The Witness: Waterman’s latest book records his travels. Photo courtesy Jonathan Waterman
The news about climate change and the sad fate of this planet has been overwhelming recently. In May, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere passed the critical 400 parts per million threshold for the first time in human history. The results of that rise in greenhouse gasses could be catastrophic—rising oceans, increasingly bizarre and damaging weather patterns and events, the disappearance of plant and animal species. It also represents an absolute failure—despite Al Gore, carbon offsets, Bill McKibben, green corporate promises and regulations—to keep those levels lower. We are losing when it comes to stemming rising CO2 levels. We are losing when it comes to having a beneficial effect on climate change.
I don’t say this as a political statement. I do know that this editor’s letter will result in my inbox flooded with angry emails calling me a “liberal,” “full of shit,” or just plain wrong. I don’t care. This is not a political issue, it is a human one. People of all political persuasions care about nature, wildlife, the planet. The debate comes in how to do something about it. Now, more than ever, we simply need to figure out what to do about it. Some people are, but their efforts have not been nearly enough. They need the support of the people who think I’m full of shit. Or worse, liberal!
My friend and EO editor-at-large Peter Kray emailed me the other day and asked: “Not to be a total fatalist, but name one way in which mankind has actually improved this planet? If I agree, I will buy you several beers.” My response? “We invented beer.” But in looking for a true, deeper reply, what struck me most is that we have the gift, the ability to care for this planet. Truly, we do. It takes effort. We are failing right now. But one thing that separates us from other creatures is that we can choose to improve this planet. I take inspiration from the people I know who are working while the rest of us simply read about those rising CO2 levels. People like Save Our Snow co-founder Alison Gannett, who lives on a sustainable farm and champions energy audits and other green solutions as savvy business decisions. People like snowboarders Jeremy Jones and Gretchen Bleiler, and skier Chris Davenport who testified in front of Congress last fall representing the group Protect Our Winters (P.O.W.) and asked for better carbon regulation. And people like author, photographer and activist Jonathan Waterman who inspires me simply by his energy and resolve to continue living a life of adventure while unflinchingly facing the facts of a dying planet.
In 2010, Basalt-based Waterman and photographer Pete McBride embarked upon the Colorado River Project, paddling the mighty stream from source to sea and documenting what they found—heavy human demands are sucking it dry. It was not an act that would change the course of the river or lower the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, but it was an attempt to actually improve this planet simply by the pair doing what they do best—write, photograph and explore to make the choir and the naysayers aware of the reality on the ground. Waterman’s latest book, Northern Exposures: An Adventuring Career in Stories and Image, does this as well. It documents the wonder of this planet in words and photographs, from the Arctic. It gives us pause to see the damage we have wrought and maybe even hope to try to actaully improve this planet. Despite, all the bad news and our collective failures so far, I still think we can make a difference.