Polar Bears And Transformation

June 14, 2008

One of the first questions I’m expecting from people when I return to the UK is:

‘Did you see a polar bear?’

And I can happily say that the answer is a resounding, ‘YES!’

This morning we got to within 50 metres of a strong and playful male, who seemed to love the cameras (nearly as much as me…), rolling around in the snow and yawning at us. Mind you, he was probably just curious why a boat full of people (including a Malaysian sous-chef who had never seen snow before today) couldn’t take their eyes and cameras off him!

He really did seem as if he was the King of the Arctic. So graceful, so powerful – and yet, my mind was whirring on the fact learnt this morning, that one coffee cup of oil can kill it. An oil spill in the Arctic ice would be impossible to clear with current technology, (even spills on water take more than 25 years to clean most of the damage) and the effects on marine eco-systems would be dramatic. In this nearly human-free environment, where natural beauty is so overwhelmingly abundant – it beggars belief that this could be destroyed so utterly.

Major commercial shipping routes for ice-breaking oil tankers, extensive over fishing, and new oil and gas extraction projects that will highly increase the risk of oil spills present incredible problems to the Arctic. A lecture this morning by Dr Neil Hamilton, who leads WWF’s Arctic Program (who is sporting a very tight gortex jacket, because he accidentally packed his wife’s instead of his own) detailed to us the immense challenges faced by the Arctic region – not only in terms of melting ice and climate change, but what other issues are created by this drastic alteration.

As we sailed through the pack ice on which the polar bear lives, I did wonder if breaking through the ice was actually seriously damaging to the habitat – but as the ice on the sea is very young ice (one year old) it is already melting due to the increased summer warmth and will be gone by September. The ice has been retreating so rapidly in these warm summer months, that when the ocean re-freezes in the winter, an ever-smaller number is being reformed.

Not good.

This afternoon, we separated into the small speedboat Zodiacs and explored a fjord where we spotted a walrus, various bird colonies and saw glacier fronts up to 30 metres where ice was ready to plunge into the water at any moment. It was snowing heavily and it was one of the moments where I really felt that I was here – in the Arctic ocean… Oooooh yeah!

But what I’m beginning to see is that playing politics as usual is only bringing us so far. We need a politics of transformation, because the timeframe for action on climate change is so small – from 1 to 10 years – that we cannot afford to wait.

This is why Emma and myself as so passionate about getting the British government to commit to at least an 80% cut in carbon dioxide emissions by 2050.

All over the world, there is a clash between those who cannot imagine a different world, and those who are already creating it.

This is why we’re here.

We are part of a global movement on climate change, where young people are leading the way in demonstrating solutions. And it has grown in experience, inspiration and knowledge and is ready for action.

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