Digital nomads: friends or foes of the climate?

As the climate forces greater vigilance, environmental advocates are urging these new nomads to take a more sensible and reasoned path.

Digital nomads: friends or foes of the climate?

This is a new trend that is flourishing in social networks. In recent years, digital nomads, or “digital nomads,” have taken over our screens and hashtags. Several million teleworkers are hidden behind this name. They often live between two airports and work in haven points. Meetings by the pool of a hotel in Mauritania, projects carried out from the jungle in Bali or a cocktail party on a Mexican beach, this trend belongs to a growing movement fueled by the pandemic that has revolutionized remote work.

According to Cabinet Godiveau, a skills assessment and professional retraining specialist, 24 million people will consider becoming digital nomads in the next two to three years. As for Pieter Levels, founder of the website Nomad List, he estimates that by 2035, one billion digital migrants could roam the world.

Photo: iStock

A growing phenomenon

Accurate information about these new settlers is difficult to recover. And for good reason, they are all in gray areas », explains Maxime Brousse, journalist and author of Les Nouveaux nomades (ed. Arkhê, 2020). For him, the phenomenon cannot be quantified: It is difficult to count them without a legal definition. Many of them are self-employed and show their parents’ address as their registered office while living in Bali on a tourist visa. »

The roots of this phenomenon are in the United States. It was especially popularized by entrepreneur Tim Ferriss. In 2007, his book “La Semaine de 4 heures” (ed. Pearsons) explained how to significantly reduce your working hours and free yourself from any geographical restrictions. “Living like a millionaire without a vehicle “.

According to research by MpO & Partners, 10.9 million American workers identified themselves as digital nomads in 2020, a 49% increase from 2019. By 2025, 36.2 million people are expected to work remotely in the country.

“The typical profile is a westerner between the ages of 25-45 who is fully computer literate and likes to travel in comfort.. In most cases, these are people who migrated from developed countries in less developed countries, because it is more interesting in terms of purchasing power”, This was reported by Maxi Brousse.

Favorite destinations for digital nomads include Mexico, Thailand and Portugal. Thirty territories, such as Barbados, have also created visas for teleworkers who wish to stay on site for several months. Platforms like Remoters are evolving to allow these travelers to find temporary accommodation at attractive prices. “Often, digital nomads go to places where communities already exist », Maxime Brousse says.

Easy-to-spot communities because digital nomadism owes its popularity to Instagram. With nearly four million hashtags on the social network, it attracts employees from all over the world. In an April 2018 international survey by Expedia, two-thirds of 18-34-year-olds surveyed admit that they are influenced by social media when choosing a vacation destination. “Instagram-friendliness” of a location would even be a key criterion.

Photo: iStock

A terrestrial lifestyle?

At first glance, this lifestyle, far from everyday tasks, can make you dream. This is without considering the reality of the carbon footprint that this adventure costs.

According to a study by Cabinet Godiveau, 37% of digital nomads said they travel almost always, 29% visit three to five countries a year, and 17% visit more than five countries.

In 2018, an American digital nomad known as The Point Guy wrote that he lived in 97 different addresses, slept in 21 countries and traveled the equivalent of 436,000 km by plane in one year. This is equivalent to 32.51 tons of CO2 This figure is given only taking into account traffic. Recall that one of the measures recommended by the IPCC to keep global warming below 1.5°C is to reduce our carbon footprint to 2 tons.2 per person per year.

“It’s an above-ground, completely uprooted way of life », says Audrey Baylac, author and expert on slow tourism. Contacting Wifi Tribe, a group of digital nomads who organize six-month trips across the continent at the expense of one country per month, he quickly came across what he called. “travel bulimia”.

“When asked about their relationship with the environment, digital nomads will emphasize that their lives fit into two travel bags. Because they have little material wealth, they think their lifestyle is defensible », Maxime Brousse says. The digital nomads the journalist met boarded an airplane ten to twenty times a year on average.

Photo: Shutterstock

Local people on the front line

In his book The Slow Journey from Sedentary to Nomadic Man (De Boeck Supérieur, 2018), sociologist Felipe Koch compares these digital nomads to the new “conquistadors” in search of El Dorado. A sentiment shared by Maxime Brousse when he called them “neocolonists”.

