Now, we may not have had as many issues with the New York Times travel section's list of 53 Places to Go in 2008 as some of our peers, but the article that accompanied the piece, which discussed trips for tourists "who want to see the effects of climate change for themselves" did seem to be a bit off. We at IT have had a lot of conversations about the paradox that exists when attempting to visit endangered places (as exemplified in the sinking of the Explorer last month), but something about this piece seemed less about experiencing a place and much more...voyeuristic. Check out this excerpt about trips to Greenland:
The most popular destination for Americans is the Ilulissat ice fjord, a 45-minute flight from Kangerlussuaq and the site of the fastest retreating glacier in the Northern Hemisphere. A few years ago, the fjord was 25 miles long, but the melting of the glacier has lengthened the fjord to 31 miles, a change that has made it one of Greenland’s most visible examples of climate change.
The fjord is full of icebergs, calving from the bordering mountains of ice, and cruises to see the ice crack and fall are popular.
Now, we try not to frame everything in the context of carbon offsets, and certainly don't promote reining in your travel to avoid contributing to global warming, but the piece does little to acknowledge the ways this newfound tourism is impacting the area – and helping to further the climate change along. In fact, it goes on to quote Dennis Schmitt, an American explorer who discovered Greenland's Warming Island, and whose view on the subject is slightly depressing.
“People sense the Arctic is going to change,” he said. “There is something in human nature that likes to watch things die, a morbid curiosity of human beings."
Sure, a "morbid curiosity" is inherent in our nature, and the assumption is these travelers are going to see things before they disappear. And in fact, the Times followed up that story with another in this weekend's Styles' section that looked at the larger scope of the "doom tourism" trend. This piece, thankfully, was much more balanced and acknowledged that:
However well intentioned, these trip takers may hasten the destruction of the very places they are trying to see. But the environmental debate is hardly settled. What is clear is that appealing to the human ego remains a terrific sales tool for almost any product.
How do you plan to satisfy your ego and ensure you're not contributing to the destruction of these destinations? Is this tourism or voyeurism? We're interested in hearing your thoughts on the issue.
WANT MORE?: To learn more about Greenland's melting ice, check out NASA's video tour of the shrinking ice caps or visit NPR's slideshow on the subject. And for a fascinating take on Greenland's changing landscape, listen to NPR reporter Alex Chadwick's interview with the Oxford Atlas of the World editor Ben Keene about their designation of Warming Island as their first "Place of the Year." The island was long considered to be a peninsula off of Greenland until global warming melted its glacial snows and revealed that it was not connected to Greenland at all.
Photo: Zinnie via Flickr