No More Ice for the Blog? (And Rabbie on the Retreat)
There are around 10,000 glaciers in the area around Whittier. All in all 29,000 square miles – 5% of the state of Alaska – are made up of glaciers. But with temperatures clearly on the rise, the ice is melting so fast that people here are talking of a boom in “climate change tourism”. – “See the glaciers before they’re gone”. Cynical? Bizzare? There is the old maxim that tourism destroys what it seeks. Climate change adds another factor. Some food for thought there. I talked to some of the young “climate ambassadors” about our own carbon footprint in doing this trip.
The background to the Climate Change College Arctic Field-Trip
Calculating your carbon footprint
(Erika, Aart and Cara “performing” for their project videos, linking climate protection at home to the melting of the Arctic ice. Check out Cara’s website:
Green “Do it yourself”
Start “Global WORMing by contacting Erika@ClimateChangeCollege.Org. Aart’s project info via Aart@ClimateChangeCollege.Org)
The organisers are paying into a fund to offset the emissions from travel. And the idea is that these youngsters will be doing such a lot to spread the word about what we’re doing to the planet with global warming – and what we can still do to cope with the changes and halt the trend – that it will be more than worth the trip. And after spending 10 days with them, I’m sure that’s very true. The projects they’re working in at home – some full-time, some alongside other jobs – show a deep commitment to finding solutions. Our Swedish ambassador Jakob Rutqvist in particular keeps reminding me that it’s not just about spreading the word but finding creative ways to tackle the problem and move forward. He’s involved in a very high-powered network, supported by WWF, aimed at encouraging innovation across the globe when it comes to reducing emissions and halting global warming.
The “Global Focus Network”
Jakob is currently planning a trip to China in June to meet potential partners in finding solutions to energy and other problems in a country that is crucial to safeguarding the future because of its huge population. He’s also the Swedish youth representative at a big gathering in Stockholm next weekend to discuss climate issues.
He’s invited Aart, the Dutch climate ambassador to go along. I’ve recruited them both to report on the conference for Deutsche Welle. This is a perfect story for our youth programme COOL. Anke and Laura, if you’re reading this, I think I’ve found you two new reporters.
Click here for the “coolest programme on the air”
Jakob and Aart are both keen to disprove the popular assumption that – unlike the 1968 generation being celebrated in the media at the moment 40 years on – today’s youth are not interested in activism or committed to change. They want to make a statement to demonstrate the opposite.
Aart told me he was really flabbergasted by our visit to the Begich Boggs glacier visitors centre.There’s a magnificent glass-walled viewing room. The trouble is that the Portage glacier has retreated so far that you can’t see it all from the centre. In less than 70 years, it has receded more than 2 miles. So there is an impressive view of Portage lake, iced over, and snowy hills, but definitely no glacier.
What bothered me just as much was that I wasn’t allowed to interview our guide through the centre or record any of her talk. – Because it was about climate change. She wasn’t authorized to speak officially on that. Melting Ice is clearly a “hot” topic.
The talk was informative, though, so thanks to our guide for that, even though she can’t be on the programme.
The glaciers in this area bear the names of famous authors –Byron, Shakespeare and – Robert Burns. Friends of Scotland please take note. Rabbie is definitely on the retreat in this area of Alaska. I hope it only applies to the glaciers.
More about Scotland and the network of Scots abroad
To get up close to the glaciers, we took a trip on a “landing boat”, loaded with kayaks for the ultimate and “otterly environment-friendly” approach to the ice wonders. (We met plenty of those “otterly laid-back” little sea “critters” on the way – and I enjoyed exchanging those otterly corny puns with Sebastian, a colleague on the trip. Thanks Seb.)
Our guide Andy is very experienced in minimum-impact camping, and made sure we didn’t disturb nature too much and just had the basics – but the right gear for the conditions.Sleeping in the vicinity of glaciers is an odd experience.
We had been prepared to sleep on thick snow, but our campsite was actually snow-free. Only the water was full of “ice cubes”.
Our three glaciers were rumbling so much during the night I thought I was in a thunderstorm. You frequently hear explosive crashes, and a bit closer up the ice crackles and pops away constantly.
“Sound-Rich Ice” (to be heard soon on Living Planet!)
The environment program you should be listening to every week. Podcast?
The ambassadors used the glacier background trip to film scenes for their “project movies”, linking their work at home to the dramatic ice melt in this very sensitive region. Ines from Spain braved the icy temperatures in her bikini and a rubber dingy.
The first half of her film had been shot in an empty outdoor pool at home, demonstrating the drought conditions which are causing desperate water shortages in Portugal. Her idea was to show that you might have to go a very long way to get water.
Unfortunately our trip was flawed when our expedition leader Marc Cornelissen – the mastermind behind the “Climate Change College” – got a message by satellite phone that his father was critically ill. Visibility was too poor for a helicopter to collect him, so Andy took him off in the “Zodiac” boat to meet another boat coming in from Whittier to take him back. This was very sad for all the group, as the field trip and Marc’s whole project was just coming to its highpoint. They all coped very well, including taking over the logistics of getting the group and all their equipment organised for the trip home afterwards.We hope things will work out OK for Marc.
Marc told his ambassadors as he left they had to see the project through. So the kayak trip went ahead.
We paddled through a field of mini ice-bergs. Now I know what it feels to be a slice of lemon in a glass of fizzy drink with ice cubes in it. I recorded as we went along – and even interviewed Marie Laure from kayak to kayak as we reached our destination – as close as safety would allow to the 3 glaciers.
She’s in love with snow and ice, but concerned that people looking to enjoy it on the ski slopes of Europe use up too many of our natural resources, with artificial snow and a huge amount of water in general. Her project is to save on water consumption in the ski resorts of her home in France by simple things like water-saving showerheads. She told me about it and her deep concern about global warming as we sat and marvelled at the glaciers – and the sound of them melting and breaking in the background.
That would be a good place to end this entry of the “Ice Blog”. The Climate College Field Trip has come to an end. But of course climate change is a never-ending story. Back in Bonn, Germany, we’re in a heat wave, with high summer temperatures, and it’s only early May. (The mosquitos were already out in Fairbanks, by the way, way too early, the locals said). I heard on the radio that the oil supply will “peak” as early as in 10 years. And the IPCC climate chief says the sea level increase through global warming definitely exacerbated the effects of the disastrous cyclone in Myanmar.
Watch this space for more Arctic pictures and climate news and views in the weeks to come.
– Not the End –
DateMay 11, 2008 | 12:57 pm
TagsAlaska, Arctic, Climate, Climate Change College, glaciers, ice, Living Planet, Media, Robert Burns, Scotland, snow, USA, WWF, Youth