The simple fact of the proximity of wildlife and humans has by all accounts led to this latest Coronavirus which has then been catapulted around the world by the airline network. The butterfly effect. An idea that is more commonly used in chaos theory comes from an analogy where a butterfly flaps its wings in Central America and a tornado occurs in London. A small change can make much bigger changes happen; one small incident can have a big impact on the future.
Coronaviruses are zoonotic diseases or zoonoses – meaning they are passed from animals to humans. Other examples include the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome that was transmitted from civet cats, the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome that was passed from camels and bird flu. About 60% of infectious diseases in humans are zoonotic.
Diseases passed from animals to humans are on the rise, as the world continues to see unprecedented destruction of wild habitats by human activity. Humans and nature are part of one connected system, and we need to understand how it works so that we don’t push things too far and face increasingly negative consequences.
Travel is part of that connected system and has unwittingly contributed to the spread of the disease. But that does not mean that we should stop travelling. To stop travelling is not the answer but we, as an industry, do need to take stock, to reframe and to recalibrate.
Given that nature has forced humanity to hit a global pause button, we should use this time for reflection and redefine ‘normal’ for a truly sustainable travel future.
What does that involve? For me, there are four key issues. The four Ps:
We have followed scientists in terms of Coronavirus and now need to follow them in terms of the science of climate change. We need to be mindful of travel’s environmental impact and commit to significantly reducing its carbon footprint. We need to fly less and carbon balancing should be compulsory throughout the industry.
Human health is connected to animal health but also to the health of forests and the environment. Companies should be heavily taxed for environmental degradation. More positively, travel needs to help enforce environmental protection. Travel needs to be a champion of conservation. Travel and tourism needs to be at the centre of government concerns about the environment.
Travel depends on movement, of being accepted wherever you go, in knowing how to behave. Travel needs to be aware of when it is not welcome and is doing more harm than good. It needs to be of mutual benefit to both traveller and host.
But more than that, travel needs to be a vehicle for positive cultural exchange. It needs to put more back into communities. We need to pay more, we need to value it more.
For me, travel is ultimately about people. Travel is a privilege I do not take for granted. With every country visited, I learn something new. With every country visited, I meet different peoples. I become less ignorant. I become curious. I learn that underneath the cultural differences of dress, location and religion, we want the same things: stability and education for our children, we care about the same things: friends and family, we laugh about the same things. I learn that we are not so different.
Travel gives us a different sense of perspective. We see life, scenarios through the eyes of others. Travel breaks down barriers, it changes perception and prejudice.
Through travel we see and understand the interconnectedness of complex systems and that we need to manage and care about what happens elsewhere whether poverty, lack of medical suppliers, climate change. Walls keep out ideas – if we bunker down, threats will escalate. We need to be sharing of experiences. We need cooperation. We need to work together to find global solutions.
Positive reinforcement has immense power to create change. Yet so much of our lives are ruled by the opposite. The media thrives on bad news. It can be depressing, it can be negative. Fear is short-term. Fear is not healthy, it is not a sustainable motivator. Don’t try to lose weight rather than try and improve your health. Pleasurable is sustainable. Meaningful is sustainable. Don’t be driven by what scares you. Be driven by what inspires you.
Travel is a force for positive change in the world – economic, environmental and sociological.
In summary, as we all know, travel gives us so much – experience, empathy, perspective, understanding and such vivid memories. Our world is wonderfully diverse and we should not shrink from it but experience it, relish it and use those experiences to redefine our own lives.
Be a Collector of Worlds.
“The wish to travel seems to me characteristically human: the desire to move, to satisfy your curiosity or ease your fears, to change the circumstances of your life, to be a stranger, to make a friend, to experience an exotic landscape, to risk the unknown.”
– Paul Theroux