March for Melting Ice

A male polar bear

Image via Wikipedia

Polar sea ice.  What does it mean to you?  Vast areas of white, white, white, never-ending?  Cold temperatures and a blinding wind? A home for polar bears in the north and penguins in the south? 

Polar sea ice caps our planet, top and bottom. It keeps the water at the poles cold. When it is cold at the poles and warm at the equator – you have the perfect engine to move water around the planet. These currents oxygenate the water and allow aquatic life to flourish. These currents shape our weather. These currents are vitally important to life on Earth, both in the ocean and on the land.

So if the poles warm up, what happens to the currents? What happens to the level of oxygen in the water? What happens to the health of the oceans? What happens to the weather?

It all changes.

So what is happening anyway with our poles? Are they really warming up as fast as some are saying? Is the sea ice melting? Can the sea ice freeze up again?

Well, there is news out today that the Arctic sea ice is set to break some records. It could be lower this year than it has ever been in over 7,000 years. It is set to break the previous record set in 2007.

Yikes.

File:2007 Arctic Sea Ice.jpg

Meanwhile, the animals suffer.

There is news today that chinstrap penguins in Antarctica are starving, as their diet of krill has been diminished. Krill populations have decreased up to 80% since the 1970s in some areas, associated with the continual decline in sea ice.

There is also news out today that king crabs are now moving into the Antarctic, as they can survive in the warming waters. The flora and fauna of this ecosystem are very fragile, and not accustomed to this new predator. The sediment of the ocean floor is changing, as the king crabs eat and forage what was previously left behind. Certain local species are going extinct.

Meanwhile in the north, polar bears continue to lose their hunting grounds, as they depend on the ice to hunt seal. They also have to swim further and further between ice floes, sometimes they drown.

It is all changing.

How much of this is our fault? How much of this is my fault, me personally? If one million penguins die, or one thousand polar bears, what is my contribution to that? If another horrible storm hits, and people die or are displaced by the wreckage, how much of that is due to the choices I have made in my life?

Some of it is my fault. I know it is.

What can I do? How do we collectively start taking climate change seriously? What will it take? When will we realize that we only have this one Earth to live?

Inaction or action? Bystander or change maker? Consumer or creator? What path will I take? How will I live this life?

Well I plan on taking part in 350.org’s Moving Planet: a day to move beyond fossil fuels. There are events going on all over the world, and I want to be part of this global day of action. I want to stand up. I want to be that someone who did something, whose voice was counted.

I want to march.

I plan to take my kids, scooter, tricycle and all. Here in Edmonton, we are going to meet at the abandoned Esso station on Whyte Ave at 11:00 am and walk, cycle or run to the Alberta Legislature building, along with everyone else who wants a clean, green future for their children. Let’s do it for those penguins and polar bears as well.

Who will join me?

Jupiter

Here is another little known secret – I sometimes wish I had learned astrophysics in school rather than business/accounting. Strange, yes. Let me explain.

When I was on maternity leave with my second child, I found my brain yearning for some intellectual stimulation. I was happy and content being a full-time mother for the year, but did want some mental exercises. So I started in on the literary classics. You know the bunch – Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, Scarlet Letter, Tale of Two Cities, Emma, Crime and Punishment, etc. I consumed about one a week for a while there. I was really nerdy about it too, looking up the Coles notes online, to learn about the hidden symbolism and allegories.

After a while the passion for the classics took a backseat, as I came across a series of shows  about planet Earth and its history. I am talking billions of year’s history here, like in the formation of the Earth and all its stages. I was really interested in it, so I dug deeper. I learned that the Earth was 4.5 billion years old, and for a billion years or so, it had no life at all. For another 1.5 billion years, it just had only cyano bacteria, which as it turns out, are responsible for the oxygen we now have in the atmosphere. Another 1.5 billion years went by and there was nothing but single and multi-celled organisms. Only after this, in the last 500 million years or so, did the great tree of life we now have on Earth flourish.

