Welcome, Earthlings

At Culletons Gap, Wexford, Ireland
The beach at Culleton’s Gap, Curracloe, Wexford. Christmas Eve, 2012.

As I write this, I’m sitting in a café in Brussels (where hundreds of refugees are camped in parks, understandably turning down government dormitory accommodation). I’m Irish. I live here, for now. I migrated here, but I’m not a refugee. But look at the history of the Irish diaspora, or that of your own country. Look at how many people in your family or friends are descended from or connected someone who was displaced by war or crushing economic pressures, and think, did any of these people – the Syrians stranded on the beaches of Kos, or arriving in Munich ever dream they would become refugees?

Last week, as I nestled my dozing two-month old son in my arms, my mind kept drifting back to the photograph of Aylan, the three-year old Syrian boy who perished on Turkey’s shores, after his family’s attempt to reach Greece, and the European Union. I shed a tear, for the unfairness of it all. For the father of Aylan, who had lost his entire family. In thanks for the health and safety for our little boy. In anger, and shame for being part of a system that forces small kids to cross the sea at night, unreliable boats, or push through razor wire in order to claim their basic human rights.

Europe, and some of the wider world, seems to have woken up to some sense of the enormity of the current refugee situation, following the publication of the publication of the Aylan images. It’s not that I or others, were unaware of the Syrian war – as many Europeans are – but perhaps we all assumed that someone, somewhere was taking care of the problem – after all, that’s why we pay our taxes, right?
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Russia and Norway: You’ve ‘saved’ the Arctic, now it’s time to protect the Antarctic

An official statement released on January 23rd by Russia’s Federal Agency for Fisheries, announced that “Russia and Norway will sign a declaration on preventing unregulated fishing in the Arctic Ocean, helping to conserve the Arctic”.

Deputy Minister of Agriculture of the Russian Federation & Head of the Federal Agency for Fisheries, Ilya Shestakov was quoted saying that:

“Creating an effective mechanism to regulate fishing in the region is an urgent task, because the Arctic is the last major region in respect of which have not yet developed international agreements in the field of fisheries.”

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Russia, how long must we wait?

Iceberg, Southern Ocean, Antarctica
Iceberg, Southern Ocean, Antarctica

As I write, the dozens of delegates attending this years meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) should be sound asleep in their Hobart hotel rooms, if they’re not out tasting Tasmania’s finest wines in the the Salamanca neighbourhood.

Until the end of the month, the officials from 24 countries – plus the EU – will consider a range of issues, the most notorious of which is the long-delayed establishment of marine reserves in the Ross Sea and in the waters of East Antarctica. I can’t tell you what’s happening at the meeting so far, as CCAMLR meets behind closed doors. The Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition is the only non-governmental organisation representing civil society at CCAMLR – but my colleagues in the room are prohibited from reporting on proceedings until they have formally ended. We will know if the news is good or bad by the end of October.

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The Last of Our Kind

Beautiful and poignant reaction by my sister, Suzanne Walsh, to this weeks news of walrus beachings in the Arctic, and the deplorable global loss of our fellow animals:

“And yet not completely: the soft top of the head can still twitch with incoming images, like walrus stampedes on melting ice-floes. It’s better to be the last of your kind, when you rule the world, because your kind is burning it up, even here under the clear blue skies.”

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The Slaney River and the World

The Crossabeg Book: The Slaney and the World by Dave Walsh

For all the travelling I’ve done, it’s always good to come home. I am writing these words 50m away from the River Slaney, in the south east of Ireland, with a a copy of Crossabeg: The Parish and its People (Vol 2) waiting for me. And I’m honoured to be featured in the book. When my neighbour here, Alice Devine, one of the team who put the book together asked me to write something about my travels, I thought the best way was to show how my upbringing in Crossabeg provided the foundation for everything that followed – including my trips to the Arctic and the Antarctic. For those of you not able to get your hands on the book, here’s what I wrote:

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Antarctica’s Glaciers are Collapsing – Are We Ready To Pay Attention?

Iceberg, Antarctica, (c) Dave Walsh
Iceberg, Antarctica, (c) Dave Walsh

I posted this blog on greenpeace.org – it’s an exploration of the meaning of recent news on the West Antarctic ice shelf collapse.

The “irreversible collapse” of glaciers in Antarctica is dominating headlines around the world this week. News outlets are breathlessly reporting that the dramatic rise in sea levels that’s now on the cards. So what does it mean? Should we panic? Do we need to grab the family, and head for the hills?

Well, no, we shouldn’t panic. Not yet. If we’re going to freak out, we should perhaps be more constructive – and get real about our carbon emissions, energy efficiency, adaption and supporting the people who needs the most help. Let’s be clear – it’s not as if a giant ice cube has been dropped into the Southern Ocean, generating a monster tsunami. We don’t need to start filling a large wooden boat with two of every living creature and one Russell Crowe, either.
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No Such Thing as “Sustainable” Arctic Management

Sunset on Arctic Sea Ice, near Svalbard, 2009
Sunset on Arctic Sea Ice, Fram Strait, September 2009.© Dave Walsh

Here’s an idea. To hell with “sustainably managing” the Arctic Ocean. Instead, how about we just stay out of it and leave it the fuck alone to look after itself, as it was doing before we humans came along and starting burning coal and oil and putting CO2 in the air and seawater?

Yesterday, as I sat towards the back of a two-thirds empty lecture theatre in one of Brussels’ stately buildings, I read on Twitter that the EU Parliament had passed a resolution in favour of protecting the Arctic environment, calling for the creation of a high seas sanctuary around the North Pole.

Clause 38 of the resolution states that the European Parliament:

“Supports the initiative by five Arctic coastal states to agree on interim precautionary measures to prevent any future fisheries in the Arctic high seas without the prior establishment of appropriate regulatory mechanisms, and supports the development of a network of Arctic conservation areas and, in particular, the protection of the international sea area around the North Pole outside the economic zones of the coastal states”

The rest of the document contains some pretty firm language on human rights, sea level rise and climate change – amongst other issues and expresses “strong concern regarding the rush for oil exploration and drilling in the Arctic”. Unfortunately, the sentence concludes “without adequate standards being enforced”. So, even the EU, while trying to be the good guy, accepts that there will be drilling.
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We can’t let 30 people be our conscience

The Arctic Sunrise at the top of the Nares Strait, 2009
Photo: © Dave Walsh/Greenpeace

Three weeks ago, I gave a speech to a room in Brussels. It was, I hoped, a rallying cry; it was at least a rant in support of 30 Greenpeace activists from the Arctic Sunrise, locked up in prisons in or around Murmansk by the Russian authorities for the last 50 days.
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Arctic Nocturne: An Evening of Solidarity with the Greenpeace Arctic 30

Dave Walsh speaking at Arctic Nocture in Solidarity with Arctic 30, Brussels.

On October 17th, for the last evening of my photo exhibition, The Arctic: Another World? we had a special event in solidarity with the 30 Greenpeace Arctic activists currently being held in detention in Russia, at Brussels’ beautiful Bibliothèque de Laeken, hosted by Greenpeace Belgium and the Ville de Bruxelles.

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Arctic Exhibition in Brussels

The Arctic: Another World?

On Monday September 30, 2013, The Arctic: Another World?, a solo exhibition of my polar photography, will open at the Bibliothèque de Laeken in Brussels, presented by Greenpeace Belgium and the Ville de Bruxelles. Running until October 18, the exhibition is open to the public – so please come along if you’re in town. There’s a vernissage, as they say here – an official opening, at 11am on October 1st, and all are welcome.
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