Tomorrow begins the United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as the COP16. Intended as a follow-up to the work done during the past conference in Copenhagen --which was generally regarded as a complete failure-- already many international analysts predict that no radical or ground-breaking agreement will be reached this time, either.
The reason of this blog post, however, is to discuss the choice of location for this next conference: Cancún. One of the most important tourist spots in the Mexican republic, every year it attracts thousands of visitors (mainly foreign, since the hotels are extremely expensive) who marvel at the beauty of the natural landscape and the regal splendor of the ancient Mayan ruins nearby. If you visited Cancún, you might leave thinking that this is the best example of the way that humans can profit from natural resources, without affecting the natural ecosystem; a perfect marriage of Man and Nature.
You might think that, but you would be completely wrong.
For you see, Cancún is a deceptive artificial mirage. An ecological wasteland construced out of greed, with complete disregard of the natural ecosystem, or the well-being of the small local fishing communities who depended on the sea's providence to sustain their families.
During the 1960s the Mexican government realized that tourism could be a major source of income for the nation, so a project was launched to seek suitable regions to exploit as tourist resorts. The government then chose Cancun, which was by then nothing but a small coconut plantation with only a handful of people living there. The zone had a pleasant temperature and beautiful beaches, filled with brilliant white sand that felt like powder to the touch. The Caribbean sea looked like liquid emerald and there were plenty of coral reefs filled with all kinds of marine life. Cancún was perfect.
The first 9 major hotels in Cancún were financed with federal funds. Slowly at first, but thanks to an aggresive marketing campaign promoted by the Secretary of Tourism, the tourists began to arrive. And since then, they haven't stopped arriving, while more and more hotels and tourist resorts are built, all with a single purpose: to attract dollars.
... And girls who can run wild.
But at what expense? the natural ecoosystem of the Quintana Roo region is mainly supported by the mangrove, a shrub that grows in saline coastal sediment. It is the mangroves that promoted the great fauna diversity in the region; but the mangroves also permitted the existence of the beautiful white beaches, because they serve as shields against the force of the seasonal hurricanes that affect the region.
So what's the first thing you do when you want to build a five-starred tourist resort in Cancun? You guessed it: you cut off the mangroves.
The National Institute of Ecology reports that 25% of the mangroves have been lost during this last decade alone, equivalent to four times the average global rate.
But this is not only a problem for all those tree-hugging hippies in Greenpeace. It's also a problem for the people who now depend on the hotels, too. Remember that part about the mangroves serving as shields against the hurricanes? well, guess what happens when you take away the mangroves and the hurricanes come:
Your beautiful 5-starred hotel runs out of sand!
During the past few years the problem of beach erosion in the Cancún tourist area has been so grave, that the government's been forced to take radical --and stupid-- measures: they replace the lost sand with hundreds of tonnes extracted from the nearby island of Cozumel, to the obvious discontent of the Cozumel islanders.
Only problem is that those darn hurricanes keep coming every year; and they keep taking the sand away, so the sand extraction and replacement is an exercise in futility, only justified because of the large private and public investment already been made in the region.
Or maybe it's due to a sense of national pride? who knows. The only thing certain is that Cancún is doomed to disappear *; it is only a matter of time, and Nature has all the time in the world.
So it is in this, of all places, that the nations of the world are gathering to discuss how to prevent climate change and safeguard the global ecosystems. If there are aliens keeping tabs on us, they probably thnk we're very ironic species...
Not too bright, though.
(*) Unless they decided to undertake a major reforestation campaign to restore the lost mangroves, and impose more serious regulations and surveillance on the hotel planners. But that seems highly unlikely.
[PS]: Further further reading: Cancún is indeed a nest of serpents (H/T Kat).