Hours upon hours, days upon days, even weeks, I spent wondering what New Zealand looked like before humankind lessened it forever. Lush forests that are still related to another era of the world, inhabited by creatures as old as the dinosaurs like the tuatara. An entire ecosystem based on birds: grazing birds, pollinating birds, predatory birds, scavenger birds. A country where fjords have clouds of birds swarming over them and mountains are abundant in parrot chattering. A country that could be heard from the ocean miles and miles before it could ever be seen. A country where flightless parrots fell from trees like apples. All of it: gone.
The most heartbreaking thing about walking Te Araroa was the connection I felt to the land in combination with the dreadful realization of how much destruction had come upon this land. The fjords are shrouded in silence. The flightless parrots and tuatara exiled to a few individuals on single islands, where a battle is going on to keep them alive. The birds overrun by introduced mammals. The forests cut and cleared.
I developed a growing awareness that this is not only an issue of New Zealand, but an issue around the world. Thinking close to home, to Belgium, even Sweden and Norway, the situation is not all that better. Sweden and Norway seem to be on a quest to exterminate natural predators like the wolf, the bear and the lynx. Though looking green on the surface, Sweden protects as little as 5% of its old growth forests, and Norway as little as 0.4%. In Belgium there is probably nothing pristine left, and even those tiny patches of trees and forests that still exist are threatened to become concrete parking lots for the newest corporate or industrial area.
For a long time I believed that my generation, the millenials, would be the one to bring the change. For a long time I was certain that humankind would step up before the point of no return, realizing its race towards collective self-destruction through obsessive consumption and selfish behavior. But how many discussions have I had with friends, that went into quotes such as “Oh, but it’s too late to do something anyway, so we might just as well proceed” or “It’s not my fault that so many planes are going, and since they are going I might just as well be on them anyway.” How many countless hours I spent discussing the issue of meat with old boyfriends, where the sentence “Food without meat is no food” would pop up every single time. As if eating meat is integral to being a real man.
So after a period of deliberate silence I believe it is now time to bring the topic to the table again. It’s been all too easy for those who do not wish to face the facts or think over the consequences of their own lifestyle to label anyone who dares to speak the word climate as a hippy, a treehugger, an idealist, a naïve character. From the moment when climate change became a hot topic early 2000’s until now the discussion has deteriorated to a deplorable debate. Fake news, fossil-sponsored climate deniers, the eradication of science and the dismissal of intellectuals have stalled a clear view towards a sustainable future that would benefit us all. The world’s biggest economy and second biggest greenhouse gas emitter has just elected a prominent denier to its highest office. The time for quiet is over.
A few weeks ago I wrote a post on a snowless autumn in Sweden’s arctic regions. Faster than any other place on the planet, the Arctic is warming. And we see the consequences of that. For a job we drive dogs and to drive dogs, we need snow. More and more people are coming over from Norway because the winter conditions on the other side of the border are becoming too unstable to rely upon. The snow is coming consistently later and so is the cold: while we need the rivers and the lakes to be frozen, it becomes a question mark when this will happen. Sometimes I wonder about the future and if it will remain safe to drive on the Torne river all winter like it is now. This problem already exists in Alaska, where a lack of ice is cutting of transport routes that are vital for winter supplies.
The issue is so overwhelming that I often feel powerless to do anything about it. It should be the governments, the corporate world where the change should be. But none of them will ever move without the public. So when the public is aware, when the public is ready for action, the dices will start rolling.
All of us have an impact and I am not claiming that I am free from sin. My biggest issue is that I fly too much, trying to keep ties with friends and family further south. Remember however that being aware of what you do is a big step towards changing your own behavior. Remember that if many start to act and consume differently, they start to be noticed. We can work with things that are obvious, that are easy to change. Some of those things have far-reaching consequences for our own footprints, or for the planet as a whole. Try to limit meat consumption. Try to avoid any products that contain palm oil. Don’t take a two-week holiday across the globe every year. Bike to work from time to time. Such simple things do make a difference and raise awareness amongst others.
If I would ever have children, I don’t want to explain them that the animals are gone because those in power were greedy, because there was no will, because we only thought of our own short-term needs without looking ahead. The choice we have right now is simple. Either we ignore what we see, and what we know: we sit on the sideline while one of the biggest scams in the history of humankind unfolds. Or we can try to engage to engage, to do something to push our societies in the right direction. We have to stop lying and denying. We have to face the problem we face today.
“That is our charge now – you are the last best hope of Earth. We ask you to protect it. Or we – and all living things we cherish – are history.”
Note: As I wrote this, an official warning was issued that due to unusual warm temperatures the ice on the rivers and lakes in the Kiruna area is not to be trusted – even where tracks have already been made. For the past week we have not gone to the river anymore and avoided lakes as much as we could. Many of our driving routes have been cut off because of thin ice.