The influx of digital nomads in these underdeveloped countries with lush nature is not without its impact on the fauna and flora. The Mexican city of Tulum, considered a hotspot for digital nomads, saw a 23% increase in visitors between 2020 and 2021. Local environmental group Red Tulum Sostenible points to increased jungle destruction.

The first environmental damage presented by the association is the damage caused by the construction of reception areas to welcome these new visitors. The region is notably home to Selina, a nomadic hotel chain that now has 120 properties in nearly 20 countries. But he says building all those hotels and restaurants required cutting down several rows of mangroves, which act as a natural filtration system. Without them, pollution from visitors flows directly into waterways.

Tulum is no exception. “Chiang Mai, Thailand has a lot of co-working spaces and cafes with very good internet connections and infrastructure that caters to Westerners. », Develops Maxime Brousse.

For her part, Audrey Baylac regrets her lifestyle at the expense of the local population. “With so little time in an area, these travelers don’t have time to find out what’s going on locally, to find local producers. »

Towards responsible migration

However, it is possible to travel while respecting the planet. Since the early 2010s, Audrey Baylac has hosted the blog L’Atelier Bucolique, where she raises awareness of slow tourism. During his first imprisonment he published Voyager sans avion with Cindy Chapelle (ed. Plume de Carotte). “With the democratization of travel, my friends traveled a lot, especially by plane. This fashion lacked poetry for my taste.” he admits. Witnessing the consequences of mass tourism in Herault, where she is from, a young woman is campaigning for sustainable tourism that preserves the area.

The idea is to build eco-travel, minimize its carbon footprint and try to generate local economic benefits. », he explains. Audrey Baylac particularly recommends swapping airplanes for less energy-intensive means of transportation like trains or bicycles, filling your basket with local producers rather than large industrial chains, or even supporting local owners. Not only does this help local economies, it also tends to reduce our carbon footprint », it is abundant.

Some digital nomads are vulnerable to this transition, like Damien Bapt, who became a nomad two years ago after burnout. “Society forces us to have credit, houses, wives and children to be happy, but that’s not what we really like. Travel and meetings allow us to enrich and prosper. » After crossing many countries, he decided to reduce his carbon footprint. He has been hitchhiking by boat for a year. He cycled to France, Spain and New Zealand. I stay longer too », he always believes in the one who prefers to sleep with the natives.

Photo: Shutterstock

Bring campaigns to life

Antoine Demeestère has been developing coworking spaces in France and Spain for four years. Faced with the observation that his colleagues were developing a lifestyle that was oblivious to their carbon footprint, he set up remote jobs in the mountains with Taga Living to change the paradigm, promoting local travel. With rural areas increasingly neglected, he sees an opportunity to revitalize the area while allowing city workers to reconnect with nature. We offer places up to 3 hours by train from major cities, explains. The migrants are then accommodated in co-housing created in secondary or abandoned houses. » With this initiative, it intends to provide young travelers with a rejuvenating experience, but with a lower carbon footprint.

And this idea is getting stronger. A few years ago, Kévin Le Goff took the same approach in Brittany. Between 1968 and 2018, the number of second homes in the region increased 3.2 times. By using these residences for transient workers during the rest of the year, it offers an opportunity to revitalize villages that are almost uninhabited during the off-season. Outwork, founded by Pierre Tardy, recently opened a third coworking space in the countryside, which can be reached in less than 2 hours by train from Paris. But before solving it, you need to understand the local problems », Antoine Demeestere says.

For these entrepreneurs, digital nomadism can be a springboard to a more eco-friendly lifestyle. At least that’s what Audrey Bailak hopes. “Today, it’s easy to take advantage of your trips to spend time on a farm, learn about permaculture or biodynamics.he says. By joining schoolchildren, digital nomads could participate in local activities rather than participating in mass tourism.. » Damien Bapt agrees. A few months ago, the traveler settled in New Caledonia, where he tried his hand at hunting on a permaculture farm.

For Antoine Demeestère, digital nomads can take on the role of new climate ambassadors. “By going to alternative places, we have the opportunity to push them to a different way of life, to new ideas, and to completely change their habits. hopes It should also become a political issue, as it allows for reinvestment in the countryside, awareness of environmental issues, and job creation.. » With this in mind, new host locations for “responsible” digital nomads can become the incubators of tomorrow’s world.

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