Wednesday, May 6, 2009
EXCLUSIVE: Parker Liautaud in Antarctica
At Pax Arctica, we are happy to welcome Parker Liautaud, a true Ambassador (and scion of Bernard, of Business Objects' fame, and Pax Arctica supporter) who reports on his recent voyage to Antarctica:
"In the year 2041, the Madrid Protocol (signed in 1991) that protects Antarctica from governments looking to drill and mine for its currently valuable resources will come up for review – and the fate of Antarctica will lie in the hands of today’s young people. In March 2009, I had the unbelievable opportunity as a 14-year-old to take part in an actual expedition to Antarctica with a group led by Robert Swan, a famous British explorer and environmentalist, and the first person to have walked unaided to both poles. In the attached article I describe my experience on this expedition, my observations of the dramatic impact of global warming on the fragile ecosystems of the Antarctic Peninsula, and I outline what we, as young people, can do to create solutions and start reversing the current tragic situation."
MORE HERE from Parker:
Facts cited in this article were learned on my Inspire Antarctic Expedition in March 2009 thanks to Robert Swan and the 2041 team.
In the year 2041, the Madrid Protocol (signed in 1991, lasting 50 years) that protects Antarctica from governments looking to drill and mine for its currently valuable resources will come up for review – and the fate of Antarctica will lie in the hands of today’s young people. With the Kyoto Protocol for the Environment expiring only three years from now at the third World Summit for Sustainable Development, in 2012, everyone is feeling the pressure. This is why we need to kick our dependence on non-renewable energy – not to mention the detrimental effects we all know we are having on the environment more generally by using fossil fuels. As a teenager myself (I’m 14), one who has seen what humans can do to such a beautiful place, I am aware of the responsibility that we will face later on. Unless we are all adequately informed and involved, the beauty of Antarctica will be part of history.
The 2041 organization was founded by Robert Swan, the first person in history to have walked to both the North and South poles, after the Rio World Summit for Sustainable Development in 1992. A group of world leaders gave him the task of informing, engaging and inspiring young people and business leaders to be more sustainable and to work towards saving the last untouched wilderness on Earth: Antarctica. Ten years later, at the Johannesburg World Summit in 2002, he accepted another 10-year mission to turn young people into sustainable leaders and to lead the world into an era of renewable energy and sustainability.
Since the year 2003, Robert Swan and the 2041 team have led teams from all over the globe, comprising environmentalists, business executives, teachers, entrepreneurs and young people expeditions through the Antarctic Peninsula, sharing his personal experience and his knowledge of the continent as they visited remote and spectacular places. I was unbelievably privileged, especially at such a young age, to be part of this unique group of people who have witnessed firsthand the effects that climate change and unsustainable lifestyles have had on Antarctica.
What did I see in Antarctica?
• Antarctic Sound (Iceberg Alley): We witnessed icebergs that had broken off of the Larsen B ice shelf in 2002 as a result of global warming. They were not supposed to be there!
• Human activity: Russia, after the Cold War, ‘abandoned’ their oil drums on King George Island. ‘Fishing vessels’ still occasionally stop by there... hmmm.
• Summer Humpback Whale feeding frenzy: Whales were not as abundant this year as in some previous years. Were there fewer krill around due to pancake ice melting (i.e., ice that consists of round sheets of ice, which range in diameter from a few inches to many feet, depending on the conditions in which it was created)?
• Crabeater Seals are the most numerous of all the seals on the Antarctic Peninsula. We did not see any during our entire expedition.
• Leopard Seals: We had the extraordinary luck to witness four in the same area. Leopard seals are territorial, solitary and aggressive creatures. Seeing four in the same area is incredibly rare. Had they no other choice but to share the penguin-coated beach with other seals?
• Ice: Passing through Iceberg Alley, the icebergs that we saw (that were not supposed to be there anyway) had started to melt. Along the meltline of various bergs, we saw icicles that were dripping slowly into the sea. This does not happen by chance or by force of water. These icebergs would have been thousands of years old made by heavily compressed snow.
What are the key environmental issues concerning Antarctica?
Climate change plays a significant role in the conservation of Antarctica. The Antarctic Peninsula, which is the large horn pointing out of the Antarctic continent towards South America, is one of the fastest warming regions on the planet. Experts say that 80% of the global temperature increase will go into the ocean, which will lead to a faster melting of the ice.
In the Austral summer, the ice edge is intense with life. Its high concentration of algae (that grow off the bottom of pancake ice) makes it home for huge amounts of krill, the main food source for many of the Antarctic species. This means that there are usually a high number of penguins, seals and whales that feed there during this time.
