One year ago I went on the adventure of a lifetime. I traveled to Antarctica to learn about climate change and to be able to lend a firsthand perspective to related conversations. I believe climate change is the greatest threat to our world today, having rippling effects into national security, human health, economic development, environmental justice, and beyond.
An important lesson I learned in Antarctica, was that climate change is not a blanket spread evenly across the planet. While the forests of Peru see record shattering rainfall, the already-arid regions of Kuwait are experiencing prolonged drought. This is also true in Antarctica. The Antarctic Peninsula is warming at a rate roughly six times faster than the rest of the planet. In the last few decades the temperature has increased 4-5 degrees in some places. However, in East Antarctica, on the other side of the continent, temperatures are maintained at their frigid and freezing norms. What helps to keep in mind when conceptualizing this idea, is that Antarctica is massive, more than 1.5 times larger than the continental United States.
Given the significant warming that the Peninsula has been facing, some of its wildlife are being affected. Following my expedition, I made a short film about one of those animals that serves as an indicator of the changing climate, the Adelie penguin, which is restricted to Antarctica in its range. It feeds on krill, tiny shrimp-like creatures that are at the base of the food web in Antarctica. The krill feed on an algae called phytoplankton that grows on the underside of sea ice. Since 1979, annual sea ice extent along the western side of the Antarctic Peninsula, which is prime Adelie penguin habitat, has decreased by 40 percent. Less sea ice means less food for the krill and less food for the penguin. So Adelie penguins are being pushed further south, seeking places where sea ice cover has not yet been affected by warming temperatures and shorter winters.
You can begin to see that the story of climate change is indeed complex and can be told from innumerous perspectives. The Adelie penguin’s story is just the tip of the iceberg, but it’s my hope that its inquisitive nature sparks curiosity in you. I believe that education is paramount in any hot-button issue, but particularly with regard to climate change. The more we learn about it and understand how it’s affecting wildlife and ecosystems – even our livelihoods and natural resources – the more we may begin to care about stopping it. Education and awareness are our most powerful tool in any fight. So take a look at my short film and consider some of the easy changes you can make in your daily life to help address climate change. With so many people in the world, if we all contribute a little, we can make a big difference.
Check out my film, In Search of the Adelie Penguin, below.