Religiously, each year, I gather my students to make a ritualistic rite of passage pilgrimage to a local institute; The Antarctic Centre. It is replete with arguably some of the most dynamic and delicious debates that one will bear witness to in any erudite encounter. I am unaware of the number and presence of other such educational experiences pertaining to the potent and politically charged topic of the Antarctic/Arctic beyond our shores but this little oasis is a treasure chest of intellectual illumination.
Beyond our historical claims towards the Antarctic as peopleless penguinfull ‘real estate’ the naivety towards the question of “why does or should the Antarctic matter to us?”, never ceases to make me shudder in revulsion.
As my savvy wee scholars sedately stroll from stall to sideshow soaking up the sights I ask them to focus on contesting one powerful question “why did I bring them here?”. Well, some cheekily chided that as a tutor and a figure of authority within the College of Arts they were compelled to follow the Donkey. Partly true I must honestly and heart fully concede. Nevertheless, this was far from the reason behind the philosophical objections behind this intrepid field trip.
Gateway Antarctica, as Christchurch is affectionately and commercially branded, is a massive cash cow for the city and is a jewel in our economic crown. Yet, it is an asset in more than just a money pot sense. The ideal behind the greater initiative of the New Zealand Antarctic mission is also committed to expanding the horizons in how we collectively perceive that wild rugged terrain south of the border.
As one very switched on South American surveyor surmised, we are here because the ice caps are entities which we should all care and be concerned about. As a significant first world player with considerably careless carbon emissions, it is frightfully fretful the game of eco-roulette that we are playing with an environment capable of irreparably altering our own for generations to follow. I care about the people to come, the ones who live and respire now, the folks and towns that litter our coastal nation. I care about what the world thinks about when they see the words New Zealand, about my Pacific brothers and sisters and saving the Islands. I care about the survival of the multiple penguin species and the polar bear up North and the habitats that these creatures and others need to survive and thrive within.
I have faith in an Antarctic Treaty that brings all the world together to discuss the affairs surrounding the precarious perils of a continent whose stability affects us all. I lean strongly towards a pact which values all accounts and not just those of the Big brethren of bully big daddy states. I worry about changing weather patterns and how they will impact upon our lives, from coastal erosion to the impact it will have on our farming seasons, the damage it will unfurl upon the vineyards I cherish, the shortening of our lucrative ski season and the price havoc it will wreak on our comestible commodities.
I quiver at the rise in temperatures that will lead to droughts, water restrictions, hydroelectric plants without water to spin the generator turbines and let’s not forget the rise in health headaches such as heatstroke, skin cancer and melanoma. I shiver at the apocalyptic image of the desertification of a lush emerald hued New Zealand denuded of its leafy canopy of foliage and exceptional avian assets as centigrades soar towards unprecedented celestial heights.
I shudder at the mere thought of the unnatural molestation and degeneration of our untamed splendor and pine for the teetering state of other idyllic paradises such as Patagonia, the Pantanal, Amazonia to the resplendent rainforests of the South East Asian states.
Antarctica should be more than just a playground of scientific curiosity for us casual Kiwis. Our association with this White Wonderland is a time piece which continues to pulse and each and every beat is an event which shapes all of New Zealand and everything about her that we hold dear.
To renounce Antarctic affairs as irrelevantly unimportant as far as it’s connection with New Zealand is concerned is tantamount to the ecopolitical and social treason of our salubrious national stability. Crimes against the Antarctic as far as I’m concerned are shamefully sinful acts against humanity. Equally applicably likewise, regarding the dirty deeds enacted against or upon the Northern Arctic Circle.