In Antarctica, I saw the retreat of glaciers that once seemed eternal

There's plenty of unsettling evidence of the climate crisis occurring in real time. We have a responsibility to build solutions

The melting Thwaites glacier in Antarctica. British Antarctic Survey via AP
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Climate change is an incontrovertible fact, underpinned by decades of scientific research and data. The evidence is overwhelming: rising global temperatures, melting ice caps and more frequent and severe weather events. These changes are not distant threats but immediate realities, impacting ecosystems, economies and communities around the globe.

The consensus among scientists is clear – human activities, particularly the emission of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels, are the primary drivers of these changes. Acknowledging this reality is not just an academic exercise; it is a necessary first step towards meaningful action to mitigate the impacts and adapt to a changing world.

My personal experiences echo the urgency of addressing climate action. In recent summers I have seen unprecedented heatwaves, while winters bring erratic patterns, often milder than historical norms but punctuated by extreme cold snaps.

Our path must balance the urgency of climate action with the realities of economic and social dependencies on fossil fuels

I recently witnessed in Antarctica first-hand the retreat of glaciers that once seemed eternal, and local farmers speak of shifting growing seasons and unpredictable weather patterns. These changes are not anomalies. No, they are something far more disconcerting: signs of a new and unsettling norm, compelling evidence of the climate crisis unfolding in real time. Such experiences, shared by millions worldwide, signal the need for immediate action to curb greenhouse gas emissions and transition towards more sustainable practices.

However, the transition away from fossil fuels, while necessary, demands the utmost caution as well. A precipitous cut in fossil fuel use, without adequate preparation and alternatives in place, could lead to significant economic upheaval and social instability. The energy sector, transportation and many industrial processes currently depend heavily on fossil fuels.

That much is evident in the emissions generated by all the signatories to the Rio Conventions when they fly to attend the various climate and environmental events that are necessary to ensure global progress on this issue.

Abrupt changes could result in job losses, energy shortages and increased poverty, particularly in the communities that are already most vulnerable. Recognising this reality does not mean capitulating to the status quo. But we would be remiss not to acknowledge our responsibility to usher in a just and carefully managed transition that supports affected workers and communities, ensuring that no one is left behind.

This starts with realistically and pragmatically addressing global climate challenges by funding more innovation – especially in the aviation, land and maritime mobility sectors – that reduce carbon emissions using multiple technologies while making clean energy affordable for everyone.

I have seen the danger. During my voyage to Antarctica, I saw the Southern Cross, a star visible only in the Southern Hemisphere. As I looked up at the sky, I realised that this continent, although distant, is not disconnected from the rest of our lives.

What happens in Antarctica will not, I am afraid to say, stay in Antarctica. The sea levels will rise. Coastal areas all over the world will be threatened.

The time for action is now. Just as navigators of old looked to the stars to chart their course through uncharted waters, though, we too must embrace guiding principles to navigate the transition to a sustainable future.

Our path must balance the urgency of climate action with the realities of economic and social dependencies on fossil fuels. It calls for innovation, collaboration and a commitment to equity and justice. It also calls for introducing a mandatory module to the education system in topics such as environmental peacebuilding and bio-empathy. It is also necessary to be educated and informed about the rising number of those who many be suffering from eco-anxiety and to learn how to turn their anxiety and challenges into impactful solutions.

By charting a course guided by the Southern Cross, we can embark on a balanced and inclusive journey towards a sustainable future. Find inspiration in your own guiding principles, as I have found inspiration to fight for climate action and zero carbon emissions looking to the Southern Cross. Follow your internal compass – and build solutions that address all of our most pressing challenges.

Published: March 15, 2024, 10:00 AM