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Antarctic joy flights criticised for fuelling climate crisis with 'zero gain'

Antarctic joy flights criticised for fuelling climate crisis with 'zero gain'

“It’s our mission to leave this pristine landscape the way we found it.”

A noble intention for every travel firm. But do they really mean it? As you may have read, the Boeing 787 jets that Qantas acquired for the London-Perth nonstop link, covering over 9,000 miles, are now reduced to operating day-trips to the weird and wonderful deep south.

No, not the intriguing island of Tasmania – even further, to Antarctica.

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An Australian company that specialises in polar sightseeing trips, Antarctica Flights, has chartered Qantas jets to propel around 200 people towards the south pole, and then back to Australia, in around 13 hours.

The context for this venture: sightseeing flights from Australia to Antarctica have been operating for decades. Right now they are about the most exciting option for Australian travellers who find their borders are sealed.

“Every Antarctica Flight is carbon neutral,” claims the firm. “We are contributing to projects that not only provide positive benefits to the climate, but also achieve social and economic ‘co-benefits’.”

The company uses part of each passenger’s fare (top tickets cost a scorching A$7,999/£4,379) to buy “certified carbon credits”. These are said to be contributing to native reforestation in the Yarra Yarra Biodiversity Corridor in Western Australia.

Since these are strictly domestic flights that happen to travel to the end of the world, there are no red-tape problems. And the company seems confident there are no green-agenda issues either.

With offsetting in place, you can step aboard with a clear conscience. Or can you?

Not according to Flight Free UK. The director, Anna Hughes, says: “Most carbon-offsetting schemes have been shown to be ineffective in terms of their ability to absorb the necessary carbon, or they simply pay into existing schemes which don’t actually compensate for your flight.

“In addition, carbon-offset schemes often mean that people feel that they have dealt with the impact of their flight, so they continue to fly.

“The best way to offset carbon emissions is to not produce them in the first place.”

Until the coronavirus pandemic brought much of global aviation to a halt, the pressure group calculated there was not enough land space on earth to plant enough trees to make up for the prevailing level of flying.

That is also the view of Simon G, who tweeted within minutes of my original Antarctica flights story going online: “There’s non-essential air travel, then there’s non-essential air travel that allows you to view a place that’s being destroyed, whilst adding to its destruction, for absolutely zero gain.”

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Antarctic Explorers: the new age of exploration in pictures

1/20

A Twin Otter airplane during a reconnaissance flight over the Antarctic Plateau and the Edson Glacier in the Ellsworth Mountains. This utility airplane, equipped with wheels or skis, adapts perfectly to the Antarctic environment with its rugged construction and short take off and landing performance

EPA

2/20

Military personnel move drums with kerosene for the airplanes during their daily maintenance activities

EPA

3/20

An explorer points the way to follow during a reconnaissance trip on the Edson Glacier, in the Ellsworth Mountains. The group moves in a straight line to minimize the risk of falling into hidden crevasse

EPA

4/20

A member of INACH, Pablo Espinoza, lays in his sleeping bag in the Glaciar Union camp. The temperature inside the living tents averages minus five degrees Celsius

EPA

5/20

An aerial view of the Glaciar Union camp in the Ellsworth Mountains. The Glaciar Union camp is a Chilean polar station operated by Chilean Antarctic Institute (INACH) and the three groups of the Armed Forces of Chile marking the beginning of all scientific activities planned in Antarctica for the summer season

EPA

6/20

Two medics treat an injured soldier in the small station hospital in Glaciar Union camp. The most common cases are minor work injuries, frostbite and hypothermia

EPA

7/20

A man walks through the Glaciar Union camp during a windstorm. Catabatic winds can reach up to 300 km/h and drop the thermal sensation to dangerous levels

EPA

8/20

Members of the expedition who hadn't crossed the Antarctic Circle (a parallel 66.5 degrees south of the equator) enjoy a 'snow baptism' by other veterans

EPA

9/20

A pilot of the Chilean Air Force tries to get signal on his satellite phone after landing on the Antarctic Plateau. Satellite communications is the only mean to keep in touch with the main operational base situated in Punta Arenas

EPA

10/20

Scientist Ricardo Jana leaves a mobile station for a GPS tracking field trip in the Glaciar Union camp. Location tracking tools like the Differential Global Positioning System (DGPS) help to improve the safety on field trips by locating hidden crevasses in exact way

EPA

11/20

A group of explorers extract blue ice blocks near the Glaciar Union camp. The ice will be used by scientists to keep their samples refrigerated

EPA

12/20

An explorer helps himself to a dessert of fruit and yoghurt during lunch time in a communal area that also works as the kitchen, in the camp

EPA

13/20

A group of scientists and explorers move on ski randonee to a sample spot on the Higgins Nunatak, in the Ellsworth Mountains. Snowmobiles, ski randonnee and short flights in Twin Otter airplanes are the most used travel options in field trips with scientists

EPA

14/20

A man walks out of buried living unit in the Glaciar Union camp. Snow accumulation occurs mostly by wind displacement rather than snowfall

