Posts Tagged ‘climate change’


Writer, filmmaker, adventurer and contributing Earthkeeper blogger Jon Bowermaster rounds out his recent visit to the Maldives:

Saffah Faroog sips a mango juice and continues explaining the history of the Maldives oldest environmental group, Bluepeace, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. He is its communications director, a volunteer like the rest of its staff, and has a great story to share – the organization has a great web presence and a long history of doing the right thing in the Maldives by keeping environmental stories in the news. There’s no lack of subject matter with beach erosion, species loss, the impact of climate change and rising sea levels and the still lingering after-effects of the 2004-tsunami still daily stories.

“Perhaps the most impressive thing for us here in the Maldives,” he says, “is that just two years ago I would never had a conversation in public with you like this, not about these subjects. We had to be very careful about everything we wrote, anything we said in public or private, because almost anything could be construed as a potential criticism of the government, thus possibly resulting in recrimination.

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Going Carbon Neutral in the Maldives

Bird’s eye view of the Maldives, courtesy of Jon Bowermaster

The call to Friday prayers on Eydhafushi are spread island-wide by plastic loudspeakers affixed to poles and buildings scattered around the Maldivian sand-spit, home to three thousand. When it comes I’m floating a quarter mile offshore and it wakes me from a heat (90 degrees F) and calm-sea reverie; a reminder that here, near where the Arabian Sea melds into the Indian Ocean, we are in an all-Muslim nation. (I was reminded last night too, with a chuckle, when the man in matching linen who brought me a bottle of chilled rose and bragged about it’s ‘fruity’ taste admitted his lips had never touched alcohol.)

Earlier in the morning, before the day’s heat arrived, I’d walked a nearby jungled island, crows and rails darting among the pandanas and palms, camouflaged lizards and introduced rabbits scooting across the sandy paths. The foliage was dense and green, the island far more substantial than most in the Maldives, which are typically little more than sand and sea rubble piled up on coral. Given that even a substantial island here rises just six feet above sea level, as much as anywhere in the world the Maldives are threatened by rising sea levels.

The first democratically-elected president in the nation’s history has quickly turned into a vocal leader.  One of his first pronouncements was that he was going to start setting aside money for and start looking at land to buy to move his people, to get them out of harm’s way if sea levels rise as expected.

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Climate Change and Survival in the Maldives

Jon Bowermaster is a writer, filmmaker, adventurer and fellow Earthkeeper who has spent the last 20 years exploring remote corners of the globe and documenting his experiences for a variety of national and international magazines, as well as in his own books and documentary films.  We’re honored to feature periodic posts from Jon here on Earthkeepers, and you may follow his travels anytime on his own blog.

The last time I was in the island nation of the Maldives – nearly 400,000 people scattered among 1,200 tiny islands running south for a thousand miles off the tips of Sri Lanka and India – the place was on edge. It was early in 2005 and the tsunami waves had rushed over the islands just a few weeks before. Fortunately for the Maldives a combination of deep channels running between islands and the sizable coral reefs that surround many of them prevented the giant wave from sweeping its entire population into the sea. Only about 100 people were killed, far fewer than drowned on the coast of Somalia hundreds of miles further west.

I came to report on the post-tsunami impacts for the New York Times and as I wandered among the homes badly cracked by the wave and saw decades-old garbage dumps swept into the sea by waters that rushed over the islands – which rise less than six feet above sea level – everyone was talking about the possibility of another such incident.  “What can we do to prevent the next wave from taking us all,” was the collective concern. “What if there is a second wave coming?”

The Maldives new president is talking louder than any elected official in the world about the need to slow the seas from rising.  He obviously has a vested interest.

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Go Dark

This Saturday, March 28th at 8:30 pm you are invited to participate in Earth Hour – a global event in which tens of millions of people will turn out their lights to make a statement of concern about our planet and climate change, and demonstrate their commitment to finding solutions.


Sponsored by the World Wildlife Fund, Earth Hour started just two years ago and is now the largest event of its kind in the world.  Last year, more than 50 million participated and the lights went out in such notable locations as the Empire State Building, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Sydney Opera House and the Coliseum in Rome.

This year, Earth Hour will be even bigger-already 250 cities in 74 countries have agreed to take part including Atlanta, Chicago, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami and Nashville; around the world cities like Moscow, Hong Kong, Mumbai, Shanghai and Mexico City will turn out their lights.

Register now to be counted among the millions of Earthkeepers going dark on the 28th.  And then tell us – how you plan to spend your Earth Hour?  (G-rated responses only, please – this is a family show.)

