Artist Kevin Buckland Contemplates Endangered Beauty in the Arctic Circle (Video)


Image courtesy of Cape Farewell.
This guest post was written by Kevin Buckland, Arts Ambassador for 350.org, as part of the Cape Farewell project.

This post comes to you from a 100 year-old sailboat in the middle of the Arctic ocean. For the past three weeks, I have been traveling as part of the Cape Farewell Expedition, a project that brings artists and scientists together to reflect on how to communicate the science and reality of climate change. The beauty I have seen here is indescribable: Icebergs drift across a mirror sea like clouds, the glacier's edge is a cascade of blues, the singing streams laugh out from beneath the mountains of ice. I spent the first two weeks enamored of the scale of the Arctic's beauty.Three days ago I took a walk. The clouds were hanging low like curtains when our boat arrived at a rocky shore. We stepped onto land and clambered slowly upwards, placing each step carefully on the slippery and broken stones. We arrived at a sharp ridge and peered down upon the cracked white glacier we had come to see. From that height we were staring back in time, looking at water that had been frozen thousands of years ago.

I snapped a few photos in an attempt to record the majesty of ice. But when I brought my camera down, I looked at what was beyond the frame of my photographs. There were stones all around the snow, and a shallow lake at the base, and then more and more mountains of stones. It looked like a construction site, after the bulldozers have destroyed everything but before anything is built. The glacier didn't even reach the ocean anymore.

Something occurred to me then: I am not here to send back photographs of the endangered beauty I have seen, but to tell you of the beauty I have not seen. The place where I was standing was where a glacier should have been. Only a few years ago this would have all been frozen. The beauty changed for me then, and the ice became a cold, hard truth. The icebergs that drift in the waves are not sculptures but the very real face of sea-level rise. The singing streams are the glaciers melting. Quickly.

In photographs the Arctic can seem a far-away place, frozen in time. But look closer, look at what you do not see. Every image is full of air, and this cold wind is part of the same system that touches you now. The wind that fills the sails of our stout ship stretches in one beautiful breeze all the way to the trees outside of your window. It is the same breath that funnels out of the coal-power plants and seeps out of the tailpipes of our cars. The world is a web of wind and water, moving. We are part of of this moving. We kiss the Arctic with our culture's hot breath.

I have come to see the glaciers as windows in time. Their blue lines show us the story of water, gathered over thousands of years. Looking at them we can see the past, frozen before our eyes. These melting mountains can also show us a vision of the future—they show us how quickly things can change, and how quickly beauty can disappear. But this future is only one possible vision, one possible story. We are writing this story ourselves and it is time to begin a new chapter.

On October 10th, all across the globe, in hundreds of languages and in thousands of ways, we will be creating the story of how a planet of people came together to "get to work." 350.org is coordinating a Global Day of Climate Action, inviting the world to create the changes we need to confront the climate crisis. Last October, 350.org's global network coordinated "the most widespread day of political action in history." This year, on October 10th, we will be writing the story of our future with every seed we plant, every beach we clean, every window we insulate and every bicycle we fix. Let's write the story of the future together, the way we want it to be. You and your community are not just a part of this story, you are the heroes.

What will you be doing on October 10th?

Follow the Cape Farewell voyage on the 2010 expedition blog.
Read more from Cape Farewell:
Reconciling Arctic Expectations with Modern Realities
DJ Spooky Tells the Political Tale of Two Poles
DJ Spooky at the Ends of the Earth

Tags: Arctic | Global Climate Change