So it looks as though posting on felixsalmon.com is going to be light to nonexistent
for the foreseeable future: my day job, blogging ten times a day at economonitor.com,
seems to take all the blog right out of me. For the time being, I’ll try to
put up some links here to economonitor pieces of slightly broader interest.
Yesterday, for instance, there was this
one, on my hobbyhorse theme of journalistic innumeracy, and this
one, on how the New York Times seems to believe creationists saying that
the Grand Canyon is 6,000 years old more than they believe the Daily Telegraph
on the future prospects of Jeb Bush.
I should also, in the wake of my Antarctica trip, respond to my sister, who
I really struggle with Antarctic tourism. Having heard so much about the
White Continent from me, and invested so much time and love supporting me
while I was down there, I was happy [Felix and Michelle] could go and see
it for themselves. But in the big picture? Something doesn’t sit right. And
I know that’s hypocritical. I am concerned. Not just about the physical impact
of tourism on this delicate environment. I also wonder about the experience
of the individual. A selfish part of me feels that people should only go to
Antarctica if they can really invest the time to truly be immersed in it’s
wonder, and digest it afterwards. But maybe a short trip, and a memory pill,
serves the same purpose. Tourists could be both Antarctica’s greatest danger,
and strongest ally.
It’s a long post, so I don’t blame Rhian for not spelling things out even further,
but of all the dangers facing Antarctica, tourists are surely at the bottom
of the list. What could Rhian mean when she says that tourists could be Antarctica’s
greatest danger? No one is building hotels on the continent, or anything like
that – indeed, the number of tourists who actually spend a night on the
ice is vanishingly small, especially compared to the total number of people
in Antarctica at any given time.
Rhian is right that tourists are, potentially, Antarctica’s strongest ally.
The International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (IAATO)
has observer status at Antarctic Treaty meetings, and is invariably at the most
stringent end of the spectrum there when it comes to regulations and protocols
protecting the wilderness and the environment. Which makes sense: the reason
to visit the Antarctic is that it’s a pristine wilderness, so the tour operators
have every incentive to keep it that way. By contrast, the amount of activity
and pollution going on at, say, McMurdo Station makes the impact of tourism
utterly negligible. I’m not saying that McMurdo should be torn down –
far from it. I’m just saying that it’s worth keeping the impact of tourism in
And I hope Rhian will forgive me for not being grateful that she’s so concerned
about the "experience of the individual" on an Antarctic tour –
especially since the experience that she seems to value the most is no tour
at all. I can assure her that the experience of all the individuals on our tour
(run by the excellent Antarctic Expeditions,
who I can highly recommend) was that of, literally, the trip of a lifetime.
Going to Antarctica was the most amazing and wonderful journey I’ve ever taken,
and I can promise you that if you go, the trip will be the most amazing and
wonderful trip you’ve ever taken, too.
But that’s not enough for Rhian, it would seem: She worries that the trip should
be even more amazing, and even more wonderful, but mainly,
I think, just longer – on the grounds of we tourists needing
to "invest the time to truly be immersed". Rhian, of course, has had
the wonderful privilege to spend not weeks, not months, but even an entire winter
in Antarctica – so she knows what she’s talking about. Obviously, the
experience of living there is more immersive than merely visiting – but
then again, it’s a lot more environmentally harmful as well. And more to the
point, not everybody is like Rhian, which means that not everybody would necessarily
react the same way to a longer and more immersive experience.
I haven’t taken any "memory pill", but I doubt I’ll ever forget the
experience of driving around icebergs in a Zodiac. The white continent is so
breathtaking that nowhere else you ever go is likely to compare. So it depresses
me that Rhian would deny that experience to people she’s never met, on the grounds
that it’s not "immersive" enough. Maybe once you’ve lived there, a
mere visit isn’t quite the same. But for those of us who haven’t wintered at
Halley, a tour to Antarctica is something I can’t recommend highly enough.