Confusing poor John Franklin with conquistador Hernan Cortes

The 2014
discovery of Erebus increased
interest in the Arctic, where climate change is more in evidence than anywhere else, while inciting commentary that has sometimes gone over the top.
the Franklin Expedition glorified,” Roy Scranton wrote recently in The Nation, “was the war of
Man—white men—against Nature. Franklin was indeed a tragic figure, and the
tragic flaw he embodied was a will to power

that knew no bounds. He was doomed
because ‘nature’ proved, finally, unconquerable, but in honoring his memory, we
were celebrating and carrying on the war he’d waged.” Ah, yes, the war of those
awful white men against nature. That would be the same war that gave rise to the
steam engine, airplanes, submarines, icebreakers, central heating,
air-conditioning, the internet, smart phones, and of course the list goes on forever.

offers an excellent account of climate change, and also of his
own expeditionary voyage through the Arctic. But having shown no qualms about
accepting a free Arctic experience, including airfare, Scranton then declares adventure
tourism “an ethically dubious proposition.” He continues: “Built on and often glorifying a tradition of brutal,
racialized colonial domination, adventure tourism restages the
white-supremacist conquest of ‘nature’ and ‘natives’ as a carefully controlled
consumer encounter with ‘pristine wilderness’ and ‘indigenous cultures.’”

From nature we have slid to natives. But
when he speaks of
racialized colonial domination,” Scranton appears to be thinking of the Spanish conquests of the Aztec, Mayan, and Incan civilizations. He confuses poor old
Franklin, who had trouble finding indigenous folk when he needed them, with figures
like Hernan Cortes and Francisco Pizzaro, who did indeed wage “brutal, racialized”
wars — though the Aztecs, especially, were perhaps not without sin in this

let us admit that John Franklin was no John Rae, who made a point of learning from
the indigenous peoples, and who championed the Inuit against the most powerful people in Victorian England, among them Charles Dickens. At the same time, I would
suggest that adventure tourism, far from being part of the problem, is part of
the solution. In the Arctic, whether we like it or not, climate change will
require adjustment and adaptation. The greatest threat by far is that of oil
tankers sailing willy-nilly through the Northwest Passage. Better, I think, to
have adventure tourism creating jobs while clogging those waters with small ships and friendly
passengers. That would, not incidentally, help make the Canadian-sovereignty case for
controlling tanker traffic.

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