South-Eastern Australia is on fire. We watch on helplessly while someone else, who’s dangerously close to the action, offers water to a koala, or scares a kangaroo away from the flames.
Surely all but the most hardened of nay-sayers will accept that man’s influence on the very air that we breathe is now having a measurable and devastating effect.
More than a decade ago, I myself was doubtful when an eminent scientist told me that the air we were breathing back then was polluted by the industrialisation of the 1950s. The decade post-war that saw the first domestic cars, the growth in factory automation, the reliance on coal.
And that was a decade ago. Think of all the muck we’ve sent up since then, that we’re still breathing today!
Meanwhile the UK Government has a plan involving cheap loans and cuts in passenger duty in an effort to prop up the domestic airline Flybe, to save jobs and keep regional towns and cities connected. Can we despair about wildfire and wildlife on the one hand, and promote more short-hop flying on the other?
I’m as much to blame as anyone. Because I drive a big gas guzzler and I love it! Friends of mine drive electric vehicles and love them as well – and I’m sure it’s the way to go. But there’s still an element of doubt in that. I’ve watched electric supercars at motoring events break speed limits and perform all manner of tricks. And then get a re-charge from a massive generator running on fossil fuels off-stage!
But I suppose it’s about starting to change our behaviours, and our mindset. Probably most of us who are in a position to make such choices are starting to look at the airmiles our imported fruit and veg have endured, as we come to expect fresh produce, seasonal or otherwise, at any time of the year. And maybe we also experience uneasy rumblings about putting yet more diesel in the car, or taking our third flight in a year, or making yet another trip to the recycling centre because we can’t quite stop our consumerist leanings at Christmas – yet again.
As an industry, hospitality has contributed massively to the air pollution ever since we started travelling. During my own childhood, travelling to 1970s Spain seemed the most exotic and enviable pastime. My own grandparents were desperate to explore the world as soon as they could, and managed to get into some countries that were less that welcoming to tourism then, and now no longer exist – Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia and East Germany among them. All through a Wallace Arnold coach window!
But it was the trips by air for a week in Mallorca, or the cruises calling at every port in Europe that only added to the problem. It wasn’t deliberate of course. Like putting asbestos on every ceiling, or single-use plastics for every shopping trip which ended up in rivers in Indonesia and China, we were exploring the world in an innocent and thrilled exploration. So cheap! So easy! But just like asbestos and plastic bags, it’s going to be much harder to clean up after ourselves when it comes to what we’re doing to the climate.
Efforts by the hospitality industry to change the way it does business, to work with the travelling public and present them with ways to manage better their carbon footprint, are to be applauded. Our own serviced apartment sector is certainly right up there when it comes to giving guests control over their housekeeping their food waste and their use of heat, power and water. But we do have to accept that sometimes the pursuit of cost savings has led to a disregard for elements of nature, and for fellow citizens of poorer countries who end up clearing up after us – and suffering as a result.
I’m sure we’re all meaning to do our best to mitigate the effects of our behaviour. But possibly feeling helpless – there’s so much to do, and it’s so hard to make a difference one by one. Sadly, though, if we don’t make something happen and fast, it’s not just distant and remote parts of the world that are going to suffer. This week we’ve been told that the last decade was the warmest on record, with 2016 and 2019 the warmest since records began 140 years ago.
The big challenge then, as a society and as a sector; how do we balance the commercial requirement to exist with the evident need to sustain existence? Otherwise, those angry pigeons from the middle of the last century are certainly coming home to roost!