Climate Change ‘car crash’ draws in visitors in the Arctic

"The more guests that are coming here, the faster that we are hurting the place that we want to show to the rest of the world."

By Reuters - September 17, 2019

The spectre of climate change looms large over Audun Salte’s dog farm.

His 110 dogs live in the sparse outdoors of Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago in the Arctic, situated around 650 miles south of the North Pole.

Since 1970, average annual temperatures have risen by 4 degrees Celsius in Svalbard, with winter temperatures rising more than 7 degrees, according to a report released by the Norwegian Centre for Climate Services in February. The “Climate in Svalbard 2100” report also warns that the annual mean air temperature in Svalbard is projected to increase by 7 to 10 degrees Celsius by the end of this century.

Svalbard’s main town, Longyearbyen, has a population of slightly more than 2,000 people and is the northernmost town on the planet. It is also the fastest-warming.

But the impending climate disaster is bringing tourism with it, thousands from adventure tours, cruise boats and flights are flocking to the Arctic.

Salte owns Svalbard Husky with his wife, Mia.

When the dogs in the yard see Salte, they excitedly jump up, hoping to go out for a run. During the summer, with no snow on the ground, the dogs pull sleds along the bumpy gravel road on wheels, rattling past the few cars on the island.

Despite owning a business that needs tourism to survive, Salte wants to limit numbers of visitors to Svalbard.

“We are growing in popularity because of climate change. Everyone is mentioning Svalbard and the more guests that are coming here, the faster that we are hurting the place that we want to show to the rest of the world,” he says.

He believes that carbon emissions and pollution from tourism will further damage the region’s fragile ecosystem.

The Norwegian worries that as temperatures warm, climate change could lead to the extinction of all life on Earth. A man who likes hugging and dancing with his dogs, he’s concerned most about the nonhumans on the planet.

“If climate change should be the end of humanity, I really don’t care, but if climate change is the end of any animal species who hasn’t contributed anything towards the speeding up of this process, that’s why I am reacting,” he says.

Gesturing with a nod toward his dogs, he says: “It’s just unfair to anyone that doesn’t have a say in what is happening — the dogs, seals or polar bears or birds in the sky. That’s why it is unfair, and that is why we should do something.”

He compares climate change to an accident that we can’t help staring at, feeling lucky we weren’t the victim:

“On the highway, when people slow down to look at a car crash, climate change is like that because everyone is slowing down to look at the accident but not realizing that we are actually the car crash.”