Climate emergency

Critics slam ‘extinction tourism’ cruise in the Arctic

Expert says governments should be on emergency footing in response to warming in the North
Photo: Kabacchi

Right on the heels of the hottest month in recorded history, wealthy tourists are taking advantage of the melting Arctic ice sheet to embark on an unprecedented luxury cruise.

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A Canadian academic and Arctic expert has added his voice to growing criticism of the giant Crystal Serenity, operated by Crystal Cruise Lines out of Los Angeles, which has just begun a nearly month-long trip through the Northwest Passage. More than 1,100 passengers are paying upwards of $22,000 each for the cruise from Alaska to New York City.

Dr. Michael Byers, professor and Canada Research Chair at the University of British Columbia, slammed the voyage as “extinction tourism” in an interview with the Guardian.

“The dramatic pace of climate change in the Arctic should have every government on an emergency footing by now,” Byers told Ricochet by email.

“We live in an economic system where making a profit is all that counts.”

Ian Angus is the author of the recently published book Facing the Anthropocene: Fossil Capitalism and the Crisis of the Earth System. He also expressed dismay at the response to Arctic melting.

“Really, it’s shocking but not surprising. We live in an economic system where making a profit is all that counts,” Angus said in a telephone interview. “In some ways this is not even the worst thing we’re seeing [in the Arctic], because the disappearance of permanent ice has led some of the oil companies to immediately move their exploration operations up into the Arctic in order to drill for oil.”

In Nunavut, small Inuit communities are bracing for the new influx of tourists this month. Nunatsiaq Online reported that the executive director of Kitikmeot Heritage Society, Pamela Gross, expressed reservations about the voyage of the Crystal Serenity. “We believe that far more regulation and negotiation of mutual expectations is required prior to embarking on a cruise venture of this size.”

One might think, on the heels of the hottest month in recorded history, that the retreating Arctic ice would be helping spur urgent, focused political action rather than new tourist enterprises.

“The federal Liberals were right to push for a commitment to holding the average annual temperature increase to 1.5 degree Celsius,” said Byers, “but have failed to deliver on any of that in the ensuing nine months.”

“Climate change in the Arctic is a clear and powerful message that cannot be ignored.”

A year after the election campaign in which Justin Trudeau’s Liberals promised a real change from a Conservative government notorious for global climate obstruction, Canadians have yet to see much quantifiable progress on reducing the country’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Meanwhile, fossil fuel industries continue to lean heavily on governments to expedite new extraction and export megaprojects.

The federal government’s decision on Kinder Morgan’s proposed Trans Mountain pipeline expansion to the west coast is expected before the end of this year. The Liberals convened additional public consultations this summer on the Trans Mountain proposal, but so-called “downstream emissions” (the pipeline’s impact on the climate once the product reaches its destination) were not even considered as part of this supplemental review process. The National Energy Board approved Trans Mountain earlier this year.

“Climate change in the Arctic is a clear and powerful message that cannot be ignored,” concluded Byers. “We need strong action to reduce carbon emissions now: a meaningful country-wide system of carbon pricing and a moratorium on new fossil fuel projects, including pipelines to the east or west coasts. Anything else is an abdication of political and moral responsibility.”

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