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Ship of fuels

Updated Monday, 6th October 2008

The topic turns to responsibility, as Joe Smith blogs from his Arctic climate change expedition.

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A trip to a glacier edge in small rib boats. At last geology lessons of decades ago make sense. Film and photos can’t begin to capture the scale.

Plenty of talk on responsibility and how (and whether) people manage to justify our own ‘climate tour’. I could do with some help from my colleague Stephen (that’s Stephen Peake: for the non OU readers – Stephen is a climate change policy specialist who used to work with the UN’s policy body the UN FCCC).

One of the blog posts has asked whether we feel powerless to affect the way the Arctic is changing. In short – is it too late to do anything about climate change? Is the arctic certain to melt? Is action futile? Stephen and I have talked these issues through hundreds of times over more than 16 years of friendship and collaboration. How to walk the line between hope and despair? [read Stephen's answer] My own response? No – there’s plenty that can be done, and optimism costs nothing. Pessimism however could be very expensive indeed.

1750 marked the birth of a new geological era – the Anthropocene. There’s no doubt that human activity since the industrial revolution is intervening in natural processes of change. It’s the first time a geological era has been associated with the impact of just one animal. This naming of a new stratigraphic layer isn’t just due to climate change: plastics and other new materials and impacts of agriculture and urbanisation also help to win humanity this dubious honour.

There’s plenty of loose and exaggerated language around climate change for sure, but it is not too grand to say that we’re at a hinge point  in history (both ‘big time’ and small: geological and human). The CO2 emissions already committed to the atmosphere promise climate change for a century and more into the future, and that will change the Arctic. Can we preserve what Inuit leader Sheila Watt-Cloutier calls their ‘right to be cold’? Yes there will be further impacts on this extraordinary place even if CO2 emissions nose-dived tomorrow.

Exploring the arctic at the current time forces you to think on potential loss. Whether by coming here (not all at once please) or (better) by engaging with the scientific or cultural responses that echo out from an expedition like Cape Farewell it is inevitable that people will be moved by the prospect of losing something unique and important. But being here has really lifted us all. Whether we work with climate change professionally or are coming to it with pretty fresh eyes there is a really positive energy on board that must be coming from the mad mix of people and from simply being this ‘last imaginary place’.

Joe Smith [image by Nathan Gallagher © copyright Nathan Gallagher] Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: Nathan Gallagher
Joe Smith




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