Saturday, February 02, 2008

Pollution/Climate Change...How Much Do We Care?

South America, has always been included among the top five places I wish to visit some day. So it wasn't surprising to me when my eye was immediately attracted to a recent Op-ed piece in the New York Times. As I read, my mind was also filled with words, and concepts such as; social consciousness, communal participation, pollution, politics, civic pride, peaceful coexistence, rhetoric, complacency, and so much more...

The article, (to me anyway), portrays, in a very well-written descriptive fashion our real social consciousness: There's a lot of rhetoric, but few of us actually do anything. We're complacent, we know it needs to be done, but we assume all of those eco-ideologues out there will do it for us. I'm guilty of it, for I'm one who does nothing to reduce my own carbon footprint, (although it is always in my mind that, 'someday' I will get myself organized and do it.)

Article Snippets:

Los Glaciares National Park, Argentina

Dominique Browning


Article Snippets:

"THE most striking thing about the drive out of El Calafate on the way to the Patagonian glaciers is the trash. Sheer, flimsy, white plastic bags, tens of thousands of them, are strewn across acres of land. The harsh wind has blown them in curtains up against the chain-link fences around construction sites; thousands have been tilled into the mud of wide tire tracks; thousands more, tattered by sharp nettles, festoon the low, clumping bushes that cover the landscape."


"...Tour companies run boats of various sizes several times a day across the enormous Lake Argentino. Its peculiar blue-green water, called glacial milk, looks opaque because of the way light refracts off the silt and sediment it contains..."

"Before we’ve even pulled out of El Calafate’s harbor, a fight erupts among several passengers over seating; the armchairs aren’t arranged in such a way to allow all the couples to be together. An elegant Frenchman, his head and neck swathed in an expensive vicuña scarf, is furiously berating the young boat attendant who, it seems, didn’t appreciate just how V.I.P. the man was; he wants the seats being occupied by a hip young British couple, who are not budging but yelling back at him. Their voices grow louder as the engine picks up."


"We come in sight of the first glacier and it is strange and magnificent, a frozen river of jagged peaks. Water pours off the sides. Glaciers worldwide have been receding for more than a century, but the melting has accelerated catastrophically in the last few decades. The tree line has not had time to advance enough to catch up; the ice has left behind wide scars of bare, hardscrabble earth. All the glaciers in Patagonia save one are shrinking more rapidly every year.

To my teenage niece, who has unplugged herself, (from her iPod), and joined me on deck, I explain all the science of climate change I can muster. Every once in a while a thundering crack is audible over the human din, as a huge piece of ice breaks off the face of the glacier. By the time you’ve heard it, you’ve missed it, and can see only the widening ripples radiating from the water where the newly calved iceberg has fallen. We watch melting ice cascade off the glacier’s crenelated face. “I guess this gives new meaning to ‘a glacial pace,’” my niece remarks.

I try to imagine what it must have been like to see glaciers looming 19 or 20 stories above, as the guide puts it, from a small, fragile craft, rather than from our three-story-high cruiser, and then I realize how strange it is that we resort to the architectural measurements of skyscrapers to wrap our minds around such grandeur. Getting to the glaciers in a small boat as a backpacker might have done a mere 20 years ago is now a privilege reserved for the very wealthy. Our cruiser cannot get too close for fear of a chunk of ice breaking off and sinking it — in revenge?"


By now, the deck is crowded and people are arguing, pushing and shoving each other aside to get pictures of a companion with the ice in the background. We drop anchor at the edge of the park and are told to follow a path to a beachfront on which to picnic and admire the view.

Walking the length of the beach is like crossing a city and hearing accents change along the way: there’s the German area; the Italian neighborhood; the Japanese block. Next come the Israelis, the British and of course the aloof French in a choice arrondissement. There are surprisingly few Americans on our boat...

At the signal to get back on board we are reminded to leave nothing behind. I linger a bit, trying to steal a quiet moment in front of the glacier. I cannot seem to feel, in a deep way, the awe I know this spectacle deserves, a response more profound than the simple excitement that makes us reach for our cameras — closer perhaps, to a state of grace and wonder, the feeling of being in the presence of something holy. I cannot push aside the clamor of our journey or the mess of my companions. How can we expect anyone to care about melting glaciers in the abstract, in news articles and scientific papers, when even in the face of their stupendous presence we remain careless? Along the path grow exquisite, miniature Alpine flowers in every imaginable color, so tiny you could easily miss them. Among the delicate blossoms are bits of foil, trash, cigarette butts, broken glass and plastic water bottle caps. We can’t seem to help ourselves.

On the ship, people settle sleepily into the upholstery. We have four more glaciers to visit, but I suppose the general feeling in the napping class is that if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all..."


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