I learned also about the other planets and moons in our solar system. I was intrigued by Europa, a moon of Jupiter that is covered in ice. Apparently it has oceans of water beneath, kept liquid by the heat created by the tidal forces from Jupiter’s massive gravity. There is also Titan, a moon of Saturn, which is the only other object in the solar system other than Earth to have stable bodies of liquid on the surface. The Cassini-Huygen spacecraft landed on Titan in 2005 and found hills, rivers and plains. Could either of these moons support life, even in bacteria form?

Then I learned about how our solar system is one of only billions in the Milky Way galaxy and how the Milky Way galaxy is among billions in the Universe. Where does this put Earth? A tiny speck, that’s where. If the Universe was the size of the Earth, then the Earth would be the size of a grain of sand (my analogy). It is so tiny, so insignificant in the grand scheme.

So why are we are so fortunate to have it? Do we even realize its worth, how rare it is? What if we are the only planet that has life, among the billions and billions out there? What if we are extraordinarily special? If this is the case, why are we not better stewards of this miracle?

At night I can stand on my driveway and look to the south and see Jupiter. It is appears as a massively bright star. It outshines every other star in the sky, as it has for several months now. These days when I look at it, I can see that it has a crescent shape. I can tell with the naked eye, how the sun is currently shining upon it. It is 900 million kilometers (560 million miles) away. Yet I can see it, standing on my driveway. What other mysteries do the other stars hold? What is out there?

It reminds me how small we are, how lucky we are to have this one world, one home:

One light, one sun
One sun lighting everyone
One world, turning
One world turning everyone
One world, one home
One world home for everyone
- Raffi

 

Shop ‘til you Drop

Black Friday was just this past weekend. It is an American tradition, so we Canadians just sit back and watch in awe. We are still impacted a bit of course, with the TV commercials and spam emails from our favourite online retailers. Someone in Canada decided to start an opposing tradition for this day, called “Buy Nothing Day” in protest against the spectacle of consumer gorging.

It is a simple issue really. We love to shop, but in doing so we are rapidly using up the resources of the planet. As the title of my blog indicates, we only have One Earth to Live. Once we run out of resources here, there isn’t a spare Earth floating by that we can all hop on to. This is it. Some people have likened this to the idea of a spaceship. Earth is our vessel as we careen through space. We need to use resources aboard wisely, to ensure that they don’t run out, that everyone has enough, and that the conditions required to keep life alive persist.

So the core idea of being Earth friendly is to be less wasteful. That is it. Don’t use (consume) more than you have to. What you do take, use wisely and efficiently. Make less garbage and use less energy. It is simple really.

So why is it so hard to do? Why do most people not do it? Heck I didn’t do it. For me, it took a series of exposures to this issue, over a period of about 4 years, which finally culminated in my reading “Now or Never” by Tim Flannery that made me sit up and really take stock. After reading the book in one night, I found myself crying at 2 in the morning, vowing that from that moment forward to take action. I worried for my children and future grandchildren. I desperately wanted the world to change, not to save the Earth, but to save ourselves – humanity. It took this drastic awakening in me, for me to start to change my ways. What will it take for everyone else?

I was driving in my neighbourhood one day, this caught my eye (actually my son pointed it out):

Then we found this one nearby:

Hmmm… a shopping cart at the top a mountain of snow, right in front of Wal-Mart. How interesting. How symbolic really. We are all climbing a mountain – working and striving to make money to support our families and to buy stuff. We work harder and harder to buy bigger and better stuff, so that we improve our standard of living and live more comfortably. Does this make us happier? Well perhaps it does, since why else would we all do it? At the end of the day, the stuff is somehow supposed to equal happiness and success. It is the shopping cart atop our mountains.

My 5-year old son thought it was funny. I bet the kids who pulled this prank probably thought it was funny too, I am sure they were rolling around laughing at the sight of it. I wonder if they thought about the symbolic piece of landscape art they had just created….