Antarctica is many things: beautiful, harsh, serene, humbling, other-worldly and ferocious to name a few. It’s also the golden ticket for wildlife enthusiasts and climate change scientists around the world with tourists understandably wanting some of the action. I was lucky enough to film a documentary there this year and despite it being the best place I’ve ever visited, I desperately don’t want you to go.
Six months ago, I was invited to join a colleague on an environmental expedition to document the effects of climate change first-hand. 2041, a company founded by the explorer and environmental activist Robert Swan, each year invite a group of forward-thinking game changers onto a ship with the aim of creating a sort of floating think tank to tackle this monumental issue.
Fast forward a few months and I am on board the Ocean Endeavour, looking out onto the last great wildernesses left on earth. Imagine the scene: the sun is setting, the waters below are black, the sky above is blue and pink, the monochrome mountains frame the scene. The vastness is humbling and the silence is deafening. I’m shivering on the deck with a camera the weight of a small child balancing on my shoulder and without a doubt, this is the most beautiful backdrop I have ever had the privilege to film on.
Ordinarily I would now begin a campaign to ensure all my friends, family and random people in the pub knew how incredible this place was and that they had booked their tickets before the hour was out. However I can’t do that, because Antarctica is suffering from a devastating disease which is being sped up by the increase in tourism.
Climate change is a mammoth, pretty incomprehensible issue. Most people frankly ignore it as it isn’t something you can see. The documentary we have made attempts to put the subject into bite-sized chunks, however for the purpose of this blog a couple of things are worth noting. The ice is melting in Antarctica, and the reason for it is almost certainly human activity: this is a belief held by 97% of the scientific community and me personally. One consequence of this ice melting is that sea levels will rise. This is already happening and the current NASA estimation is that by 2100 the sea levels will rise by up to four feet. Think about how much ice has to melt for that to happen globally! And that’s if the ice caps don’t melt entirely. If they did, it’s game over.
The great thing about human beings is that they all built cities in the same way originally, near water. It was great for transport, food, travel. What that isn’t so great for is climate change. Goodbye London, goodbye Shanghai, goodbye Mumbai, Hong Kong, Miami, New York, the list goes on of great cities that I love. That doesn’t even cover all the Islands which disappear. That is a lot of people to rehouse. The world can’t deal with the political refugees we have currently, let alone having to work out how we rehouse most of society.
It is truly scary to think about the potential effects, and seeing this and seeing this indescribable continent bleed into the surrounding water really pushed it home for me. And yet ironically travelling to Antarctica is one of the least globally friendly things I could have done. Antarctica is no longer the inaccessible place it once was. If anything it is becoming more like the last-minute package deals we offer to Spain. I, like many others on the expedition, felt ‘Antarctica guilt’. We knew we were there to do a job, spread a message but we were also very aware of the hypocrisy of being there. One person travelling to the continent uses twelve tonnes of CO2 to get there, that is the equivalent of an average family of four living in the UK for a year. Which begs the question: Should I have gone? Am I just as bad as the other 44,000 people visiting this year? Possibly, yes. My only defence is that I was going there to do a job and I offset my carbon footprint.
Of course I feel privileged to have seen this great continent. Of course I understand that stopping travelling to Antarctica in itself will not stop climate change in its tracks. However I would rather tell my friends, family and randoms in a pub to visit London, Shanghai, Mumbai, Hong Kong, Miami, New York and those beautiful Pacific islands and never go near our brilliant ice giant. Hopefully this will at least give them the experience of seeing those amazing places while they’re still above water.
Dawn Kelly is Head of Video at HuffPost UK and AOL, and is director and executive producer of HuffPost’s first original documentary, Antarctica: End of the Earth