the U.S. Gulf Coast, and memories still fresh of the European heat wave of 2018 that helped cripple Thomas Cook and summer holidays, I’m struck by former California Governor Jerry Brown’s comments to The New York Times on Monday.
‘Where Are You Going to Go?’
A long-time environmentalist, Brown scoffed at the futility of fleeing California as runaway wildfires ravage the state in what has become a perennial ritual.
“Tell me: Where are you going to go?” Brown said. “What’s your alternative? Maybe Canada. You’re going to go to places like Iowa, where you have intensifying tornadoes? The fact is, we have a global crisis that has been mounting and the scientists have been telling us about. For the most part, it’s been ignored. Now we have a graphic example.”
Where are you going to go? Just in the United States, there are wildfires in the West, tornadoes in the Midwest, incessant heat waves throughout the country, and hurricanes that habitually threaten the Gulf Coast and the entire Eastern seaboard.
Countries in Southeast Asia, such as Vietnam, in recent years have been ravaged by floods and typhoons. Scientists project that Africa’s food supply will be further depleted as rainfall in some regions becomes a trickle or nonexistent.
It is easy to imagine — and it’s predicted — that regions of the world that heretofore have escaped most of the wrath of climate change to date, can lose their temporary buffers. Will my children and their children have to deal with floods, drought, increased heat waves and bomb cyclones as a matter of course?
The United Nation’s Intergovernmental Planet on Climate Change laid out nightmare scenarios if mitigation efforts aren’t drastically increased, but unlike in a pandemic, masks, social distancing, and vaccines won’t bring immediate climate benefits and solutions.
The solutions for climate change, with the clock running out, will be tough, world-changing, and take decades to see the progress.
Where will the world and the travel industry be relative to Covid-19 five, 10 or 15 years from now? No one has a reliable crystal ball in that regard, but presumably coronavirus outbreaks will be in the rear view mirror, although their memories may still be raw.
But I’m thinking about how much has changed in travel over the past 15 years, and how the world will be different in the next decade and a half. In 2005, the online travel agencies scurried to notch strategic partnerships with the portals of the day, namely America Online, Yahoo, and Microsoft Network; Kayak was a startup; InterContinental was the world’s largest hotel chain; ultra low-cost carriers with ever-present bag fees didn’t exist, nor did iPhones, travel mobile apps, or Airbnb.
Will Frequent Flyer Become a Scarlett Letter
Some 10 or 15 years from now, the world of travel may be unrecognizable from the vantage of today’s lens, and we’ll still be talking about and suffering from climate change, even if electric cars get popular and aviation biofuels begin to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
Flight-shaming has already become a “thing,” and it’s easy to envision the day when the term “frequent flyer” becomes a scarlet letter rather than a status symbol.
Progress will be hard-won in the fight to tame climate change.
There will likely be other pandemics along the way as they will be intertwined with climate change mitigation neglect. But in the long term, it will be climate change that will be the overriding and existential threat to the planet. It’s important to keep Covid-19 in perspective.
In the depths of the pandemic, with so much human destruction, and hotels, vacation rentals, airlines, tour operators, cruise lines, and car rental firms just struggling to survive, it will be a hard message to sell — but climate change looms as an even larger agenda item.
Photo credit: Australian wildfires in early 2020. Many said climate change fueled the fires. Bloomberg