The affective power of melting ice

Mai 2024

Denne presentasjonen blei presentert på Human Geographies of Climate Change Adaptation Conference, Universitetet i Bergen, 15. mai, 2024.

The high Arctic is a hotspot of rapid and cascading climate and environmental changes, which are already placing natural and social systems under stress. Tourism is also booming and has already surpassed pre-pandemic levels. While the carbon footprint associated with tourism in the Arctic is excessive, tourism also provide a critical share of livelihoods in many Arctic communities. The Arctic wilderness is the main attraction for tourists, and it contains one of the most visible symbols of climate change – melting ice. Melting glaciers and shrinking sea ice can be seen as boundary objects that at the same time are charismatic tourism attractions, symbols of climate change and subjects for scientific inquiries. Boundary objects convey meaning and exchange of knowledge across different social realms- in this case that of tourism, climate science and the greater public. Using interviews with guides and participant observation on guided trips in Svalbard, and Jostedalsbreen ice cap in mainland Norway, employing an analytical framework rooted in relational ontology, we investigate how the non-human agency of glaciers and melting ice is manifesting through tourism experiences, and the extent to which guides are motivated to promoting learning and pro-environmental behavior. We find that guides have a strong emotional bond to the places they work and display care and affect for the mountains they work in, and that they utilize the access they have to tourists when they are emotionally exposed during trips to glaciers to inspire behavioral change, contributing to a shift from a climate change discourse of fear to a discourse of care.