According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), if global temperatures rise by just 2°C, 75% of Pygoscelis adeliae (Adelie penguins) and 50% of Aptenodytes forsteri (Emperor penguins) face disappearance. This would be due to reduced sea ice thickness and coverage which would impede these species’ ability to hunt and breed. If the ice is gone, there is no place for algae to grow. Without algae, the krill die. This has dramatic consequences for all Antarctic species, because krill is the base food for most of them.
Moreover, as the sea ice shrinks, there would be higher concentrations of Balaenoptera bonaerensis (Antarctic Minke whales) around the ice edge as they attempt to reside peacefully in the remainder of their natural habitat. This rise is not only possible but likely to happen if we do not address our unsustainable methods immediately.
We are all seeing the change happening already. With the recent breakup of the Wilkins ice shelf, on the other side of the Antarctic Peninsula to the Larsen B ice shelf, we are given a violent “heads up”. Not only can we see that the Antarctic Peninsula is falling apart, but we all know that these events contribute to global sea level rise. A 5 meter rise in sea level, which is not farfetched, would drown half of Florida.
Lack of Sustainability and our Dependence on Non-Renewable Energy Sources
We are currently at a stage where the world is dependent on the abundance of fossil fuels. In China, a new fossil fuel power station opens every week. Eventually, when oil reserves begin fade in the North Sea, the Middle East and everywhere else, our lack of sustainability and our dependence on non-renewable energy sources will lead us to extremes. An example that is already in place is the Arctic. The Arctic is pure ice, so it is currently displacing the water below it. Melting it would not result in a rise in sea level. But, with the ice now gone, new drilling opportunities have arisen. The Scandinavians and the Russians have already placed claims in places that should still be covered in a thick sheet of ice, but all that remains is a thin layer of brash ice (i.e., ice that consists of small, floating fragments of sea ice). These claims will eventually lead to the construction of huge oil rigs and other harmful infrastructures.
How are we to believe that the same will not happen with the Antarctic? The only reason that the treaty was signed to begin with was because there were ideas of drilling for fossil fuels and minerals in the Antarctic. In fact, many believe that some countries go to great lengths to ensure presence on the great continent not for the purpose of “peace and science” (As the Antarctic Treaty System would put it), but as a secret political battle, to have a chance to withdraw local resources when others run out. These include coal, minerals, and large oil reserves.
Antarctica’s ecosystems contain mostly marine animals. This would mean that across Antarctica, the only place one would see penguins, seals, and whales would be on the coast or on the ice. If you travel to the Trans-Antarctic Mountains, do you think you would come across the occasional penguin colony?
Unfortunately, most of the oil and minerals that would be available when the ice starts to melt would lie on the coastline as well. Slowly, the ice will start to retreat from the coastline and give way to the massive race for its resources, starting in the year 2041, which is coincidently the year by which a 2°C rise in global temperatures is possible. In fact, if we turn out to be truly irresponsible, and we swallow all of the oil reserves too quickly, it is likely that Madrid Protocol could come up for review earlier than 2041. But if we get to that situation, it means that we have failed to implement sufficient changes into society – and the Antarctic could be lost.
As soon as mining and drilling on coastal Antarctica commences, the Antarctic wildlife will already be in danger (for the very reason miners are there: the ice is gone), and could face further decline. Entire ecosystems could be lost before we even discover them – all because of greed and a desire to conquer the last place left on Earth that we all own.
The answers to these global issues should be lying in our own back yard. The next time you walk outside in the morning to get your paper, and the sun is shining onto your face, think about all the energy you are wasting and what you could be saving by installing solar panels. The next time you find yourself in an epic fight against the wind to get from your car to your house in the middle of a storm, think about how much energy wind turbines would be generating at that very moment. There has never been a need to invent new ideas that will cost significant amounts of money and will only feed our dependence on non-renewable energy sources, making us even less sustainable. As I learned from a presentation given by David Hone, the Climate Change advisor for Shell, there have recently been suggestions to put up “space mirrors” as a global warming counteract. These are large, concave mirrors that would be sent into space to deflect the sun’s rays and equalise global warming. They are effective for reducing heat on our planet, but (in addition to cost) still fail to deal with our dependence on non-renewable energy sources and our lack of sustainability, as well as all the other ecosystem disturbances the CO2 causes. Essentially, we would be spending significant sums of money for a stall, which would not even reduce emissions.
I am respectfully trying to join the call to all transnational corporations, small businesses, schools, governments and individuals to change policy and encourage sustainable technologies. Please inform, inspire and involve young people in action against the global lack of sustainability, just like Robert Swan and 2041.
