Are ‘Climate Tourists’ Wreaking Havoc on Fragile Land?

Travel Blog  •  Joanna Kakissis  •  10.03.07 | 10:45 AM ET

imageGlaciers and sub-zero temperatures have long kept most tourists away from Greenland. But as global warming changes the face of the Arctic—picture glaciers splintering into icebergs and long-buried islands revealed from the melted ice—a new crowd of eco-travelers is heading to Greenland and other previously ice-bound countries to see the ice before it’s all gone, the Wall Street Journal reports. They’re called climate tourists, and they’re stuck in the irony of our environmentally troubled times: “Any trip by train, plane or cruise ship pumps carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and potentially contributes to the warming of the planet,” writes the Journal’s Gautnam Naik.

Since the Greenlanders are actually growing potatoes now, is it the end of the world as we know it? And if we want to see this world before it melts away, does that mean we are part of the problem and headed for a world of “stay-at-home tourists”?

Related on World Hum:
* Leo Hickman: In Search of the True Cost of Travel
* Vardo, Norway: Life at the Arctic Edge of Europe

Photo of Kulusuk, Greenland by nick_russill, via Flickr (Creative Commons).


Joanna Kakissis's writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe and The Washington Post, among other publications. A contributor to the World Hum blog, she's currently a Ted Scripps fellow in environmental journalism at the University of Colorado in Boulder.


2 Comments for Are ‘Climate Tourists’ Wreaking Havoc on Fragile Land?

Eliza Amos 10.03.07 | 4:37 PM ET

I am so glad to finally see someone asking this question. As a travel industry veteran, I truly believe that when these trips were conceived, it was indeed to expose people to a problem that previously went largely unnoticed. We are far, far past that point now. These trips are officially a part of the problem. The travel companies need to recognize that, and act accordingly.

Malik Milfeldt 10.04.07 | 8:12 AM ET

As I actually live in Greenland, I feel the need to make some comments here: First of all, it is true that we do have “sub-zero temperatures in Greenland, but that doesn’t keep tourists away as they come to experience dog sledding and northern lights in winter time for instance.

In summer, we do have temperatures occassionally exeeding 70 degrees Fahrenheit in Kangerlussuaq (West Greenland), which happens to be both the hottest spot in summer time and the coldest in winter time. This is no news.

It is true that there is a paradox with people who travel to Greenland to experience global warming, but if we try to look at the bright side of it, it might actually make people think again and change their energy consuming habits once these travelers return to their home country.

In Greenland, what we are trying to do is to make Greenlanders aware of their own role in global warming, but also to look at what might be the benefits for Greenland.

For instance, the cod is returning in Greenland waters, which is good for the fishing industry. And as glaciers in Greenland retreat, mining companies can exploit areas that previously were inaccessible.

In other words, I think the debate about global warming needs to focus less on the worst-case-scenario-debate, which has been current and dominating for a long time.

And let’s try to be more realistic about the travel industry’s responsibility in regard to this question. Tourism is in fact the biggest business in the world, but regulations and actions to emit less carbon dioxide in the atmosphere needs to be taken first of all by governments - like the US.

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