15 December 2007

The law of unintended consequences may apply here. An unprecedented initiative by the U.N. Secretary General to visit Antarctica amidst increasingly fashionable talk about climate change may have inspired a touristic rush. Travel agencies have started campaigns enticing "guilt-free tours" to the bottom of the earth. Some cruise ships have been swiftly renamed appropriately and re-routed accordingly. A pristine, almost isolated area is starting to receive more public attention -- which is very good -- and busier traffic with its welcome and unwelcome results.

Already, an "ecotourism" cruise ship, the MS Explorer on a 19-day tour, hit an iceberg, forcing its 154 passengers and crew into lifeboats in icy waters in the middle of the night until they were saved by another cruise ship. As the ship sank, 50,000 gallons of diesel, 6,300 gallons of lubricants, and 260 gallons of gasoline threatened not only the environment but also the breeding ground of about 2,500 Antarctica penguins. These figures were supplied by Chilean marine biologists who, of course, are convinced that this is not good for Chile, not good for climate change -- and certainly very bad for the penguins. By now, the trumpets of "global change" business are threatening to shake those glaciers that the Secretary General had personally witnessed in their melting stage.

Bali was next. But Bali needs no introduction. Needless to state categorically that conference participants worked very hard. The Secretary General and his team, the experts and their teams, the interpreters and their teams, the delegates and their teams -- everyone dedicated themselves fully to be part of that "historic" climate change process despite being in the world's most famous resort. Even regular tourists turned into climate experts. Who would know sunsets better than they do? A few years ago, that magical island received a tragic blow when some criminal terrorists targeted a discotheque. But a full size international conference, on climate of all issues, will certainly help. Big names like former movie star terminator, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and New York Mayor Bloomberg, in addition to senior U.N. and government officials provided a media field day for Bali. The U.N. Framework for Universal Climate Change Convention (UN/FUCCC) is welcoming more enthusiastic supporters -- bikinis or no bikinis. After such high moral posturing, any perception of idyllic decadence would be replaced by an internationally authorized noble purpose. You don't visit there to observe the bikinis but to witness the impact of climate change. You don't hang around for the famous midnight skinny dip but for earnest research. You don't connect with gorgeous people; you communicate in a joint cause. Furthermore, once is not enough. Follow up action is required either in Bali itself or in similarly accommodating atmosphere like the Mauritius, the Seychelles and -- who knows -- perhaps Hawaii.

And why not? Who said that improving the human condition doesn't have to be fun?!