Fire and Ice

Author: Ruth Jarman | Date: 30 August, 2023 | Category: Arts Blog Church Magazine Climate Emergency | Comments: 0

Guest post by Green Christian member, Edward Gildea, sent from Reykjavík just before he started sailing home 1,600 nm

This summer I saw an amazing combination of erupting volcanoes, icebergs and whales while the world continued to suffer the devastating effects of the climate crisis: wildfires which torched more than 500 sq km of Greece; the evacuation of Rhodes; uncounted deaths in Hawaii; Arizona notching up a record-breaking 31 consecutive days at 43C or more while despite the rain in England and floods in Norway, and July became the hottest month ever recorded in the modern era, adding to the 60,000 heat related deaths recorded in Europe last year.

Apart from the largely benign effects of volcanic eruptions, these events are all connected, including the melting of the polar ice sheets.

And yet, as I witnessed when I made landfall in Greenland, humanity is blessed with the most exquisitely beautiful planet. A beauty which inspired this poem:


8th August 2023

Tasiilaq let us in.
Cold sun on our faces
A spotlight skittering across silken seas,
We dropped our sails.
Clouds stretched grey and mauve;
Mountains in soft layers of mist
Split and cracked the horizon.

A bubble beneath our bows!
Then more aligned
Until massive, black, timeless
The humpback rose, blew steamy jets,
Introduced its dorsal fin, curiosity satisfied,
Raised its languorous fluke,
And plunged.

Against the sky’s scorching rim
The sun’s last rays splintered mountain tops
While icebergs, crisp against deepening layers of purple,
Carried their centuries of snow
Out to sea.

The melting of the polar ice sheets and Permafrost pose deep and massive threats. While we were moored in Port Ellen Bay, Islay, I met Dr Nigel Jollands, the founder and scientist on the yacht Novara, which was moored alongside us. He leads the Novara One World Project, (www.Novara.World) encouraging climate resilience amongst communities in high latitudes. He told me that a massive 30cms of sea level rise by 2050 is hard-baked into our models of the the climate crisis. The impact of this on world populations is hard to envisage.

But I also learned something wonderful about whales. A blue whale is worth far more alive than dead. It is a massive carbon sink of 7-9 tonnes of carbon which equates to 33 tonnes of CO2 kept out of the atmosphere. Apparently we can value each blue whale at at least $3 million at today’s carbon trading prices. Far more than the value of its meat! Its poo is also of immense value on its slow journey to the ocean floor, feeding vast numbers phytoplankton, which globally sequester 37 gigatonnes of carbon.

These figures are dwarfed by the value of sea grass, which sequesters a total of $2.3 trillion of carbon each year. All we need to do is put a value on living Nature, instead of only valuing nature when is dead: felled, slaughtered or cleared.

By the way, elephants also incorporate $2.6 million worth of carbon each, while their poo too stimulates the carbon sequestration capacity of the forest. This offers a basis of a solution to African farmers who are devastated when elephants rampage over their crops.

A few days later I set sail to Greenland again on a northerly course this time, aiming to cross into the Arctic Circle and experience my 7th ocean under sail. We were greeted by an awesome congregation of icebergs at the entrance to Scoresby Sund – stunning in their size and purity. In our two days in the remote community of Ittoqqutoormiitt, we learned how the snows are coming weeks later, melting weeks earlier and where houses would once commonly have been buried up to their roofs, by Innuit standards there has been ‘no snow’ since 2010.

This massively affects their livelihoods but has a direct affect on us thousands of miles away to the south because it profoundly affects the behaviour the Jet Stream. Less snow here is connected to wet summers in England and scorching summers in the Mediterranean. We all share one tiny, delicate, interconnected planet. None of us is an island.

Edward Gildea

Edward Gildea writes magazine articles for his local church, St Mary’s, Saffron Walden in north west Essex, each month. He has kindly given permission to anyone to re-edit for your own parish newsletters. Please credit him and his church website.



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