EPA

15/20

Pablo Espinoza, gets ready for a field trip in his tent

EPA

16/20

Scientists and military personnel play football in Glaciar Union camp

EPA

17/20

Military personnel shovel dirty snow into an empty drum during a cleaning activity around the camp. Known as the 'chicken walk' the military personnel collect with shovels or by hand small debris or small patches of contaminated snow that can be found in the camp area. The expeditioners aim for a zero impact stay in this region

EPA

18/20

A group of explorers transport scientists and material on snowmobiles during a field trip near Rossman Cove

EPA

19/20

A member of INACH, Rene Quinan, in his tent. Up to three people can sleep in these clam tents designed for extreme weather conditions

EPA

20/20

A group of explorers during a reconnaissance trip on ski randonee on the Edson Glacier

EPA

1/20

A Twin Otter airplane during a reconnaissance flight over the Antarctic Plateau and the Edson Glacier in the Ellsworth Mountains. This utility airplane, equipped with wheels or skis, adapts perfectly to the Antarctic environment with its rugged construction and short take off and landing performance

EPA

2/20

Military personnel move drums with kerosene for the airplanes during their daily maintenance activities

EPA

3/20

An explorer points the way to follow during a reconnaissance trip on the Edson Glacier, in the Ellsworth Mountains. The group moves in a straight line to minimize the risk of falling into hidden crevasse

EPA

4/20

A member of INACH, Pablo Espinoza, lays in his sleeping bag in the Glaciar Union camp. The temperature inside the living tents averages minus five degrees Celsius

EPA

5/20

An aerial view of the Glaciar Union camp in the Ellsworth Mountains. The Glaciar Union camp is a Chilean polar station operated by Chilean Antarctic Institute (INACH) and the three groups of the Armed Forces of Chile marking the beginning of all scientific activities planned in Antarctica for the summer season

EPA

6/20

Two medics treat an injured soldier in the small station hospital in Glaciar Union camp. The most common cases are minor work injuries, frostbite and hypothermia

EPA

7/20

A man walks through the Glaciar Union camp during a windstorm. Catabatic winds can reach up to 300 km/h and drop the thermal sensation to dangerous levels

EPA

8/20

Members of the expedition who hadn't crossed the Antarctic Circle (a parallel 66.5 degrees south of the equator) enjoy a 'snow baptism' by other veterans

EPA

9/20

A pilot of the Chilean Air Force tries to get signal on his satellite phone after landing on the Antarctic Plateau. Satellite communications is the only mean to keep in touch with the main operational base situated in Punta Arenas

EPA

10/20

Scientist Ricardo Jana leaves a mobile station for a GPS tracking field trip in the Glaciar Union camp. Location tracking tools like the Differential Global Positioning System (DGPS) help to improve the safety on field trips by locating hidden crevasses in exact way

EPA

11/20

A group of explorers extract blue ice blocks near the Glaciar Union camp. The ice will be used by scientists to keep their samples refrigerated

EPA

12/20

An explorer helps himself to a dessert of fruit and yoghurt during lunch time in a communal area that also works as the kitchen, in the camp

EPA

13/20

A group of scientists and explorers move on ski randonee to a sample spot on the Higgins Nunatak, in the Ellsworth Mountains. Snowmobiles, ski randonnee and short flights in Twin Otter airplanes are the most used travel options in field trips with scientists

EPA

14/20

A man walks out of buried living unit in the Glaciar Union camp. Snow accumulation occurs mostly by wind displacement rather than snowfall

EPA

15/20

Pablo Espinoza, gets ready for a field trip in his tent

EPA

16/20

Scientists and military personnel play football in Glaciar Union camp

EPA

17/20

Military personnel shovel dirty snow into an empty drum during a cleaning activity around the camp. Known as the 'chicken walk' the military personnel collect with shovels or by hand small debris or small patches of contaminated snow that can be found in the camp area. The expeditioners aim for a zero impact stay in this region

EPA

18/20

A group of explorers transport scientists and material on snowmobiles during a field trip near Rossman Cove

EPA

19/20

A member of INACH, Rene Quinan, in his tent. Up to three people can sleep in these clam tents designed for extreme weather conditions

EPA

20/20

A group of explorers during a reconnaissance trip on ski randonee on the Edson Glacier

EPA

This enforced pause provides an opportunity to assess ways to reduce the damage to the planet created by aviation – a spectrum of harm extending from the noise and traffic around airports to the impact on climate.

I shall enthusiastically continue to espouse the benefits of aviation for humanity. They range from the relatively efficient transfer of wealth from richer countries to poorer nations that international tourism can bring, to the increase in understanding that connectivity provides.

But I shall continue to implore prospective passengers to make choices that will reduce (though never eliminate) the harm they cause: fly in basic economy class only, with minimal luggage, with airlines that fill their planes to 90 per cent or above.

Choose only the most modern and efficient aircraft. That includes the Boeing 787, but not if it is spending the day going around in circles (actually figures of eight) over Antarctica.

As Simon G wrote: “Rather than see it through a window, watch a documentary.” Even if that’s all you’ve been doing for months.

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