December 3, 2011.
Rick Atkinson cut back the throttle on our Zodiac and we glided to our landing on Half Moon Island in the Southern Shetland Islands a few miles north of the Antarctic Peninsula. I swung my legs over the side of the Zodiac and splashed the last few steps in shallow water before reaching the shore. I took a deep breath. I was on Hallowed Ground.
We had spent the past two and one-half days crossing the dreaded Drake Passage aboard the expedition ship the Ocean Nova on our way from Ushuaia to the Antarctic Peninsula. Late yesterday we cruised by our first iceberg and took a brief, difficult after-dinner island landing under clouded skies and heavily gusting winds. But today, the skies were deep blue, streaked with a thin layer of stratus clouds. And the Chinstrap Penguins milled about and chattered on Moon Island’s rocky shore, as if there to welcome us.
Graham Charles, our Quark Expeditions Team Leader, had briefed us for our Zodiac landings. The ecology of the Antarctic and its surrounding islands was delicate, fragile and to be left pristine and uncluttered.
Quark had supplied each of us with rubber boots. Before we left the Ocean Nova, we stepped into a special tray of chemically-treated water to purify our every step. And we did the same when we returned. Our directions were more than “Take only pictures, leave only footprints.” We were to leave only uncontaminated footprints. And no trash. After each landing, the landing area was cleansed – Kleenex, plastic bags, dropped camera lens covers, and anything else that had gone astray was retrieved and returned to our ship‘s trash bags.
Yes, we were on Hallowed Ground.
Antarctica is the beneficiary of a special treaty, the 1959 Antarctic Treaty, signed initially by 12 nations, including the United States. As of 2010, a total of 48 nations, comprising approximately 2/3’s of the world’s population, have acceded to the Treaty. The Secretariat of the Antarctic Treaty states the Treaty’s purpose on his website – to ensure “in the interest of all mankind that Antarctica shall continue for ever to be used exclusively for peaceful purposes and shall not become the scene or object of international discord.”
In a 1991 Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty, Antarctica has been designated as “a natural reserve, devoted to peace and science.” Activities are subject to regulations concerning environmental impact assessments, protection of fauna and flora, waste management and others. All activities relating to Antarctic mineral resources, except for scientific research, are forbidden.
Each year the Treaty Parties meet “for the purpose of exchanging information, consulting together on matters of common interest pertaining to the Antarctic, and formulating and considering and recommending to their Governments measures in furtherance of the principles and objectives of the Treaty.”
Of course, there are the governmental climate deniers who won’t listen, like Senator James Inholfe of Oklahoma (one of Congress’s leading skeptics on global warming), who declared that the Antarctic research confirming that the ice is melting and our earth is warming amounts to “scientific fraud.”
(You may wish to consider our last blog, Sammy the Leopard Seal’s Report from Antarctica – the melting ice and warming are obvious to the penguins, and should be to us if we but have the eyes to see and ears to hear. An excellent National Geographic study, Terra Antarctica, can be viewed free on the web. Also worth perusing is Paleontologist Peter Ward‘s work on climate-induced mass extinctions and his The Flooded Earth: Our Future Without Ice Caps, where he concludes that today’s continued rapid CO2 rise will likely result in quickening the melting of Antarctic’s and Greenland’s ice caps, followed by a potential sea level rise of 240 feet.)
But, let us set aside the potentially painful discord imposed by our deniers and global warming and consider a deeper message from Antarctica – a message we can carry into the New Year with some hope. Antarctica has a Treaty with a mission:
To ensure “in the interest of all mankind that Antarctica shall continue for ever to be used exclusively for peaceful purposes and shall not become the scene or object of international discord.”
Two-thirds of our world’s population have acceded to a Treaty that recognizes that the Antarctica is Hallowed Ground, to be used exclusively for peaceful purposes.
Is not our entire globe Hallowed Ground? Should not the fragile environment of our globe be treated with the care and respect we have accorded Antarctica? Should not our entire globe be dedicated exclusively to peaceful purposes? If we can agree on Antarctica is it beyond belief we could also similarly agree on the rest of our globe?
As we resolve what our contributions should be for the New Year, let us consider the contribution to us all that an Antarctic Treaty for our globe could make. Let our politics become focused on that objective.
I am reminded of the words of Chief Seattle, spoken to our Congress in 1855:
The rivers are our brothers. They quench our thirst. They carry our canoes and feed our children. So you must give rivers the kindness you would give any brother. The wind that gave our grandfather his first breath also receives his last sigh. The wind also gives our children the spirit of life. The earth does not belong to man. Man belongs to the earth. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web he does to himself. One thing we know, our God is also your God. The earth is precious to Him. And to harm the earth is to heap contempt on its creator. Preserve the land for all children, and love it as God loves us all. As we are part of the land, you too are part of the land. The earth is precious to us, it is also precious to you.
Yes, we walk on Hallowed Ground. We were able to come to grips with that realization in the Antarctic.
What will it take to make the reality of Antarctica the reality of our globe?
What contribution to that end will each of us make?
Visit our Antarctica Photo Gallery: Photo Gallery [Black & White]