a blessing and a curse

Halló from Iceland

It’s comforting to know that the puffins on Iceland are safe from encroachment of human development. Their saviour is the fact that they want land (steep cliff faces) that humans don’t. The increases in tourists to Iceland in recent decades have placed immense – and growing – pressure on most resources in the country but the puffins seem to be safe.

Tourism is said to have a fairly low-level – even neutral – effect on the environment. The tourists come and go, after all. They don’t require massive smokestacks. They don’t cause shocking effluent discharges into pristine waterways. They don’t cause obvious soil erosion or degradation. Or do they?

Iceland has recently undertaken studies to cope with the popularity and sheer number of people. After pinning their prosperity on tourism, the boom has been virtually exponential. Visitors now outnumber locals by a factor of 7:1. Are they loving the place to death?

Iceland is not alone with this 21st century problem. Amsterdam recently instigated a STAY AWAY campaign. Boracay had to be closed for 18 months for a redevelopment, which included the installation of systemic constraints on numbers. Barcelona locals are being squeezed out of their own housing markets with entire buildings being excised for BnB.

Tourism is an industry which does have serious effects on the environment. The sheer numbers of flights per day – before and after the pandemic – puts great masses of carbon into the atmosphere. Movement of people causes a much greater wastage of resources as well as plastic litter.

Our solution always seems to be move onto another unspoiled site. But isn’t that just spreading the problem? Isn’t that just an excuse to keep growing? Doesn’t that simply postpone the inevitable?

As I leave Iceland, I can see the airport is expanding. They’re preparing for even more visitors (like me). I wonder if we can keep doing this indefinitely. At least the puffins are safe.

photo by Julia Bodnariuc

Vertu blessa∂ur from Iceland


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