Ice Melts. Reflections from Antarctica

Frere Roger of Taize states that to make world peace one must start making peace with oneself. This pebble approach and related concentric circles of family, neighborhood, community, state, nation, and world contains much ancient spiritual wisdom.

Likewise, the reality of climate change may follow a parallel process. One wants to do something about global warming, then do something about one’s own fossil fuel consumption. Ice melts.

For persons of faith, environmental issues have taken on new urgency. Both liberal and evangelical congregations have embraced inherent dangers in climate change and reframed the issue as one of being a good steward of God’s benevolence.

So, what’s the word from Antarctica? Doesn’t that turn upside down the metaphor of starting at home first? Isn’t Antarctica an end result? Few will ever get to experience the seventh continent. Why does Antarctica matter? Ice melts.

Antarctica is holy ground. It’s vastness and remoteness allows one to see whales feeding and hundreds of thousands of penguins and seals in the same day. It’s a luxury and privilege to experience raw nature on such a vast scale. A visit there wallops the spirit with awe and wonder and one is immediately reminded of early explorers like Scott, Amundsen, and Shackleton---some who perished and some who survived one hundred years ago during the final great age of exploration when all that could be discovered, had been discovered.

Despite warnings that an iceberg the size of Delaware is breaking off due to global warming, there is little urgency detected in political capitals for extreme action or any action for that matter. So, ice melts, big deal.

Antarctica is a frozen garden of Eden. Plentiful and varied fauna live among cathedrals of glaciers and snow. Jagged mountain ranges rise out of fjords. The only human settlements are research stations. Visitor permits must be issued for any tourist landing. The Antarctic Treaty outlines provisions for tourism and scientific research. It’s an international continent dedicated to peace and science.

It was never below 35 degrees during the days we visited. There are those who may argue that daily temperature and last year being the warmest year in record-keeping have nothing to do with each other. Ice melts.

Why should we care about Antarctica?

1) There are very few places left in the world that are pure nature, and, for me, that implies something innately sacred. Antarctica is holy ground even though Jesus never technically ‘walked’ there.

2) If you care about the environment, then one must care about Antarctica. Along with the Ozone layer and holes, it’s the most significant living dynamic scientific laboratory for global warming and the future of humanity. Too much to grasp? Ice melts.

3) Literally, Antarctica is the end of the earth. Most will never get to see it in person. Yes, there was talk about desert sheiks towing icebergs to irrigate the deserts during times of drought and famine, but various pandemics (i.e. AIDS) curtailed rapid population growth. Save the planet, walk more. Better yet, be a climate immigrant. Habitations change. Ice melts.

4) It’s hard to care about the world’s water table rising when you live on the 11th floor of a high-rise building. Ice melting over there won’t have an immediate impact on my quality of life, but what if temperatures continue to rise and weather patterns change? Why those who are resistant to basic science fail to grasp the reality of a place most will never see in person? Climate change will impact national security (i.e. food supply) and our personal security (scarcity of basic resources). Ice melts.

5) What if hurricanes and tornadoes are more intense, and rainstorms more deadly and droughts more lasting? Adapt, migrate, or perish. Can weather be considered a human-caused disaster? Let our grandchildren and children deal with it. But, weather is time-sensitive. Weather is today. Ice melts.

Shackleton came back to Elephant Island to rescue his stranded crew. Wild wouldn’t stock up on penguin because by implication that meant rescue was not in the foreseeable future. One saw where they camped for four months awaiting rescue. It appeared about as hospitable as camping under Niagara Falls in winter.

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