What is the biggest threat to our global environment?

What is the biggest threat to our global environment?

It is a kind of pollution. There are of course several contenders. Carbon emissions and consequent global warming, soil degradation, overpopulation, biodiversity and plastics. It is not easy to decide between these environmental threats to our existence. Moreover, as I write this a major city is again facing the prospect of the taps running dry. Last year Sao Paulo very nearly ran out of water. In March 2017, 872 cities across Brazil were placed by the federal government under a state of emergency on account of a long period of drought. It rained just in time to avoid the worst. This year Cape Town faces a crisis. Helen Zille writes “We WILL run out of water by the end of April unless everyone reduces their water usage to less than 50 litres per person per day” and “according to the City’s current plan, most of Cape Town’s 4-million citizens will have to fetch water from a PoD. The maximum allocation will be 25 litres per person per day.” Unless of course, it rains.

However, as widespread and acute as the problems of water supply, soil degradation and biodiversity loss are, they differ from greenhouse gas emissions and plastic pollution in one important respect. The effects are mostly local, except in so far as water supply, soil degradation and biodiversity loss contribute to, or exacerbate climate change. As Zille wrote “the SA Weather service told us bluntly: We cannot predict whether or when rain will come. Previous forecasting models have proved useless in the era of climate change.”

Greenhouse gas emission and plastics have two things in common – they are humanmade forms of pollution which once unleashed into the environment take decades to degrade and they do not respect national boundaries. There is one big difference – we can see the plastic on our beaches and in the guts of fish. If only Al Gore’s ‘An Inconvenient Truth had been able to enable viewers to “see” the concentration of CO2 in our common atmospheres. The Carbon Quilt is one effort, but it doesn’t really cut it.

You may remember the advice given to Ben in ‘The Graduate “There is a great future in plastics.”’ Indeed there was. Since 1967 9.1bnt have been manufactured, 6.3bnt have been turned to waste. A mere 9% has been recycled, 12% has been incinerated (more greenhouse gases), and 79% is accumulating, much of it in gyros in our oceans. The science is clear, plastics are, after carbon, arguably our number one environmental threat. What can those of us in tourism do to address the problem? There is an alternative. Refuse Single Use Plastic.

David Attenborough’s final episode of Blue Planet II raised awareness of the poison of plastic pollution and stirred people to action. The UK’s environment secretary, Michael Gove, has said he was “haunted” by images of the damage done to the world’s oceans. In December, the same month as the final episode of Blue Planet II, the Chinese government announced that they would accept no more imports of plastic waste. Analysis of customs data by Greenpeace revealed that British companies had shipped more than 2.7m tonnes of plastic waste to China and Hong Kong since 2012 – two-thirds of the UK’s total waste plastic exports. In January, the British prime minister pledged to eliminate avoidable plastic waste – that which it is “technologically, environmentally and economically practical” to do so – by 2042.

The tourism industry could do better than that. It already is:

Balearic Islands to ban plastic by 2020 in bid to clean its beaches

Ullapool has banned plastic straws

Kenya plastic bag ban comes into force

Plastic straws and stirrers have been banned across Pernod Ricard and Diageo’s entire business

CGH Earth Hotels bottle and serve purified rainwater in glass bottles that can be reused.

Moreover, complaints about plastic are occulting on TripAdvisor: Bristol, London, Gran Canaria, Nusa Dua, Nosy Iranja, Bang Saray Beach

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Harold is WTM’s Responsible Tourism Advisor, he puts together the flagship Responsible Tourism programme at WTM London which attracts 2000 participants each year and the programmes run at WTM Africa, WTM Latin America and Arabian Travel Market. Harold has worked on 4 continents with local communities, their governments and the inbound and outbound tourism industry. He is Managing Director of the Responsible Tourism Partnership and chairs the panels of judges for the World Responsible Tourism Awards and the other Awards in the family, Africa, India and Ireland. Harold works with industry, local communities, governments, and conservationists and undertakes consultancy and evaluations for companies, NGOs, governments, and international organisations. He is also a Director of the Institute of Place Management at Manchester Metropolitan University, where he is an Emeritus Professor, and Founder Director of the International Centre for Responsible Tourism promotes the principles of the Cape Town Declaration which he drafted.

One comment

  1. clare osborn says:

    Its great to see the plastics that I picked out of the waterways on paddle pickup reaching such a wide audience. It is vital that we all act now to create sustainable solutions to plastic products and keep in mind the end use of products from the design phase. It simply isn’t suitable for single use items considering it is an almost indestructible material. It was great to see the interest the conversation got at WTM. Incredible Oceans and the others on the panel are now working together to advise the tourist industry how to reduce their plastic footprint. All a result of the WTM.

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