The Fragility of Antarctica and How we are Endangering It
From what we witnessed on the expedition, many of us would say that the world is being careless about the way it treats Antarctica. It cannot be treated as just another “place”, which is why it is currently being protected by the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (IAATO). On the expedition, I saw many things that showcased our carelessness in using such a spectacular and unique region, and some made me wonder about the necessity of it all. An example of this would be at the Argentine station of Brown Base, on the Antarctic Peninsula. Here, the station is used only a third of the year, and is not well constructed. It comprises a few wooden huts dotted along the beach and a yard containing barrels and some other waste, with long planks of wood and metallic scraps left behind from more than a decade ago. We should all consider the need to respect the fragile ecosystem that exists upon that beach.
Other human activity disturbs the Antarctic ecosystems as well. As one of the most rapidly expanding tourist destinations in the world, Antarctic luxury cruises are increasingly frequent. These huge cruise ships, which require enormous amounts of energy to run, are inefficient, belching out tons of carbon dioxide into the Antarctic atmosphere. Although many of them are not licensed to set foot on land, perhaps due to liability issues or because they were denied permission, they potentially cause harm and disruption in Antarctic ecosystems if they are not handled with care.
Finally, habitat destruction also plays a key role in the status of all the Antarctic species. The Tristan Albatross, for example, is classified by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as critically endangered, primarily because of habitat being lost as people try to conquer Antarctica and build increasingly sophisticated bases and buildings on it. According to BirdLife International, Eudyptes Chrysocome, the Southern Rockhopper Penguin, is now classified as vulnerable because its population has declined by one third in the last thirty years.
What can young people do about these issues?
The following are a few suggestions for easy, practical ways in which young people can contribute. They involve a range of learning, speaking out, and taking action. 2041 will support an entrepreneurial effort started by young people. It is part of their mission, and they strive to inspire young people to join the effort.
• The first mover for sustainability will be the winner. Make your school the example, the best and the standard that others aspire to. Use it as an opportunity to showcase alternative, more sustainable energy sources (e.g. planting green roofs, using recycled and recyclable materials). By promoting or switching to renewable energy, you are addressing many of the environmental difficulties we face today. This will also encourage others to do the same and will attract the attention of the media, who will increasingly showcase those who do better environmentally – and highlight those who are inefficient.
• Create a community environmental council, consisting of a few young people and one or two representatives from your school that can help you get it started. The people of this council will help make goals for your community to work towards, and make decisions concerning its sustainability, for example what materials to use when constructing a new building.
• Competition is everywhere. It plays a huge role in everyone’s lives, especially in schools and offices. Why not start a competition or a challenge to become the most sustainable school in your community? You could use the Green Cup Challenge as a structural basis, which is an international green challenge for schools; but it does not have to be expensive. The local competition will be effective because it will get more and more competitive every year you run it.
• Take small steps in your school and community. Change to energy-efficient light bulbs, recycle more, and slowly become more sustainable.
• Start an Antarctica awareness campaign. These do not have to be hard or expensive to start up. You should ask your school to support it. Awareness campaigns are also highly effective, and are the best way to show entrepreneurial initiative in your community.
• Persuade your school and/or community to switch to a greener power companies. There are over 750 green power companies that can help you become more sustainable without necessarily costing you extra money.
• Install energy conservation software such as Verdiem Edison and/or Verdiem Surveyor on all the school and home computers. This is a free, downloadable, small piece of software that will dramatically increase the energy efficiency of your computers. As soon as you download it, you will begin to see the positive effects it will have on your electrical bill and the environment. Turning just one small laptop to one of the highest power conservation settings will reduce your emissions by almost 100 kilograms of CO2 and 159 kilowatts of energy annually. This means that if your school has 20 computers, you could save over $555 every year.
• Measure energy consumption within your school/community, and set a reduction target. Working towards a goal will make your efforts much more effective.
• How do these issues affect you and/or your community? For example, people in the Arctic are seeing diminished numbers of Caribou and new (and possibly invasive) species being introduced to their ecosystems. Every community will be affected in some way. Start working on local projects to counteract these issues in a sustainable way. To help this project, you should persuade those around you to invest for time into the outdoors. Seeing these issues affect your community through your own eyes will help you understand and care.
• Start a waste reduction and proper disposal program.
• Start a proper disposal and recycling program for unused electronics.
Once again, I would like to mention that I owe all of the above to Robert Swan and the 2041 team, who courageously offered a 14-year-old a chance to join the fight.