Notes From Antarctica: It's More Than Just Cold, Snowy, and Melting
Photo by Eva Jacobus
The news out of Antarctica is often less than positive - unprecedented ice loss in the Antarctic Peninsula, collapsing ice shelves, threats to wildlife. But it also provides some reasons for hope, and some inspiring stories. So, for a few days, we're going to look at the positive news to come out of the Antarctic and our journey with 2041.
The first sighting of Antarctica, on calm seas for the first time after three days of high winds and high waves in the exposed oceans of the Drake Passage, is the image most people have of Antarctica: small icebergs followed by vast, flat sheets of ice floating in cold, grey seas; the sea ice that explorers got caught in, the ice shelves that break up under warming temperatures. But that's only the edge of the continent. When you reach land, penguins nest on pebbled beaches as black rocks jut towards the sky, covered in thousands of years of snow and ice, accumulating slowly over decades, centuries, without melting. Snow forms dune-life drifts in lowlands, and glaciers stretch between mountain peaks, with strangely geometric ripples that turn into fault lines where they crack and calve off icebergs. Snow-covered peaks go on and on, until they're indistinguishable from the clouds. It's not just penguins and ice, but seals and seaweed and moss and soaring birds and orca. Slowly, you start to become accustomed to a world where most of the life is below the surface of the water, and everything on land is just a visitor. Moss and kelp start to seem like shockingly lush vegetation. Two cargo-container buildings on a distant shore starts to look like a town, a strange aberration in a world of water, rock, and snow. It's a world so remote and so peaceful that it's easy to believe you're the only people there, and that's very close to true. It's also a world that moves slowly, at the speed of the weather, as the ice and wind dictates schedules instead of clocks.
Sustainability organization 2041 wants to share this experience of Antarctica with young activists, students, business leaders, so they can take a vision of preserving the 'fragile Eden' of Antarctica back to their companies, schools, and home countries. 2041, founded by polar explorer Robert Swan, is dedicated to promoting renewable energy and sustainable solutions in order to preserve Antarctica for future generations. I was 2041's guest on their latest Antarctic trip, and we'll be spending a few days bringing you stories from the Antarctic. What struck us first, in the wake of widespread disappointment in Copenhagen's slow-moving international cooperation on climate change, was how hard 2041 works to reach activists from nations like India, China, and Vietnam in order to help local environmental movements grow and raise awareness in developing nations as they develop their infrastructure. While governments struggle with political inertia, the grassroots is trying to create that international cooperation while reaching people who can inspire changes locally.