UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds

Poles in peril

The Arctic and Antarctica spell out the hard truths about the health of our planet

By David Wilson

Several years ago I found myself seated next to an off-duty pilot on a flight over Baffin Island, Nunavut. It was a sparkling clear day, and the pilot was more than happy to provide a running commentary on what we were seeing outside the window of our small plane.

Until he started narrating, the terrain below had seemed to me like a forbidding expanse of nothing. Endless rock, endless ice, no sign of life anywhere. But it quickly became clear that my affable companion was seeing a completely different place. The mountains and glaciers and fjords all had names — and judging from some of the flying stories he told, personalities too.

In conversations on the ground, I was struck again by how familiar northerners were with the impossibly vast territory they call home — speaking of far-flung settlements like Clyde River, Pond Inlet and Hall Beach as if they were just around the corner — and by how totally ignorant I was of just about everything to do with the place. A typical southerner.

I was reminded of my one and only trip to the Far North as I read Alanna Mitchell’s eloquent cover story on her recent pilgrimages to the Arctic and Antarctica. Mitchell, an award-winning science writer, observes that the Poles, more than any other region, spell out hard truths about the health of our planet.

We ignore the Poles at our peril, yet they do not fully register in our collective consciousness. We’re oriented toward the middle of the planet, where almost all the people live, not toward its extremities. The Poles are almost an afterthought, an emptiness so vast it’s unreal. We exile Santa Claus to the North Pole because we need to place the fable far beyond the reach of rational thought and uncomfortable questions. And we smile when Coca-Cola depicts cuddly polar bears and slinky penguins dancing under the stars — no matter that polar bears and penguins live at opposite ends of the Earth. It’s all ice to us.

Coming to grips with the terrifying ecological realities now playing out in the Arctic and Antarctica will mean first coming to grips with our distorted view of Creation. Churches have been very good at helping to change our ecological thinking: most of us now reject the idea that humans are the reason God created the Earth. But the work isn’t finished. The next step is to encourage an understanding of Earth where all regions are viewed as equally sacred parts of the whole. With Earth Day and the Easter weekend coinciding this year, I can’t think of a better time than right now to get the conversation going.

Alanna Mitchell’s article is accompanied by marvellous photography of the spectacular polar landscapes. The pictures are the work of photographer Lee Narraway from White Lake, Ont. To see more of Narraway’s photos and to hear more about Mitchell’s journeys to the Arctic and Antarctica, click here.

Author's photo
David Wilson is the editor-publisher of The Observer.
Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!
Promotional Image

Editorials

David Wilson%

Observations

by David Wilson

If statues could talk

Promotional Image

Video

ObserverDocs: Stolen Mother

by Observer Staff

The daughter and adoptive mother of one of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women share their story

Promotional Image

Society

July 2017

From far and wide

by Various Writers

Meet 11 immigrants who are putting down new roots

World

June 2017

A suitcase for Cuba

by Christopher Levan

You’ll find more than giveaway toiletries and hand-me-downs in the writer's luggage. Each carefully chosen gift offers a glimpse into the lives of Cubans today.

Justice

June 2017

Undocumented

by Kristy Woudstra

Up to half a million people are living in Canada without official status. The ‘sanctuary city’ movement is growing, but the fear of deportation persists.

World

June 2017

Resisting genocide

by Sally Armstrong

In August 2014, ISIS attacked Iraq’s Yazidis, slaughtering thousands and forcing women and girls into sexual slavery. Today, the survivors are fighting for their ancient way of life.

Society

April 2017

Dear Grandkids

by Various Writers

Six acclaimed Canadian authors write letters from the heart

Society

March 2017

Called to resist

by Paul Wilson

Liberal Christians in the United States test their faith against a demagogue

Promotional Image