When it comes to responsible tourism in Antarctica, many environmentalists would argue that the only truly green course of action is... not to go. In many long-haul destinations, responsible tourism can play a huge role in community development and conservation which we believe offsets the environmental cost of flying
– but with no permanent inhabitants, this is not the case in Antarctica. So – how can the flight be justified?
Although activities south of the polar circle are highly regulated, Antarctica remains at the mercy of activities taking place thousands of miles to the north. Climate change is without doubt the biggest threat facing Antarctica; temperatures have risen here much faster than across the rest of the globe – by almost 3°C in just 50 years. As the fringes of the continent hover around freezing, this could mean the difference between ice and no ice – and for wildlife this is a very important difference indeed. Glaciers are rapidly retreating and an estimated 25,000km2 of ice has vanished. Rising sea temperatures affect the tiniest of sea creatures such as krill – the effects are seen all the way up the food chain to seals and whales.*
But while it is true that a flight to Buenos Aires or Ushuaia or Antarctica will contribute to climate change, so will every other flight you take, every car journey you make and every bit of food you eat that has travelled from a distant farm. They all contribute to the melting of polar ice, and they all, also, contribute to the altered rainfalls, drought and hurricanes across the world as a whole. So, it is wrong to link your link your Antarctic flights exclusively with the melting poles – and it is equally wrong to ignore all the other carbon emissions you create when thinking about how to reduce your impact on Antarctica.
This leads us to the dilemma that every traveller to the Poles faces. There is no easy alternative to flying, and – unlike other choices we can make in our lives (choosing renewable energy over fossil fuels, Fairtrade over regular coffee, organic over mass-produced fruit) - there is no magic low carbon aviation fuel available.
With a lack of alternatives, it is also remarkable, given the importance of global warming to all our futures, that no effective global mechanism to ensure CO2 levels are reduced has ever been implemented. So the choice – quite wrongly in our view - is left to you as a personal one: to go or not to go.
*Source: British Antarctic Survey
What you can do
“Seeing a place free of pollution, garbage, and hunters was fantastic and helped shape my opinions on environmentalism” – Stephen Kohn, from our holiday reviews
Most of our customers who have travelled to Antarctica have described themselves as deeply moved by its peace and pristine landscapes. Climate change, nature’s fragility and the urgency of protecting it suddenly hit home, and an expedition to Antarctica really can prove to be life changing. In a land where there are no local voices to shout about their cause, tourists have an important role to play as representatives and ambassadors for this final wilderness.
So if you do decide to go, perhaps the question is: what changes can you make in your life to reduce your carbon footprint and lobby for effective global regulation of carbon?