Apr 152009
Authors: Phoenix MourningStar

Ten tons is a lot of anything. To put it in perspective — 10 tons of $1 bills is just over $9 million; an adult male Orca whale can weigh 10 tons.

Assuming a car produces one pound of C02 for every mile, and 2,000 pounds makes a ton, then we could drive 2,000 miles to make a ton of CO2. Which means 10 tons of CO2 would take us 20,000 miles (a very rough estimate from a Volkswagon). Or you can go from Denver to Buenos Aries, Argentina to the southern tip of South America and board a ship bound for Antarctica.

Ten tons is what it cost in carbon for each member of an Antarctic expedition team I was a part of to meet for 12 days and talk about climate change. Reality check, huh? Fifty environmentally-minded students and youth leaders from universities all over the world “spent” more than 500 tons combined to travel to Antarctica to talk about how we can decrease the potential human contributions to climate change and, more specifically, save Antarctica.

Our expedition is organized and led by 2041, an organization named after the year for review of the Environment Protocol of the Antarctic Treaty.

2041 (http://2041.com) is working to preserve the Antarctic continent against the need for mining of minerals and fossil fuels. As Earth Day approaches, “green” banners get pulled out of the garage and people dust off their debate team jackets to argue the evidence of human driven climate change, it’s refreshing to find a group with an ambitious goal and yet a straight forward mission: make sure the Antarctica Treaty is renewed.

The organization brings its mission to the world through their E-Base — the only base on Antarctica that runs completely on renewable energy.

EPAT — originally signed by Norway, Russia, the United Kingdom, the U.S., South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, Chile, France, Argentina and Japan in 1961 — was intended to keep Antarctica a non-military territory, promote international scientific cooperation and stipulated that the continent be utilized only for peaceful purposes.

This agreement has been a rallying point for respect toward the Earth, as the continent is one of few remaining places where there has never been war and the environment is fully protected. To date, more than 45 countries have signed on. A couple of places to look for more information on the treaty are the British Antarctic Survey and the Antarctica Treaty Secretariat.

The 2041 organization’s founder, Robert Swan, was the first and only man to walk to both the North and the South Poles. He led the expedition and challenged the participants to consider the effects of their actions on the environment.

During one session, he laid down an almost accusing question to the group of 50 students on the expedition by asking how we proposed to make up for the 10 tons of carbon it took to get each of us to Antarctica.

The room on the ship is quiet other than the sounds of the ship bobbing in the Drake Passage not far from the Antarctic Peninsula.

“How many here paid to offset the carbon for you flights?” Swan asked.

Maybe four hands go up as the rest of us sink a little in our seats. Dang, so much for being a “real” environmentalist.

It is important to consider these things, he said, because the year of review for EPAT is just around the corner.

“The year 2041 seems a long way off, but, it’s actually only 32 years away,” Swan said. “You are the ones who will be in position to decide if Antarctica remains protected and pristine.”

If 32 years is too far off for us to internalize, consider how much has been done in conservation and environmental stewardship since 1975 here in the U.S.

Looking over the pages of my trip, a treaty is hardly what I had planned on writing about. The discussions and people, the cyclone and storm, friends made, delivering emergency supplies to a Ukrainian base and a man named Jumper will have to wait for next week.

Phoenix Mourning-Star is an environmental science graduate student who encourages you to check your carbon footprint at http://www.climatecrisis.net/takeaction/carboncalculator/ or http://www.bp.com/iframe.do?categoryId=9023118&contentId=7045317. His column appears Thursdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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