Actress Emma Thompson's Firsthand Look at the Real Effects of Climate Change
Tonight Gaia and I prepare dinner: eggplant and roasted peppers with garlic and anchovies and potatoes. The ship progresses slowly. Later I venture up to the crow's nest, watching us rise up onto floes that are too thick to break, reverse course and sail around them. I see why drilling up here is so problematic. If there were a spill, it would likely be impossible to clean it up before the area froze over, oil and all. If that happened, the Arctic ecosystem would be decimated.
When I climb down, I find my ice maiden on the bow, wrapped in a blanket, her eyes wide. "When can I join up as a volunteer?" she asks Josh, a crew member. "You have to be at least 18," he tells her, sealing the deal with one of those fist-bump things. I don't know how to feel. While I'm dying with pride at how she's taken all this to heart, can't I get a few more years before I have to start thinking about my daughter alone in the Arctic with no mum to protect her from polar bears and thin ice? On the other hand, I think, Thank God—she might not become an actress!
A guide asks if we'd like to venture out onto the sea ice. My stomach tightens. For now I can keep my girl safe. "I don't think so," I tell him.
"Mum," Gaia says, "remember what Grandpa always said: 'You only ever regret the things you don't do.'"
I'll kill him, I think, forgetting he's been dead for 30 years.
"We have to," Gaia says gently. "We might never be here again."
When did she get so wise?
I watch my strong, adventurous child, who is almost a young woman, it must be said, bound ahead of me across the Arctic ice—something that is so solid but so temporary—and a flower of pure, happy pride blooms in my chest. We won't regret this. Ever.
We spend most of the day in a little fjord dotted with ancient bergs. Not too far from us, on an island covered in pebbles, we see the bum of a polar bear. Trying not to die of excitement, we get as close as we can. From 100 or so feet away, strangely unafraid, we examine him. He's a young one—nicely fed, relaxed. He's so relaxed that he settles his head into his paws and goes to sleep. All around us, the glacial ice is blue, like sooty-veined quartz. We can hear it crackling, singing. Between the bear and the ice, we are silent, awestruck.
It's our next-to-last day, and in the grand Greenpeace tradition, we design and paint banners on yellow cloth, in this case writing ACT FOR ARCTIC. We hang them on the ship and take photographs, which will be sent around the world. Our goal is the creation of an Arctic sanctuary, protected in perpetuity. That means saving the animals and ecosystems in the high Arctic from oil drilling and commercial fishing. I watch my daughter work. She is crying.
"Ma," she gulps through her tears. "Please, can't we stay? I don't want to leave my people." I realize that in this intoxicating blend of place and purpose, she's found something bigger than the bond between the two of us—bigger than herself. She's found her moral compass, a conviction that may even guide her for the rest of her life.
Is it safe?
Yes, I think. Yes, it is. Gaia and her tribe will have it covered.
For more information, go to SaveTheArctic.org/Emma.