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GRAY AREA from the Phuket Gazette

THE END OF TOURISM, November 2006


The world is running out of fish, and that is affecting water quality.

Some 2,000 years ago, the world's human population numbered about 200 million. Population grew, but thanks to the natural and social mechanisms explained in Thomas Malthus' Principle of Population, things remained in check until the Medical Revolution.

By Pasteur's time, population rose from 1.2 to 1.6 billion people - just about right for Planet Earth.

Along with modern medicine came the internal combustion engine and electricity, all less than 150 years ago. Lives changed and industries spawned. Air pollution became prevalent.

I was born nine months before atomic bombs were detonated in anger. In theory, world wars became history, and humanity could enjoy Industrial Age conveniences.

Ten years later, I was choking in the schoolyard during a Los Angeles smog alert, unable to take a deep breath, wondering if this foul air was my lifelong future.

At age 20, I could see dirty air between the houses across the street. Anybody who lived in LA during those days recognized the things to come. Twenty years later, catalytic converters created complacency, but they didn't stop the greenhouse effect.

Thanks to my visionary mother and a Native American Indian I met hitchhiking, I saw global warming coming.

When the world's population hit three billion in the early '60s, I decided not to have children - I didn't want to contribute to the problem, and I didn't want my kids living on the planet they will inherit from us. I keep practicing, but I still haven't contributed to the problem.

According to the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations, over the past 40 years the world's population grew from 3.3 to 6.5 billion, all but a handful embracing the Industrial Age with no consideration of the consequences. I had occasional doubts about my decision, but things just keep getting worse.

We've had our warnings. In the movie Soylent Green, Charlton Heston discovered the green cakes, the only remaining human food, are made from - dead humans.

Isaac Asimov, Frank Herbert and Robert Heinlein warned us in the '70s, but population was only a little more than half of what it is today, so we didn't listen.

Now, our day of reckoning is upon us and I'm not optimistic. I hope I'm wrong, but the sad fact is the monkeys we call Homo sapiens just aren't mature enough to deal with the consequences of their own actions.

Two bombshell environmental reports made headlines this month, but they say nothing new. Gathered from prestigious scientists from many disciplines and universities, they symbolize not a wake-up call, but a final warning. What makes them unique is the scientific community finally realizes that no matter how serious the doomsday scenario, economics is the only argument that affects human behavior.

Unfortunately, as we discovered from Hurricane Katrina, it's usually too late. Pre-Katrina documentaries still air with graphic arguments for taller, stronger dikes. Does anybody doubt that proper preparation would have been cheaper than the final consequences?

A fading Tony Blair released the Stern Report with a flourish. It's a fancy way of saying what my mama taught me in 1950 - "The world only has about 100 years left before humans destroy it all." She wasn't far off. The Stern Report confirms that unless we change our lifestyles immediately, we'll have fried the planet by about 2050.

Climate change will worsen along the way - with grave economic consequences for tourism. That's already started; in an era of increasing numbers of cyclones, how much longer will punters take far-away holidays in unpredictable weather?

Only last peak high season, three days before Christmas, we had to call off our trips for only the third time in 23 years.

Remember February? For the past three years, the weather sucked.

Two days after PM Blair's announcement, prestigious Science Magazine predicted that if we don't change our lifestyles immediately, the world's fisheries will be so depleted by 2048 the damage will be irreversible - fish will be absent from our diets, and water quality will also suffer. The 14 authors from 12 marine institutes are a Who's Who of ocean science.

That's serious stuff. As we run out of land to feed and graze livestock, we also run out of fish. Unlike cancer/heart disease-inducing red meat, fish is our best animal protein source, recommended brain food for everything from Alzheimer's to xenophobia (a political disease induced by mental deficiencies).

Since we are nothing but overgrown monkeys, humans are rarely motivated by "doing the right thing". We are still so underdeveloped that we measure our value in economic rather than human terms, so our immature species requires economic incentives as motivation for change.

I've used the "economic factor" to gain environmental victories for decades. At the height of my environmental activism, I was also a corporate troubleshooter.

My clients in Hawaii understood that the islands' long-term future was more important than short-term profits, often feeding me work because of my concern for the destination's long-term prosperity.

Population growth is humankind's biggest problem. China's controversial and draconian One Child Policy serves as an example of what can happen if we don't change ourselves - immediately.

It all starts at the top. In my 1997 Tarutao documentary Adventure in South Thailand, I had the pleasure to video sailfish jumping in the waters off Adang and Rawi over a script saying, "Locals consider these sailfish sacred, so they have never known net or hook."

Two years later, the Adang-Rawi Sail Fishing Tournament was launched.

I was horrified. How can we protect Thailand from environmental wrath when people just don't get it?

I asked one of the the organizers, "What do you do with the sailfish?"

He replied, "They aren't good to eat, so we photograph, weigh and then throw them away."

"Isn't that a waste?"

"Yes, but it's an easy promo."

After three tournaments the sailfish colony was wiped out.

Despite my complaints, the TAT continues to promote feeding monkeys in Phi Phi and Phang Nga National Parks - and the parks do nothing to enforce their own laws.

The TAT still promotes 2-cycle speedboats, and at Nai Harn, it's virtually impossible to select any activity except speedboats - easy money today, but your children will pay the price.

Excuse me for being a bit skeptical, but I don't see much future.

We need to convince the rich to start measuring their worth in human terms, not financial. Once we have more than we can ever spend, it's time to start looking for solutions.

Don't believe me? Just ask Warren Buffet and Bill Gates. They know a bit about business and personal worth.

We have about 50 years, but changes must start immediately



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