Survey Says …

Climate Change In the American Mind is a new study just released by the Yale Project on Climate Change and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication.  Over 2,000 American adults were surveyed for their thoughts on climate change, energy policies, the reality and risks of global warming, and political and consumer activism.  Key takeaways from the study include:

  • 69% of survey participants are convinced global warming is happening
  • 51% believe we have the ability to reduce global warming – but were unsure whether we actually will.
  • Over 90% said the US should act to reduce global warming even if it has economic costs
  • 92% supported more funding for research on renewable energy sources, and 85% supported tax rebates for people buying energy-efficient cars or solar panels.
  • 33% of survey participants said they had rewarded environmentally-responsible companies by buying their products.
  • 48% said they were willing to reward or punish companies for their climate change-related activities … but 68% said they did not know which companies to punish.
  • 69% of those surveyed believed individual action can make a difference.
  • 70% believed the ultimate solution to global warming will require significant changes in American lifestyles – not just technological innovations.

Agree?  Disagree?  Surprised, encouraged, disillusioned?  Share your thoughts.

Barren and Carcass Islands, The Falklands

Jon Bowermaster is a writer, filmmaker, adventurer and fellow Earthkeeper who has spent the last 20 years exploring remote corners of the globe and documenting his experiences for a variety of national and international magazines, as well as in his own books and documentary films.  We feature periodic updates and observations from Jon here on the Earthkeeper blog … and you may follow his travels anytime on his own blog, Dispatches.

As I’ve figured out during the past ten days, when it comes to islands few can compete with South Georgia for its fantastic wildlife, landscape and sense of mystery. So when Barren Island – one of the Falklands 740 smallish isles – appeared out of the fog this morning it both lived up to its name and reminded me we were no longer in magic land.

Flat and not surprisingly devoid of any foliage taller than my boots, Barren Island is nonetheless distinct for its burrowing penguins, a solitary snipe, a beach covered with bleached-out whale bones and something I hadn’t seen for awhile: Beach trash.

That there was a smattering of plastic and detritus washed (tossed?) off commercial fishing boats on the far side of Banner is not the fault of the island, or of the Falklands. Most of what I saw on this beach, as I’ve seen on virtually every coastline I’ve visited during the past decade, comes from boats of all kinds, many of which still treat the ocean like a limitless dump.

A sheep farmer named Mike, who happens by in his Zodiac just as I land ashore, leases Banner Island. I ask about prevailing currents and where the washed-up stuff most likely comes from. “Boats,” is his simple answer. Mainland Argentina is several hundred miles away.

Photo copyright Fiona Stewart

Along with its brother island George, which I can make out in the near distance, Barren are the southernmost working farms in the Falklands. They are successful at sheep and cows and re-growing tussock grasses in part because they are rat-free, a problem impacting many of the near islands. Seals, giant petrels and gentoo and Magellanic penguins share the beaches happily, but the islands are best known for the amazing bird life … everywhere.

We spend the morning walking the length of Banner and then sail to the somewhat unfortunately named Carcass Island (named after a sailing ship, not a cadaver). Just a trio of families has lived on Carcass over the past century and the island itself is well looked after and boasts another thing I haven’t seen for many weeks: A bed and breakfast.

But the plastic and trash on the beach here is even worse than on Banner; in fact, it may be among the worst example of man’s mistreatment of the ocean I’ve ever seen, and that’s saying a lot, since I’ve spent the past decade studying beaches and coastlines around the globe. During the last ten years we identified a trio of environmental issues impacting everyone who lives on or near a beach: Climate change, over fishing and plastic pollution. Sadly, Carcass Island could become the poster boy for the latter. A few of its beaches are so thick in man’s plastic waste that its rocks and sand and shoreline disappear beneath my feet.

- Jon Bowermaster

“Green” Economic Recovery Plan More Important Than Ever

As a Massachusetts native and an environmental scientist, I listened to Boston Mayor Menino’s  State of the City Address last night with great interest.  Clearly, the economic crisis is as pervasive in Boston as it is anywhere else in the nation, and despite the optimism that comes with a new year and new presidential administration, any real relief from the financial pressure being felt by so many is still beyond immediate reach.  Given that grim reality, how encouraging to hear Mayor Menino recognize and highlight the city’s investment in green technology, green jobs and green businesses as a critical component of Boston’s economic future.

Where there’s clearly a need to address the economic crisis with tangible and immediate action, to ignore the potential benefits of perhaps less obvious efforts involving clean energy and sustainable development would be short-sighted.  President-elect Obama himself has pledged to double renewable energy production in an effort to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and put people back to work – a move that would most certainly contribute to the nation’s economic relief.

We need more visionary leaders like Mayor Menino and President-elect Obama to include environmentally-conscious thinking in their recovery plans … leaders of cities and states but also leaders of companies large and small.  Economic stability and environmental sustainability are part and parcel of our future success, but we’ve got to commit to that notion – and start purposefully incorporating energy efficiency, clean technology, renewable energy in our planning and operations. 

