The cruise ship Crystal Serenity recently set sail for a 32-day voyage through the Northwest Passage, a world first made possible by rapidly receding ice across the Arctic.
In the early days of the trip, passengers said they were disappointed they had seen no ice at all, while residents of Cambridge Bay, Nunavut welcomed an economic infusion they’d spent a couple of years preparing for. But in a commentary on CBC’s often-curmudgeonly The 180, Slate senior technology writer Will Oremus had a different take.
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“It is also an abomination, a massive, diesel-burning, waste-dumping, ice-destroying, golf-ball-smacking middle finger to what remains of the planet, courtesy of precisely 1,089 of its richest and most destructive inhabitants,” Oremus says. “And it’s all made possible by runaway climate change, the existential global crisis that these same people and their ilk have disproportionately helped to create.”
On Slate, Oremus adds that “the 820-foot, 13-deck Crystal Serenity will be, by far, the largest” of the ships to that have navigated the Passage to date. “On board will be a rarefied set of passengers, each of whom paid between $22,000 and $120,000 for the privilege—plus $50,000 in required ‘emergency evacuation’ insurance, according to National Geographic. At their disposal will be a crew of 600, a spa, a fitness centre, a hair salon, multiple swimming pools, six restaurants, a movie theatre, a casino, a driving range, and a complimentary ‘get out of hell free’ card.
“Just kidding about that last one.”
NPR reports that “until about a decade ago, the Northwest Passage could be reliably navigated only by ships with icebreaking capabilities—even in the summer. But a warming Arctic has meant increasingly ice-free summers.” While the Crystal Serenity has not yet encountered any hazards, it’s accompanied by an icebreaker and two helicopters, just in case—and observers are concerned about response capability if the vessel got in trouble.
“A crash would not only strain the resources of the Canadian and U.S. governments,” Oremus notes. “It could lead to a fuel spill that devastates local wildlife.”
And even without a crash, cruise ships “can still befoul the world around them,” he continues. “In addition to their exorbitant per capita carbon emissions, commercial cruise ship dump a billion gallons of sewage into the sea each year. And Arctic cruise passengers have a reputation for harassing polar bears who are already vulnerable to extinction due to—you guessed it—climate change.”
“There’s absolutely no capacity to respond to accidents,” said shipping specialist Elena Agarkova at World Wildlife Fund, who also questioned whether the Arctic is ready for the ship.
“The main reason why this ship is able to go up to the Northwest Passage is climate change—the melting of the Arctic ice, which is threatening the very wildlife that this cruise ship is promising to its passengers.”
That contradiction was captured well in comments from one excited passenger, Moira Somers of Victoria, B.C. “One kind of feels—I won’t say guilty, but you’re taking advantage of what is happening,” she told NPR. But “my big dream is to see a polar bear.”
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