When I first was thinking about what I wanted to write to kick off the new year, I was going to write a piece about snow—how important it is to recharge our aquifers, insulate the soil, and provide protection for plants and wildlife to name a few benefits.
But given the current times, I think it’s important to start this year with a clear accounting of where we’re at ecologically speaking. And what role we’ll play in where we want to go.
It has never been more urgent than now to act to save this planet as we know it. Nineteen of the warmest years on record have occurred since 2000 and the last decade is marked as the warmest decade ever recorded. NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) just confirmed that 2020 was the second warmest year ever with Minnesota having the 13th warmest year recorded. These fast changes in climate have led to more severe droughts, floods, fires, and extreme weather events. “In Minnesota, widespread 6” rains are now 4 times more frequent than in the past 30 years” to give an example (MN DNR, 2020).
To make matters worse, some scientists believe there are a series of tipping points that once crossed set off a cascade of catastrophic events. Once passed, we don’t know if they can ever be reversed. When I learned about climate change in school in the 90’s, I remembered thinking ‘why don’t we do something?’ We seemed to spend so much time speculating on whether or not climate change was real when to me, failure to act spelled out dire consequences. After all, investing in clean air, soil, and water seemed like smart investments regardless if the predictions were right. Fast forward 30 years and 97% of scientists agree climate change is real. And in parts of the world we’ve already surpassed one of the tipping points—a rise in temperature of 1.5 degrees Celsius. I say parts because climate change is not equal in terms of its effects. Different parts of the world will experience different impacts with some rolling more swiftly through catastrophic change and others plodding along behind. One thing is certain, we cannot escape the impacts whether on farm or in our daily lives.
While the knowledge of our dangerous ecological position is overwhelming and frankly, depressing. There is also hope. Every choice we make to act, to be a positive influence on this world matters. And the best part is, one small action can be paid forward a 1000 times in ways we never quite anticipated. The best example I can give you of this is a story about my Uncle Bob.
When I was a kid I used to visit Cape Cod and hang out at the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary—then, it was an old worn-down house with a handful of staff who let my brother and me tag along to learn about sea life, beaches, dunes, owls, scrub brush, and just about anything we could get into. We also used to “help” with turtle necropsy to determine the cause of death for stranded sea turtles. My uncle and aunt were patient, kind, and eager to share their passion. That sharing translated to me taking my first real job at the Sanctuary teaching kids and adults the same things I was taught as a kid.
You see, my uncle has dedicated his whole life to saving sea turtles and sharing the magic of marine life with everyone he meets.
He started with a handful of volunteers and a few pilots willing to fly stranded turtles to the New England Aquarium. Now, the aquarium boasts a state of the art turtle ICU and hundreds of volunteers for the Mass Audubon Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary walk the beaches in the hopes they will reach the turtles in time.
As the climate warms, more sea turtles are found stranded each year, near death or already gone, because they did not receive the signal to migrate south fast enough and by the time they began the journey, it was too late to make it through the cold, Atlantic seas.
Sea turtles are just one piece of the vast ecological system that supports us all. Oceans are responsible for 50-80% of the earth’s oxygen. Without them and the complex interaction of life that works together to produce the oxygen we all need, to put it simply, we perish.
I couldn’t be more proud of my uncle and aunt who have long been late to our normal Christmas celebrations because they took the holiday shift to walk the beaches in the frigid winter air of Massachusetts. Walking to save an integral part of the ocean for you and me.
What may have seemed like small steps, have been translated into a lifetime of service to this planet for all of us. I can’t even begin to fathom the expanded impact he’s had when I think about how his willingness to share, teach, and serve has been translated into actions by others. Whether it’s calculated as volunteers saving turtles or kids like me who grew up to be scientists following in his footsteps, sharing the passion for the natural world so we all can understand how we’re one part, one piece of connection built within thousands of other connections in this big, beautiful world.
If you’re interested in learning more about his work, he’s featured in Season 1, Episode 5 “Humans” of David Attenborough’s new series: #APerfectPlanet.
So, I leave you for now with just one question: What will you do in 2021 for her: ??