A Frontliner’s pavement perspective on protecting the North Pole
By Thomas McConville, Frontline San Jose
“The Arctic – that’s the one on top, right?”
“Exactly.”, I replied.
“And you guys are going to turn it into a park?”
“Well, a world park – like a global sanctuary; no rides or popcorn stands.”
She laughed. To the average American, the Arctic is a place more foreign than most. To the 19 year old college student in front of me, the Arctic seemed even farther away than the thousands of miles that literally separated us from the ice in question. I could tell that although she generally cared about the world around her, there was a sense of immediacy that was lacking on this issue. She seemed concerned when I mentioned how impossible it would be to clean up an oil spill in such an extreme environment, but I could also see in her eyes that the issue seemed too far away to be tangible to her. We see images of the poles with seemingly endless stretches of ice and they appear more like distant planets than crucial parts of our own planet. I decided to go another route.
“You understand the concept of a “closed system”, right? Like a fish tank. All the aspects of the environment are contained within the tank.”
“Ok, now if we travel from here in any direction in a straight line we’ll eventually wind up back here, right?”
“And if we travel straight up into the sky we eventually run into a boundary line – like the glass on the fish tank. Past that boundary, we can’t live, right?”
“Ok. So if the cooling system in your fish tank is breaking down and you don’t fix it – what happens to the fish?”
The pause in the conversation seemed to indicate that it was sinking in. Even in a world that is becoming increasingly interconnected by technology, it’s still very easy for people to become isolated in their own local environments. Just because our phones have the capacity to show videos of Arctic glaciers receding at unprecedented rates doesn’t mean that we use them for that purpose. Listening to music or checking in with Facebook friends often predominates our still local-minded lives.
The task of the street canvasser is not just a matter of inspiring people to take action; it frequently involves helping someone alter their perspective of who we are inside this closed-system of Earth’s atmosphere. We typically don’t farm the food we eat or physically gather the materials to heat our homes. These things come from somewhere far away and we consume them with the assumption that the resources are infinite. Interjecting the thought of combating global environmental problems into the average person’s daily life isn’t just about laying out the facts, it takes the ability to shift perspective. Well, that and it requires talking to as many people as possible. Not everyone is capable of shifting their perspective inside of a brief conversation. Others will defend unsustainable perspectives with vehement conviction, even if that conviction lacks a scientific basis.
I tear away the carbon-copy receipt for the girl and thank her on behalf of Mother Nature for becoming the newest member of Greenpeace. I let her know that, from now on, when she hears about corporations or governments destroying our home for short-term greed, she can know that she’s part of the solution – a global movement of individuals that are going to hold these guys accountable. She smiles and thanks me for being out on the streets.
As she walks away, I flip to the next membership form and look up at the horizon of people bustling through their lives. A man in a suit and tie is moving toward me with his head down at the ground.
“Sir! You look cool enough to save the arctic!”
He looks up and smiles at the pun.
“Step into my office, man. There’s polar bears involved, you’re gonna love it.”
His feet stop in front of me and I reach out my hand for an introduction. He shakes my hand and asks, “So, what’s the deal with the Arctic?”
“I thought you’d never ask.”