General News · 19th February 2009
Nine and a half tons of carbon. That’s what the carbon calculators say a passenger is responsible for the return flight from Vancouver to Ushuaia, Argentina. I have just finished 6 weeks working as a naturalist and zodiac driver onboard a passenger vessel sailing from Ushuaia to the Falklands, South Georgia Islands and Antarctica. It is part of my annual livelihood, something I am good at and really enjoy. During the 6 years I have been doing this job, I have witnessed glaciers retreating, especially in the subantarctic islands. The Antarctic Peninsula is one of the fastest warming areas on earth. Penguin colonies shift location. This year we were surprised to visit a colony site for Adelie penguins only to find that they had finished raising their young very early and had already left the site. Is this a direct effect of global warming or is it feed redistribution or is it all tied together? The variables are much to complex to ascertain for such a quick observation. But the forecasts of change are dire. In part this tourism and this air travel all are feeding global warming.
I have spent many hours agonising over my role in this problem and for me, it comes down to a question of balance. I need to support my family during the northern winter and job opportunities at home on Cortes Island are slim. Working with the excellent team of professional naturalists and lecturers onboard the ship is a fantastic experience and makes me a better naturalist at home. It also gives me the opportunity to talk to guests about the ongoing whaling in the Southern Ocean and the problems of global warming. This can be very difficult, as we have all travelled by air from all over the globe to get here. We are all implicated in the problem and that is not what most folks want to hear when on vacation. But I have found that if I approach the discussion openly and with integrity, the conversation works. Many people still don’t even understand there is even a problem! Here in Antarctica, we can show them proof that things are changing. People go away from here with an appreciation for this beautiful place. People will change to protect what they love, some just need to be shown proof of the problems firsthand to understand.
Will they change their actions and their lifestyle as a result? Will they spread the word? That’s for them to decide. But at least now they recognise there is a decision that needs to be made.
Is this enough to offset my carbon? I don’t know. The alternative is to live a very simple and low impact life out of the garden on Cortes. That would not get the word out though. Our family also gives money to environmental organizations. We self tax ourselves to about $50 per ton of CO2. Because I work in the Southern Ocean, we give to the Save The Albatross Campaign, we give to the Sea Shepard Society and Greenpeace for the whales that continue to be commercially hunted here and we donate to local organizations around home. I encourage passengers to do the same. If I didn’t work, there would be no money to give to organizations working to save the environment.
Is this enough? Does the benefit outweigh the damage done? This is a question that I will continue to reassess and encourage everyone to do the same. For the rest of the year we live simply and consciously. For now, it is the best we can do.
Comment by tom on 30th April 2011
good, inspiring work Mike
Comment by Bill & Bev Olds on 3rd March 2009
We know where you are coming from Mike.
You are doing an excellent job in trying to make a better world for Delphin and all the other children on this planet.
Biggest Impact on C02 Footprint
Comment by Robert Carter on 23rd February 2009
Having kids. Sorry but the global population is still growing and no matter how much you cut down on air travel etc carbon emmissions will continue to grow as the population rises. In ecololgy there is a thing called the ¨carrying capacity.¨ Humans have already reached this level....just look at a globe where each dot represents a city, town or village. We are clearly borrowing from the future to satisfy our wants and needs of today. Despite pressure from society and our families to have kids it´s ok to ´just say no.´ Every kid represents another carbon footprint whether they turn out to be environmentally responsible or not. I know it´s not popular to bring this up but remembering the three ´R´s....reduce, reuse and recycle....the greatest of the three in terms of impact is ´REDUCE !´ Thanks for listening.
Root-cause of the problem ?
Comment by norberto on 21st February 2009
Hi Mike, it’s good to see you are so conscious about you carbon footprint. There is no doubt that air traveling is one of the worse carbon emitters, and yet, many people keep traveling all over the world, for pleasure, for work, for sports, for war.
Unfortunately, our culture has made so easy this “dirty-mobility” (aeroplanes, cars, ferries) a commodity and it will take a huge effort to make a real change. Then again, the current economic crisis is starting to have a positive effect on this, since less people are traveling.
In your case, it is not as simple to say “I am not flying anymore”. Your dilemma is finding a balance in your life. One of the key points you mention is the lack of job opportunities during winter here in the island. The other key point you made is the opportunity you have in talking to your clients and making them aware about the problem. This is very positive indeed. However, I question why do they need to go all the way to Antarctica to realize that global warming is really happening?
Let me say that, in the context of flying emissions, your case is one of the most benign since you are justifying it by educating many people. But what can we say about the thousands of flights taken by sport players (hockey, baseball, football, basket ball) every year? Or the thousands of people (athletes, press, tourists) that will come to the Olympic Circus 2010? Or so many people flying to Mexico, Hawaii, Thailand, to escape from the cold?
Back to the topic of lack of local jobs. To me, this is the root-cause of your problem --and many others like yourself. We know this situation is getting tougher by the day, and I am afraid we will start seeing similar circumstances all year long, not only in winter time. I think all these islands are already feeling the first signs of the recession in a decline of tourism, house development and real state.
There is an urgent need for looking for opportunities for new local industries and jobs that will boost our local economy. This is required to improving our "community resilience." More changes will come with the recession and overall, I am afraid we are ill-prepared to cope and adapt to these changes.
We need to work together to address this issue. Pronto !
Comment by Robert Carter on 20th February 2009
It is great that you think about your carbon footprint and the tradeoffs you make. If more people did this conciously we would probably not be in the mess we are in. Per capita, Canada is one of the biggest emmiter of carbon. Our oil sands projects are a disgrace. Our society still revolves around the automobile and it is extremely hard to change directions because our communities are so spread out. I wish you all the best with your research and hope the results will be enough to convince us to change our ways. Perhaps the economic meltdown will force us to reduce our consumption....who knows. Itºs clear that we canºt continue on this course much longer and that the damage may already be done.
Comment by Noba Anderson on 19th February 2009
Thank-you Mike for sharing your very personal thoughts and struggles about your role in global climate change. Individual testimonials make an impact at a core human level.
For me, this whole proposed run-of-the-river project in the Bute Inlet, also an area of profound wilderness beauty as you describe in our extreme south, brings up similar reflections. What are we going to do to profoundly shift our direction regarding green house gas emissions? What green energy technologies are going to give us the biggest bank for our effort & buck? How can we make those happen? I am on a steep, humbling yet awakening learning curve on these issues. It is time now for action.
Thank-you again for sharing.