In last night’s speech, Mayor Menino called for “urgent action.”  Following his lead and embracing green ideas, programs and innovations will allow us to realize a more economically and environmentally sustainable future.  Who else out there is ready to meet the call? 

Betsy Blaisdell
Manager of Environmental Stewardship, Timberland

Stories of the World with Jon Bowermaster

National Geographic writer, filmmaker and adventurer Jon Bowermaster has spent the last 20 years exploring remote corners of the globe and documenting his experiences for a variety of national and international magazines, as well as in his own books and documentary films

For his Oceans 8 project, Jon spent the last decade traveling the globe by sea kayak and investigating the local cultures, histories and environmental issues of those living along the world’s coastlines.  We were fortunate to catch up with Jon recently, and in the video interview below, he describes his Oceans 8 adventures, discusses the perceptions and realities of climate change he’s observed, and talks about the next step in his journey.


We’ll feature future updates from Jon in his travels here on Earthkeepers … in the meantime, you can also follow his adventures through Dispatches on his website.

Creating Accountability on Climate Change

Yesterday, President Elect Obama vowed to place climate change at the top of his agenda – a move I applaud.  His strongly-worded remarks were both refreshing and reassuring, a sharp contrast against the refusal of administrations, Democratic and Republican, over the last several decades to address climate change in any meaningful fashion.

Impacts of climate change can be felt across borders and across every sector of civic society.  We are living through the dreadful awareness of what happens when we try to manage inter-connected systems with conventional, unconnected governance models.  Who knew that American real estate speculators could help unravel the world’s banking system?  “Environmental crisis” is poised to replace “economic crisis” in news headlines around the world; and for this crisis, no “bail out” plan will rescue us, or future generations, from the real damage being done to our physical environment.

In addition to Washington putting climate change at the top of its agenda, another complementary, yet elementary, part – if you want a real solution to climate change – is at the cash register you visit every day. As powerful and relevant as the government is, for-profit business has a huge, even outsized impact on the question of climate change. CEOs – yes, that demonized group characterized by greed and self dealing – have the potential to foster huge, positive impact on climate change.  Businesses buy and sell along a value chain that stretches across the globe, from developed economies to developing economies. CEOs can and do have a huge impact on climate change, in the way they run their businesses, in the choices they make about materials, energy use, chemical use, transportation. And if you want to influence those choices – you, the citizen consumer – can.  Imagine if you insisted on organic content in the food you purchase.  Lo and behold – an entire industry springs into action, to deliver organic produce.  Imagine if you demanded that Timberland or Nike or the Gap use organic cotton, rather than pesticide laden factory-farmed cotton.  Just imagine.

I am not saying government doesn’t have an important role in solving climate change – clearly it does.  But if we expect President Elect Obama or Congress to solve the issues facing the environment alone, we’re fooling ourselves.  It will take more effort to reverse the damage being done to our environment worldwide. Citizen consumers have the power to force change, by holding brands and businesses to a higher standard – and in turn many businesses must change they way they currently operate.  With everyday “votes” on what goods and services you buy, you can create a different kind of accountability on climate change.  Consumers can use their purchasing power to hold corporate America responsible for doing more than “working on” climate change.

Jeff Swartz
President & CEO, Timberland

Indonesia and Instant Noodles: An Artist’s Perspective on Climate Change

Taking action to create a positive impact on the environment doesn’t have to include tree planting or recycling or driving a hybrid car. The act of raising awareness around the issue of global warming – in a compelling and provocative way – can be just as powerful.

Michael Sheridan is a documentary filmmaker and experimental videosonic artist whose recent work Instant Noodles addresses the crisis of deforestation and the palm oil industry in Indonesia. His work reminds us that there are as many avenues for expressing environmental consciousness as there are individuals in the world – and that the inspirational nature of art is boundless.

Below, Michael shares his thoughts about the creation of Instant Noodles as a means of instigating fresh perspectives on everyday life, and encouraging personal behavior change.

When I arrived in Indonesia in August of 2007, I was already committed to producing new artwork for two exhibitions in the United States. In December I finished a new installation sound piece, This is Foreign for the Axiom Gallery and in January a new videosonic work Instant Noodles.

Instant Noodles was part of the exhibition Greed, Guilt and Grappling-Six Artists Respond to Global Warming at the Mills Gallery, Boston Center for the Arts. Mags Harries and Clara Wainwright, the artist-curators of the exhibition, asked me last year if I would be interested in participating. I thought it would be an excellent opportunity to ground my new explorations in Indonesia – a country I frankly knew very little about. Read the rest of this entry »