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Antarctica and the Power of Love

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Why did I, a small town teenager from Quebec, Canada, travel four days by ship and plane to the coldest, windiest, driest, and most isolated continent on the planet? Quite simply, I wanted to fall in love. All my life, I have heard statistics-for example, that the average global temperature has risen 0.75 degrees Celsius in the last 50 years. When faced with photographs of endangered animals, flooded coastal cities, and deforestation, I wanted to care. And I wanted to change. But I couldn’t because the benefits of driving instead of biking and shopping with friends in the city instead of hiking alone in a forest hit closer to home than the consequences.

Another reason I came to Antarctica was to discover tangible proof of climate change that I could share with my community. During the two-week expedition, ice floes did not shrink before my eyes. The sea level did not rise noticeably, and no penguin appeared to be without food or a habitat. What I gained instead was an appreciation of natural beauty and a desire to safeguard my home at all costs.

In 1959, the world witnessed an extraordinary occurrence. Twelve nations put aside their claims on Antarctic territory and signed the Antarctic Treaty, one of the most successful international agreements. Extended in 1991 to include the Protocol on Environmental Protection, the treaty devotes Antarctica to peaceful scientific use. It is illegal to establish military bases, dispose of radioactive waste, mine commercially, hunt, and fish without permission. Today, 48 countries have ratified the treaty. Unfortunately, Canada, though a signatory, does not have a research station in Antarctica and is only a part member, meaning it has no voice in certain consultative meetings. This concerns me. What also concerns me is the treaty’s moratorium, which is set to expire in 2041. I spoke with author Olle Carlsson and scientist David Fletcher, polar experts who have each visited Antarctica over 100 times. I asked them separately if they thought the treaty would continue past 2041. Both men smiled and I could see a cascade of images. Of Adelie penguins porpoising and ice capturing the sun’s radiant energy. Of snowy mountain peaks blending into the white of the clouds and killer whales gliding through perfectly reflective water. In answer to my question, Olle and David said the same three words: “I hope so.” Realistically, will countries thirsty because of global warming turn to Antarctica, the source of 70 percent of Earth’s fresh water? Will countries in economic turmoil try to find precious metals and minerals underground? Will we as the next generation endanger the fish that give life to so much of the Antarctic ecosystem? We really do not know.

In 2041, I will be 46 years old, and all I ask is that you join me and my fellow polar ambassadors by falling in love with our planet. Don’t protect it because of charts you don’t understand that show the correlation between temperature increases and carbon dioxide emissions. Don’t protect it because you feel guilty after watching Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. Come to Antarctica. Sit down beside a Gentoo penguin rookery. Watch parents feed, reprimand, and play with their chicks. Realize how similar humans are to the birds struggling for survival amid skuas and leopard seals. Climb to the top of a mountain, to that magical place where weather-carved icebergs and endless ice sheets surround you in every direction. Feel your heart absorb the paradise in your midst, this veritable Heaven on Earth.

They say falling in love is a choice, and to a certain extent that is true. It’s a choice to calm the butterflies in your stomach and accept an invitation on your first date. It’s a choice to propose and walk down the aisle. Conversely, the actual process of falling in love is innate, indescribable, and almost inadvertent.

Even if you don’t have the privilege of touring the Antarctic Peninsula and experiencing its age-old wisdom for yourself, go out into your backyard. Listen to the chirping of birds, the footsteps of squirrels, and the falling of snowflakes, each individually and exquisitely designed, and you will find yourself transformed as I have been-miraculously, automatically, and effortlessly.

A time will come when we must decide whether we as an international community are willing to preserve the flora and fauna of one wilderness area in pristine condition for our children and grandchildren. Call me an Idealist, but I believe that love, if it’s true enough, has the power to endure forever. It is with this love that we strengthen relationships and prevent wars. It is with this love that we pool our resources to obtain the most accurate scientific data. And it is with this love that seven continents, 193 countries, and seven billion people might work together to keep the treaty effective, Antarctica safe, and our planet alive.





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