Countries that are rich in natural resources such as oil, gas, or minerals often fare worse economically because of those resources. This conundrum, known as the resource curse, occurs when the country becomes heavily dependent on one export. Rather than distribute income to the general population, the single revenue source can inflate the local currency and drive up the prices of other exports (decreasing export sales), increase the odds of economic disparity and high-level corruption, and tie the country’s economy to the market price of the single commodity. Consider oil-rich Venezuela and Ghana with economies in turmoil, or mineral-rich Democratic of Congo, Angora, and Peru, which have significant rates of poverty despite the millions of dollars worth of ore and jewels being extracted from their soil.
Similarly, idyllic locations can be “cursed” by their natural beauty when they become tourist destinations. Two recent victims of their success are Maya Bay in Thailand and Boracay Island in the Philippines. These exotic locales gained international attention for their picturesque and pristine beaches. They draw a growing numbers of tourists, developers and ancillary businesses who extract their income from the common good (the beautiful location) without giving anything in return. The overwhelming number of tourists, as well as unsustainable development, have created environmental catastrophes that have compromised the very reason people wanted to visit. Both locations will be closing for short durations to help stabilize their environments.
Maya Bay became a destination for daytrippers in 1999 after it was used as a location in the movie The Beach. It draws an average of 4,000 visitors a day every day of the year. This has overwhelmed the environment; marine biologists have documented the disappearance of marine life and coral reefs. The beach will be closed to visitors for four months, and once reopened the parks department will place a cap of 2,000 visitors per day and prevent boats from docking in the bay. Boracay Island, home to approximately 40,000 people, was flooded with almost 2 million tourists in 2017. Unchecked development and an overwhelmed waste management system have turned the island into a “cesspool” according to the controversial president, Rodrigo Duarte. The island will be closed to visitors for six months to respond to the ecological mess, but the government has not communicated any plans for waste treatment and recently green lighted a $500 million beachfront casino project.
Both of these closures come with short term costs. The destinations draw tourists from around the world, bringing income to hotels, restaurants, airlines, boat captains, tax revenue, and multiple ancillary businesses. It is estimated the Philippines economy will take a hit of $1.96B pesos ($37M USD) from the loss of the tourist economy during the 6 month closure. Approximately 36,000 people are financially dependent on the tourist economy in Boracay Island alone and will be left without alternative sources of income. Although it is naïve to think either of these closures will have a long term impact on the environment, consider the direction these destinations are headed. Human-made pollution and exploitation will make these islands less desirable as a vacation spots and the long term tourist economy will disappear until the environment is restored… or forever.
These are just two examples of broader environmental problems around the world. Short-term economic gains with long term negative environmental consequences are robbing us of future income. As the saying goes, for long term planning you should live off the interest without touching the principal. Protecting our environment (the principal) from exploitation will not only preserve the things we hold vital to human life, such as clean air, water, and idyllic locations, never mind the native habitats of the creatures we share this planet with, but ensure that future generations will have access to them. Today we are borrowing heavily against the future and have highly leveraged our natural capital.
Image source: Mashable