Actress Emma Thompson's Firsthand Look at the Real Effects of Climate Change
Today we are visiting an international climate research center, where every summer up to 180 scientists from all over gather to evaluate what we've done to the planet. There we meet a toxicologist called Geir, who's spent his last 33 summers here, and who begins to talk about plastics. He's discovering toxins he'd never seen before in the carcasses of bears and foxes. Worse, he says, is something called microbeads, which are tiny plastic particles found in facial washes, body scrubs, and even some toothpastes and are now being detected in rivers, lakes, and seas. "Roughly ten million tons of plastic gets dumped into our oceans every year," he says. "A giant garbage patch floats in the Pacific. And we believe what we see on the surface is only about 20 percent of the rubbish. The rest lies on ocean floors."
That's our crap. All ours.
He goes on. It's hard to digest it all, but we remain rapt. Gaia is taking copious notes.
"Atmospheric CO2 concentrations have increased by nearly 40 percent since the Industrial Revolution. We can't unring that bell, but we have to figure out how to prevent the situation from getting worse. The temperature in the Arctic has risen at almost twice the average rate of the rest of the planet. The old, ancient ice is reducing in mass far more quickly than projected. The consequences for the ecosystems here—for the earth as a whole—are disastrous."
Geir concludes with an understatement: "It's a lot of bad things, I tell you."
Gaia sums it up differently: "It's like a Martian attack, only we're the Martians."
Reeling from information overload, we stagger out of the center and encounter something much less alarming at this point: polar bear paw prints. "You see, Gaia? They're everywhere!" If there are bears around here, I'm prepared to stay in Mama Bear mode.
Now we are passing icebergs that have calved off the glacier, some the size of a school bus. The RHIB stops by the side of a berg about ten meters square, and Gaia leaps off the boat without a second's pause, eager to scale the ice. How slippery is a gigantic ice cube? Very slippery indeed, it turns out, as I slither, trying to keep up with my fearless daughter. The meltwater bubbles through channels in the ice and sings to us, an exquisite sound that calms me. Gaia and I lie down next to each other on our stomachs and drink the purest water on earth out of a daiquiri-blue hole.
We get back to Espy just in time for supper. Later we four bunkmates swap stories, lit by the midnight sun. I ask Gaia how she's enjoying the trip.
"It's the best place I've ever been," she says with a sigh. She holds up her tube of toothpaste. "But how am I going to brush my teeth?" It's so cold that the toothpaste has frozen. We snuggle up. This 24/7 thing isn't working out too badly.
Every morning on the trip, we are required to clean the crew's living quarters. At first I suspect we are more trouble than we're worth—rushing about screaming, "I need a mop!" or "What do I do with all this dust?" But finally a rhythm emerges, and there we are, my daughter and me, housecleaning harmoniously. Later in the day, the ship enters a gigantic proscenium of ice—at least ten glaciers surround us—that resembles the protective fingers of giants, their icy hands holding the earth safe.
We are enshrouded in fog, which makes our captain, Vlad, a bit tense. It is difficult to navigate these waters, and people are beginning to say things like, "Captain, you have a floe approaching portside." We encounter a huge piece of ice. We hit it, rise gently up onto it. After a moment, it splits apart. The cleave enlarges, and we sail through. Gaia runs out to watch from the bow. I stay inside, where it's a little warmer. When she returns two hours later, her bangs have frozen.
"I can't feel my legs," she says happily.
I stop myself from saying something motherly about how she should have come in sooner. When Vlad advises her to warm up so she won't get sick, I want to hug him.
Gaia says, "I can't not be out there. I have to see it now. What if it disappears?"