Change is in the Wind

October 23rd, 2012 | monica | Comments Off on Change is in the Wind

Do you know that it takes 73 New Jersey states to make up the land mass of Alaska?

After returning from a simply amazing August vacation to Alaska, I learned so much about this immense and majestic land, it moved me in many ways that I’d like to share.

Being told that the weather conditions were some of the best all summer, my husband, Bruce, and I felt so fortunate. Entering Denali National Park and Reserve, the land unfolded before us for as far as the eye can see. We were among the minority who viewed Mt. McKinley on a very clear day, the largest peak on the North American continent made of hard granite rock and standing proudly at the summit at 20,320 feet. It was a spectacular sight and its beauty can speak to the soul. While I was shooting pictures of Mt. McKinley, I called out to all that I noticed a grizzly bear running about 500 feet below us. This immediately got the attention of the Park Rangers who practices a very high level of safety. Although we saw marvelous wildlife wherever we travelled, Denali was about the best, providing us with a lifetime of memories.

Only allowed by tour bus, on foot (via designated trails), or by air, Denali National Park and Reserve is a single lane dirt road that takes you 90 miles into the park, ending at what used to be a gold mining district called Kantishna. In this area, a true pioneer woman, Fannie Quigley, spent much of her life defeating the odds of such an inhospitable and rugged land. The “top 5” wildlife that all tourist hopes to view are black and grizzly bears, wolves, caribou, dall sheep and bull moose.We enjoyed the incredible sites of the “top 5” with the exception of wolves (although I’m very sure that they saw us). The park was so alive with many exciting views of both the parents and young of many species where they roam free. The baby grizzly cubs touched my heart as did the young of caribou (fawns) and moose (calves). We also saw Alaska’s national bird called the Ptarmigan who were also tending to their young. Many sightings of Alaskan bald eagles with massive nests were active with baby eaglets. Did you know that some nests can last from 20-25 years and can weigh up to 2 tons?

Since our trip included cruising in both fresh and sea water, my hope was to view at least one whale. Again, we were so fortunate to see many hump back whales. Other sea sightings included a rare puffin, not usually in this region, harbor seals, sea otters, brightly colored star fish and jelly fish, and so many varieties of sea birds. Of course, we saw bright red and other colored wild salmon (which was my special meal just about every day) and we crabbed for Dungeness crabs that were a feast delight.

Our visit to both the Hubbard and Mendenhall glaciers (which are moving rivers of ice), were awe inspiring. As a novice viewing these massive creations, a sense of wonder ran through me as we experienced explosions of the blue glass-like ice breaks into the sea as if it was a 4th of July celebration.

One trip to a salmon hatchery stirred my thoughts about the sustainability of our food source, reminding me how lucky I am to be working for a company that promotes and provides sustainable and healthy food for our planet. During this visit, I had an irresistible need to learn more about this region in relation to our climate. I attended educational lectures and read books about our changing climate – which is not only affecting Alaska – but our entire universe. Permafrost is melting. Glaciers are retreating. Plants are under siege. Sea ice is disappearing. Animals are in peril and migrating. Coastal areas are eroding, homes and history are washing away.

During some brief conversations with Alaskan residents, I had difficulty engaging folks on this topic. One woman, born and raised in Alaska, said that the matter of their environment changing comes up off and on, however, they had such a severe winter last year that she doesn’t even think about it.

We’ve all heard that the Earth’s atmosphere and oceans are warming, however, it’s happening faster in the Artic seas and Alaskan landscapes than ever before. Scientists are showing that the changes are immediate, tangible and undeniable, and Alaska is feeling the effects of warmer temperatures and rising greenhouse gases sooner than anywhere else in America. The greenhouse effect occurs when gas-like carbon dioxide and methane builds up in the atmosphere and traps heat that would have otherwise escaped into space. These changes are dramatic and real. One must look at weather and nature, but also the activities of each and every one of us around the world.

I learned that people around the globe now burn enough fossil fuel to pump 8 billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere every year. 4 billion tons stay in the atmosphere, 2 billion are taken up by plant growth on land, and 2 billion are dissolved into ocean water. In our ocean, some of the impact results in more acidic sea water that dissolves the shells of planktonic mollusks called pteropods that are very important to many sea life and sea birds that depend on them as a food source.

Most of us know that as our ocean temperatures rise, evaporation goes up and more rainfall comes down. However, with each 1 degree rise in atmospheric temperature, increased moisture isn’t evenly distributed around the globe. Places that are already wet climates will get wetter with more frequent floods. Our dry regions such as the Southwest will become dryer. Since 1988, climate scientists have warned that climate change would bring increased heat waves, more droughts, more sudden downpours, more widespread wild fires and worsening storms. As these issues continue, our world food and water supplies are also threatened by such floods and droughts.

Plants and animals have always had to adapt to climate change, however, never at the intense rates seen in the last few decades. Sea lions, whales, sea otters, walrus, muskoxen, salmon and polar bears are among the most visible species struggling to cope with climate change. Interestingly, the caribou may actually benefit since they are born survivors as they migrate in search of moss and lichen, their primary diet.

As the debate on this topic continues to rage in the media and between scientists, we need to realize that these extremes are happening now. Did the Ice Age come and go without the help of humans? El Nino and PDO (Pacific Decadal Oscillation), the Little Ice Age, is a natural cycle that keeps our world in dynamic equilibrium. Will El Nino and PDO turn out to be the overriding driver of an ever changing climate – or is our world headed where so many scientists predict?

As human beings of this planet, we are responsible for our contribution to climate change. What is one thing that you can do differently to help our planet? What else can we do as a Company? I welcome dialogue on this topic including improved new ways that we can work together as a UNFI family to further participate in healing our fragile planet.

I feel very fortunate to have travelled with my husband to Alaska, to enhance my knowledge and admiration of this vast land, to highlight what’s happening around us, and to share it with you.