Airbnb is offering a handful of people concerned about the environment a chance to participate in scientific research on how to help preserve it during an all-expense paid trip to Antarctica.
The Antarctic Sabbatical, as the travel company is dubbing it, will give five people the opportunity to study how widely micro plastics have infiltrated the region. Over a month’s time in December, they’ll be trained in lab work in Chile, collect snow samples in Antarctica, climb key glaciers and even visit the South Pole.
Not sure what any of that has to do with vacation rentals or homesharing, but it does support protecting the environment.
It’s not a typical citizen science project, which is often designed to widen the number of people (and their computers, binoculars, and other common tools) that can contribute to data collection and processing. They center around seeking out people who are already advantageously placed, as Bergmann did in asking folks who lived in Norway for snow samples, rather than hauling them across the ocean to put yet more footprints in a fragile ecosystem. Airbnb’s efforts are, instead, a company co-opting and twisting the notion of citizen science to use science (even perhaps a little real science!) to sell its mission and product. “The last thing that Antarctica needs right now is more people going down there,” says Jessica Green, who studies the politics of climate change at the University of Toronto. She sees tourism as one of the biggest threats to the continent—“putting forth the idea that just anyone can go is not very helpful.”
Here are some alternate ideas of how Airbnb could straightforwardly support science: providing a research grant, sponsoring a scientist’s fare, even partnering with ALE to have folks already on tour in Antarctica do data collection. Or just asking scientists what they need and supplying that. “You need quite fancy technology to actually find the microplastics,” Bergmann explains. The hard work of analysis once you return to the lab “is the bottleneck, not getting the samples.”