What’s the next place on your dream destination list? The Maldives? South Korea? Well, ever consider the Arctic? A few years ago, the Arctic would likely not have come to mind when thinking about possible travel destinations. Now, it has slowly begun to draw more and more people. However, it’s not quite clear if this is a matter of celebration or concern.
Climate change is topical due to its vast number of effects on the world around us. The summers are hotter, while the winters are colder. Habitats are changing as wildlife diversity is decreasing. What does this mean for the Arctic? The ice in the Northwest Passageway melts at a faster rate as it is unable to compensate for increased surface temperatures, caused by the high levels of greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere. With Arctic pathways clearing up, areas that were off limits before are now available for exploration. This concerns scientists and environmental activists, but excites travel enthusiasts. For both, it has a sense of urgency linked to it for decidedly different reasons. People want to take advantage of newfound tourism opportunities in the north before the ice melts completely and the Arctic ceases to exist as we know it.
Cruise ships, one Arctic tourism method, is rising in popularity. They allow people to feed their sense of adventure whilst staying in the comforts of a luxurious ship. Although it seems like the perfect situation, there is much more to consider. Transport Canada has The Arctic Waters Pollution Preservation Act (AWPPA) in place, which prohibits the deposit of any type of wastes into the Arctic waters during cruise ship voyages. However, the act does not cover the release of black carbon by ships during such voyages.
Cruise ships use diesel engines for electricity, which releases black carbon into the atmosphere. Black carbon absorbs solar energy; this heats the earth’s surface and darkens snow, reducing the albedo effect. The albedo effect measures how much of the Sun’s energy is reflected into space. The darker a substance, the more energy it absorbs. Water absorbs more energy than ice, causing it to absorb more heat and increase surface temperatures. It is a positive feedback loop which continues to amplify.
Cruise ships come in a package deal with added pollution and the risk of oil spills. According to Global Citizen, even ‘Green’ cruise ships are causing huge detrimental effects in terms of pollution. People are concerned for their own safety. The citizens of London took action to stop the expansion of cruise ship ports, fearing an increase in pollution into their city from the docking station. The Arctic does not have the same level of inhabitants, in terms of numbers or power. It can’t speak up for itself in the same way.
The thought of exploring the Arctic is exciting, as it has only recently become possible. Yet, if sustainable measures aren’t taken, the very reasons for visiting the Arctic (which include witnessing the wildlife and landscapes) will disappear forever. Arctic tourism offers a chance to witness some of the great beauties of the Earth and raise awareness of the effects of global warming. We may not be able to stop people from going to explore these lands but if we do it in a sustainable manner through research, it can be a win-win situation. If not, we may go down a destructive path of no return.