We are losing the wild. Out the window, the trees on the mountainside sway and curl in the wind. If I walk up the driveway a little, I can look into the Indian Peaks Wilderness. Wilderness. Sure, there are bears, mountain lions, and other wild animals, but there are also trails and planes flying in the sky above. A cellphone may even work. The wilderness area was created and delineated as a place where humans could connect with the past, nature, and with the notion of vastness and expansiveness. While the acres inside are wilderness, I wonder about their wildness and also about the future of the wild on earth.
I had the amazing opportunity of traveling to Antarctica in January. I almost felt guilty for going to Antarctica, as if my mere presence made the lands a little less wild. But Antarctica didn’t care about me. In fact, it resisted me. The writer in me arrived ready to write about my experience, but I found that I didn’t really have the words. I wanted to compare Antarctica to something, but it defied metaphor. I had no real vocabulary for what I experienced. The ice is like no other ice. The land is like no other land, except perhaps like how I envision the moon. Penguins are truly unlike any animal I have ever seen or interacted with. Even the light and colors are different. The blue I saw can only be described as glacier blue.
Glaciers are one of the most spectacular sites on earth. Many people thought the first icebergs we saw in the distance were ships. Their minds had no reference for what we were entering. In our little ship, we sailed past blocks of snowy ice many stories high, with each layer representing a different time in earth’s history. Some ice was smooth, having been lapped by years of ocean waves; others were jagged and rough. Even I, who am drawn to starkness and spectacles of nature, whose desire often begs to be left alone in remote terrains, did not wish to be left alone there. Yet the landscape stirred something inside me—something like love and fear.
Antarctica felt like the end of the world. As we passed through the Antarctic Circle, I was excited at being so far south on the planet, but I also felt sad. What should have been solid pack ice was a field of broken ice sheets. Something was wrong. I saw it with my own eyes—the south polar ice caps are melting. From what I hear, it is worse in the Arctic.
I came to Antarctica expecting to see signs of global warming, but when I saw the beauty and magnificence of the ice and the simplicity and uniqueness of the penguins, it became more real and more devastating. In one of the last wild places on earth, civilization is taking hold. It’s a war on the wild—this time not fought with earthmovers, chainsaws, and toxic chemicals, but by the mere breath of industry, carbon dioxide or CO2. Just like it is on the fringes of society that the government shows its true face, it’s at the poles that the real impact of industry is felt. And the poles are losing the fight.
Here’s my quick primer on global warming: When fossil fuels, like coal, gasoline, and natural gas are burned for energy they release carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas that traps outgoing heat in the atmosphere. The more heat gets trapped in the atmosphere, the warmer the average global temperature. As earth’s temperature rises, there are all sorts of effects, some predictable, some not. One of the effects that is widely predicted is a significant increase in sea levels. Around the world, sea level rise will make millions upon millions of people, including millions of extremely poor people, homeless. It also has the potential to stop the ocean current responsible for bringing warm water to northern Europe, which could send Scandinavia and England into an ice age. The impacts of global warming are different around the globe. Some areas will see intense drought and wildfire, others increased flooding; some species will flourish, many others will face extinction. Think about what it means that polar bears will likely be extinct before the end of the century. Death by drowning. The fate of the penguins is also in jeopardy. While these species die, others carrying malaria and other so-called tropical diseases will be able to survive across larger areas.
Many people think it’s already too late to save the planet. That may (or may not) be true, but we can at least try to buy some time. Many think technology will save us, but the solutions, if there are some, have not been invented yet. Meanwhile, industry churns on, ravaging resources from the deep pockets of the earth and lining their pockets with record profits. And we all participate in our destruction. Like I wrote years ago, “We are our own revenge; the earth’s scorn is our own. We’ll get back what we give one thousand fold.” One thousand is probably an understatement. Every time we put gasoline or diesel into our cars, every time we turn on a light or plug something in, we are destroying the last wild places, destroying our hope at a future.
To me, global warming is the single most important and dire problem on the planet. The gravity of the situation is almost beyond comprehension, as it threatens all life on earth within the not-so-distant future. I don’t buy the bullshit excuse that one person can’t make a difference. Each one of us contributes to the problem and each one of us can help solve it. Like Antischism said, “It takes two sticks to create a spark, imagine the spark of millions.”
There are three fundamental things you can do to help slow global warming: reduce consumption, switch to renewable fuels, and drive less. Not only should you use less energy, but you should consume less in general and when you do buy stuff, buy from local, earth-friendly companies. You don’t need to put solar panels on your roof to use renewable energy. Most utilities around the country offer wind power options. For your car, drive as little as possible and look into using biodiesel or ethanol, which are both made from plants and reduce carbon dioxide emissions. If renewable fuels aren’t an option, drive a car that gets over 30 miles per gallon. There are plenty of cars besides hybrids that get over 30 mpg. There are also plenty of people that survive without cars.
I want to tie this into punk for a moment. The DIY ethic is perfectly aligned with what is needed to fight global warming. Adapting to global warming will likely mean that communities will need provide their own food and energy, and sustain their own economies based on local products and services. We’ll have to take more control of our lives. We’ll have to learn to live smaller and simpler. This is what we’ve been talking about for a long time! But, it may also mean that coast to coast punk tours, records from Europe, and jet-setting to punk fests around the country become a thing of the past, because the transport is just too expensive. The record industry may find itself at the bottom of the list when competition for petroleum really heats up. So, even if you can’t find it within yourself to care about millions of people dead, diseased and homeless or polar bears drowning, realize that aspects of your life that you hold dear and maybe take for granted will likely be threatened. This is not just an environmental problem; it’s a fight for survival and we are losing the future. We are losing everything.
If you want to see my photos from Antarctica, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll send you a link to an online photo book.