Underwater and on fire

NASA image of the Peloponnese forest fires of 2007 in southern Greece

When Greece is bailed out, adequately reformed, and returned to creditworthiness, the public sector will no longer represent the largest single employer. Rather, it will be tourism — for what other nation can compete with the blue waters of the Aegean — that will fuel the Greek economic engine and secure the country’s place in the international economic system. With even more “rooms to let,” Greece will attract higher and higher numbers of affluent tourists, who will consume currently unimaginable quantities of Greek salad, mousaka and bottled water. The Greek countryside will then experience so much prosperity that the villagers turned hoteliers and restauranteurs will no longer see a need to cheat on their taxes, or they won’t be able to anyway, as the government will have implemented state of the art tax collection systems. Yes tourism will save Greece, even if everyone who visits the place seems to want to avoid the tourists, experience the countryside as it once was, veer from the beaten path.

Salvation, however, comes with an expiration date, as the Greek tourism juggernaut confronts climate change. According to the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 4th Assessment Report, Greece will be among the countries most affected by climactic changes in summer. Sea-level rise is expected to put beaches and environmentally important wetlands underwater. And droughts and more frequent heat waves are likely to increase the rate of desertification and lead to more wildfires. These changes are predicted to manifest in 2050 and intensify by the end of the century, which may seem like a long time away, especially if you, yourself, have yet to reach 40. Or perhaps you’ve heard of the rapid ice melt scenario, which hastens sea-level rise and results in an environmental catastrophe within the lifetime of most readers of this blog. Or perhaps you were a tourist (or a native) who lived through the Greek wildfires of 2007 and 2009, and then got a glimpse of the country’s promised future.