Published in June 2022
The 2023 book that has most influenced how I think about higher education is Bryan Alexander’s superb Universities on Fire. (See my review here). Alexander’s book persuaded me that we must look at every higher education trend through the lens of an accelerating climate emergency.
It is from the perspective of Universities on Fire that I approached The Last Resort.
Travel and society writer Sarah Stodola approaches the question of the future of the beach resort in much the same way that Alexander approaches the future of the university. She understands the fate of oceanfront tourism to be inextricably bound up with sea-level rise, extreme heat and intensifying weather events.
The beach resort is both a victim and perpetrator of climate change. A beach resort is changed and perhaps destroyed when rising ocean levels erode beach sand away. The intensification of hurricanes and other tropical storms bring wind and flooding capable of decimating oceanfront hotels.
As Stodola points out, resorts require that customers travel to the place of manufacture. Unlike universities that have opportunities to digitize some of their services, moving teaching, learning and accreditation to online education platforms, a resort can’t go digital.
A theme of both The Last Resort and Universities on Fire is that hotel owners and academic leaders have done too little to prepare for the likely impacts of climate change. The attention of the resorts and the universities remains overly focused on near-term challenges, too often leaving the work of climate resiliency for tomorrow.
The problem with waiting is that all indications point to an acceleration of the negative impacts of climate change. Extreme heat, weather and flooding will not worsen linearly but instead along some accelerating curve of destruction.
Where beach resorts contribute the most to climate change is through the carbon impact of airplane travel. Global tourism means international flights.
The Last Resort is a fun combination of travel writing, environmental reporting and sociological analysis. Stodola flies all over the world, including to Indonesia, Thailand, Senegal, Mexico, France and many other countries, to report on what she finds at the resort. She purchases carbon offsets to assuage her guilt for producing all this jet travel–related carbon.
The impact of air travel on climate change is also discussed in Universities on Fire. Alexander argues that universities and academics should be more mindful of how and when they choose to travel. Where possible, we should replace flights with digital connections, or at least try to take the train when possible.
The Last Resort is full of suggestions for how beach-side hotels can design their physical structures and guest services to minimize ecological damage. The book also shows why most resort operators fail to take these steps, mainly due to poor government policies and misaligned incentives.
Reading The Last Resort may provide academic leaders with some sideways inspiration for thinking about universities and climate change.
Pair Universities on Fire and The Last Resort together, and now we have the potential for some creative conversations.
What are you reading?