Friday, August 24, 2007

Locals return from Arctic expedition


Upon his return from a reconnaissance trip to the Arctic Archipelago, Ed Cassano painted a picture of dramatic change.
Inuit leaders pointed out to him areas of green grass where frozen tundra once existed, tall trees where none had grown before, grizzly bears on Victoria Island and ravens in Cambridge Bay.

Only a few chunks of ice floated in the Northwest Passage, seas above Canada historically choked with ice and rarely navigated.
“It’s open now,” Cassano said. “Wide open.”
While Cassano visited with elders and planned for a 2009 expedition on an icebreaker ship through the once-elusive Northwest Passage, news came through from the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center that this year now has the minimum amount of ice in the Arctic on record, breaking the previous record set in 2005.
“It’s pretty crazy,” Cassano said.
Rather than feeling overwhelmed by the scope of the problem, Cassano said he feels energized and that the mission of InMER — his nonprofit organization with the stated goal of initiating social change and creating a sustainable future — has never been more important.
Although Cassano feels a sense of urgency over the issue of climate change and admits that it is unknown at what point it might have an irreversible effect on the planet, he said he believes there is still time to change the course “if we act aggressively and decisively.”
When asked if he feels that individuals and government will actually do that, he said, “I have to believe that.”
“Go to the Arctic,” Cassano said. “Look at the changes the Inuit people are seeing. This is not a hypothetical situation. This is real.”
There is a small group in the scientific community that aren’t convinced climate change is an issue, Cassano admitted. He declined to say what he believes motivates them to oppose his viewpoint, but described the group as very small.
“It’s like five people,” he said.
This winter, Cassano plans to return to the Arctic to spend more time with Inuit elders and to study the changing environment. Then, in 2009, he will take an icebreaker ship through the Northwest Passage with a group he hopes will consist of politicians, athletes, religious leaders, scholars and youth.
He said he is “highly confident” in what those messengers will relay to the public upon their return. He also plans to approach local and national media, beef up his website — — with daily logs, pictures and articles, and give lectures on the topic of his experience with climate change in the Arctic.
Cassano also gave a laundry list of things for the average person to do that he said will help slow climate change impacts. Among those are walking to work, carpooling, using alternative-fuel vehicles, asking power companies for alternative energy options, and buying local produce.
“Live a sustainable life,” Cassano said. “Take a simple act of doing something and do it consistently.”
He called Santa Barbara a “great municipal example,” but stressed that the city can still do much more to be sustainable.
“Even if the idea of climate change turns out to be wrong, which it isn’t,” he said, “what is the down side?”

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