The falling cost of air travel and the rise of package tourism has made Cancun airport the second busiest in Mexico, and a wave of development has placed incredible pressure on communities and the environment.
The branches of trees on both sides formed a tunnel of vegetation as they met in the middle. With the rule of law shaky and powerful business interests willing to exert their influence over authorities, locals are reluctant to speak on the record for fear of reprisals. These days thousands of vehicles per day hurtle down a dual carriageway that slices through the forest and skirts national parks, disgorging tourists and workers alike.
First, the tsunami of development came to Cancun, then Playa del Carmen, cutting down forests and ripping up mangroves as it moved inexorably down the coast. In , Playa del Carmen was believed to be one of the fastest-growing cities in the world. Now Tulum is on the front line, a small town whose population tripled from 10, to 30, from to , with projections for continued growth a worry for environmentalists. The issues discussed at their weekly meetings are terrifying: uncontrolled development destroying forests and mangroves, untreated sewage polluting the water table and the sea, illegal dumping grounds springing up on the outskirts of town.
The problems are massive, and the activists are unequivocal in where the blame lies. The environmentalists say that they are fighting against a corrupt local government that sells sensitive natural areas to the highest bidder, and has done little to control migrants who cut down the forest to make informal settlements without access to water, sewage or refuse collection. Despite repeated attempts, local authorities in Tulum did not respond to a request for comment for this article.
Time Bomb Ticking
Those that do raise concerns are often targeted, and reports of threats and intimidation are common. As a result, activists are concentrating on building a popular movement rather than one with prominent leaders. The group is working to promote awareness of environmental issues, and build pressure on authorities to regulate developments and enforce the law governing existing ones.
There have been notable successes in the region in protecting the mangroves at Tajamar and slowing development at Xcacel, and the activists are using that knowhow in the Tulum area.
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Proposed developments are obliged to undergo an environmental impact assessment and public consultations are required by law, but the problem of enforcement remains. Stopping massive new developments is the priority for activists. As things stand there are around 50, hotel rooms on the Riviera Maya, and there are plans to double this number in the next few years.
According to Meade, each hotel room brings 18 migrants to the area thanks to direct and indirect employment opportunities. If the plans come to fruition, that would mean , more permanent residents in an area that already has serious problems in managing both solid and liquid waste, plus the destruction of forests and mangroves to build housing and hotels. Concerns have also been raised over the working conditions of migrant workers who work in construction and hospitality.
Recognizing that some fear for their jobs if they speak out, Peralta set up an anonymous drop box for people to report labor abuses safely. He found that workers are employed on insecure, short-term contracts, with unpaid overtime a common complaint. These intermediary companies prevent workers from forming unions or demanding protections.
While information on labor conditions is hard to come by, environmentalists have the data at their disposal. In an effort to appeal to developers, researchers such as Greenpeace Oceans campaigner and biologist Dr. Miguel Rivas from the National Autonomous University of Mexico UNAM are pointing out that uncontrolled development is spoiling the natural attractions that bring in visitors.
The worry is that appealing to long-term planning will have no effect on investors. The EU has taken a small step towards cutting waste and greenhouse gases from manufacturing of popular consumer goods. For the first time, manufacturer Tags righttorepair Ecodesign right to repair.
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E-waste is estimated to reach a record high in Much of the waste produced in Europe continues to be exported illegally to Africa and Asia, where it is recycled in informal and dangerous conditions. Computers, screens, smartphones, tablets and TVs account for half of the global e-waste. The remainder is larger household appliances, heating and cooling equipment or other commercial e-waste. What are governments and the EU doing? The European Commission has proposed rules for manufacturers to make our gadgets and home appliances more durable and easily repairable.
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The European Parliament has also urged governments to take those provisions on board as soon as possible. They would also require manufacturers to make replacement parts, instructions and tools available, while special provisions would improve durability and recycling. For now they mostly concern dishwashers, washing machines, fridges, lights, TVs, displays and servers.
EU governments are expected to either accept or reject these laws by the end of the year.