Behold, the Horror of Man

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Prior to the coronavirus disruption, the first few decades of the twenty-first century witnessed a rapid expansion of the global tourist industry. By 2030 nearly a quarter of the global population is expected to travel. This unprecedented growth of tourist activity is occurring within an environment of profound change and uncertainty in the Earth’s climate, proverbially referred to as global warming or climate change. Human-induced effects on the planet’s geo-climate have become so pronounced that a new geological epoch was coined in 2000 to signify this fact—the Anthropocene. This article incorporates the insights from dark tourism to develop an argument for why global tourism has thrived in the Anthropocene. To forestall an ecologically induced crisis in the capitalist-driven tourist industry, this article suggests a variation of dark tourism has now become a dominant tourist practice. When combined with the concepts of social imaginaries and political ecology, dark tourism’s focus on tourism related to human-to-human suffering and acts of atrocity is critically examined and modified to incorporate human-to-nature degradation so prevalent in this anthropogenic moment. As a framework, dark tourism, which entwines travel with death, is deployed to explain the shifting patterns in the global tourist industry associated with the opening-up of Arctic and Antarctic regions. Using current and archival data from the UN World Tourist Organization, industry reports, web marketing sites, and expeditionary brochures, the legacy and utility of applying dark tourism to Anthropocene tourism is explored. This article illustrates that by calling into question previous conceptualizations of dark tourism, the salience of the concept in tourism and leisure studies is both demonstrated and enhanced. In short, dark tourism in the Anthropocene illuminates why Antarctic and Arctic regions are open for business—just as they begin to disappear under the yoke of the environmental atrocities attributed to the Anthropocene.