“All our guests who have been travelling with us are concerned by the climate crisis.”
The above quote by Janne Honkanen, founder of travel agency Luxury Action, might constitute the greatest irony of the 21st century. Starting next year, Honkanen’s ‘eco-conscious’ clients will stay in heated, all-glass pods at the North Pole — otherwise known as the most over-engineered igloos ever designed.
According to Dezeen, Honkanen is aiming to create “the northernmost hotel in the world”, with glass capsules being transported to the polar ice cap for the duration of April each year. For the other 11 months, they will be located on a glacier in Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago between the North Pole and Scandinavia.
Do these glass igloos look cool to stay in? Absolutely. It would undoubtedly be an incredibly unique experience to lay in bed, looking out at the stars and possibly the Northern Lights, and see a polar bear walk by. Luxury Action’s itinerary includes hiking across a glacier, meeting indigenous people and arctic scientists working nearby, and viewing seals, polar bears, arctic birds and other wildlife.
Before you start packing, though, you should know that this cool experience doesn’t come cheap: true to its name, Luxury Action is charging $100,000 for a five-night stay. But beyond the impact on your bank balance, there is the cost to the environment that such a project would surely cause.
First, there is the perpetual issue of emissions created by transporting both the hotel and its tourists to their destination each year, with a herd of helicopters — one of the globe’s least energy-efficient modes of travel — making a beeline for the North Pole every day in April. Then, there is the architecture: for all their aesthetic appeal, Honkanen’s ‘igloos’ openly contradict Luxury Action’s supposed sensitivity towards climate change.
The pods possess glass walls and ceilings, and — according to The Washington Post — will require constant heating to maintain comfort levels in an area that typically sees temperatures ranging from -4 to -40 degrees Fahrenheit. Each igloo also has its own electricity supply and toilet.
While the details of the latter feature are not yet clear, we’re guessing that the guests won’t need to worry about cleaning up after themselves. That means more igloos will be required for cleaning and maintenance staff, and more carbon-spewing helicopters needed for transporting food and food waste. As if this wasn’t enough, each touring group will be accompanied by an entourage including a camp manager, arctic wilderness guide, chef services and security.
While the merits of the architecture can be debated in their own right, Luxury Action’s concept must surely be questioned, along with the company’s motive.
Ted Scambos, senior research scientist with the Earth Science and Observation Center at the University of Colorado, admits that any hope of the project being carbon neutral is fanciful. “Unless they do a lot of carbon offsetting, they just have to accept the fact that they have to spend some carbon to give people this experience,” he said.
However, he argues that increasing visitors to the region may have a beneficial effect. “I think it’s a good thing to give people that exposure,” he said. “The environmental impact is small compared to the impact of a changed mind.”
While this argument feels dubious at best, Honkanen asserts that his intentions are pure. “I’m really worried about the climate crisis on the planet,” said the businessman. “Because of climate change, we don’t know how many trips we can do up there. The North Pole is a glacier.”
Does this mean we should contribute to the problem to allow the wealthy one last look before it’s all gone? I’m going to bet that the architects who attended last month’s climate crisis protest think otherwise …