Eartha Steward: Off to save the polar bears
Well, dear readers, its time for part of Eartha Steward’s personality to say farewell to the Summit community as I set my course north. I’m heading to Alaska, land of the midnight sun, salmon runs and the great white polar bear.
Years ago, I tasted the Alaskan wilderness and knew that I would be back. From the crystal blue glaciers that seem to glow from some place far inside to the dense, deep, mossy forests that look like they go on forever, that magical land captured my soul and has been calling me back every since.
As you can guess, most of us who spend our days working to save the planet generally spend our weekends enjoying the natural world we work to protect. Wilderness is our church and trees are our teachers. As such, we tend to feel personally attacked and hurt when we witness environmental destruction.
In some regards, Alaska is ground zero for the battle to save something wild and untamed in our increasingly contaminated world. There are still places in Alaska where humans rarely go and many places where humans are not always on the top of the food chain.
I believe Alaska represents the front line on the battlefield of climate change. Even five years ago when I last visited Alaska, people in coffee shops were talking about warming climates, changing migration patterns and melting permafrost. Not in political debates, but it real time curiosity and concern.
Last year, I heard author and environmental activist Bill McKibben speak at a conference. His message was grim and dire. Speaking to crowd of planners and builders, he urged rapid action to make our buildings more energy efficient. In the midst of his plea, he relayed current consensus among climate change scientists that the arctic was essentially already lost, that polar bears (and more than 50 percent of all large mammals) will likely be extinct in the next 50 years.
The thought that polar bears are already lost, that we can’t change our course fast enough to save the arctic ecosystem, is unbearable for me. Sadly, the data and indicators are probably true. Polar bears won’t be able to adapt fast enough to keep pace with melting sea ice and food sources. We’ve already put enough carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to do irreparable damage to entire ecosystems.
So what’s a ridiculously hopeful human to do? Well, I’m going to keep working. Like many in the nonprofit and environmental fields, my being is utterly entwined with my work. While it may not be entirely healthy at times, it is just who we are.
And I’m going to believe in change, because I’ve seen it happen. Not the kind of change that comes from sweeping political action and policy (though we need that in bushels, perhaps now more than ever), but the kind of change that comes from individual action and thought.
Here in Summit, amid swings in the economy and changes in political winds, we’re collectively conserving more energy in our homes, building more efficient buildings and recycling more. We’re putting up solar panels on our roofs and driving hybrids, even in the snowy winters. Kind of like the eerie blue glowing glaciers in Alaska, Summit County has some great, green, inner glow about it. And I know it will never fade away.
For now, I’m goin’ rogue and shipping out to the front lines of the battlefield to save wild places, arctic ecosystems, and all the crazy plants and animals that inhabit them. I’ll stay in touch with an occasional report from the battlefield and look forward to watching from afar as Summit County grows greener each year.
Thanks to this community and the years of challenges and triumphs, I’m eternally armed with optimism and inner knowledge of the magic contained in our natural world and the people who inhabit it. Yes, I am ready to save the polar bears.
This Ask Eartha Steward column was written by Carly Wier at the High Country Conservation Center. To submit questions or column suggestions, contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org
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