Photo: Trenton Branson
It all started with two sisters, a children’s book project and a deep love for our planet. Over the past 1.5 years, my dear sister, Seltenet and I have been quietly working on a children’s book series on Eco topics. Our first book in the trilogy, The Invasion of the Perilous Plastics is due to be released later this year in Azerbaijan and England, and it’s thanks to this door opening project that I had the unique opportunity to be the first Azerbaijani person to join 2041 Foundation’s educational expedition to the top of the world – the Arctic circle!
Let me tell you a little about the expedition…
The expedition was led by the world famous Polar Explorer, Sir Robert Swan, the first man on Earth to walk to both the South and North poles. A personal hero of mine who has weaved his adventures with a sense of purpose and set up 2041 Foundation to dedicate his life to the preservation of our stunning Polar regions.
Here I am with Sir Robert Swan, the Polar Explorer
2041 Foundation is an NGO that serves to educate change makers around the world on the importance of protecting our planet through the promotion of sustainability, renewable energies and green living to combat the effects of climate change. They organise expeditions in the Arctic and Antarctica to provide green warriors with an in depth insight into the latest research, technologies and happenings in climate change (through lectures and workshops) and provide a platform to collaborate as a group on actionable solutions. I was selected to join this expedition because of my involvement in writing the Eco Stories books that aims to raise awareness on environmental issues amongst young people. My goal for the expedition was to conduct research on our second children’s book that will focus on the carbon footprint and walk away with ideas to bring it to life.
86 people from all four corners of the globe, men and women of all ages and backgrounds hopped on the National Geographic Explorer ship in the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard and set sail on the journey of a lifetime. Little did I know just how life changing this journey would be for all of us. Over the course of 10 days we sailed, as far as the ice would allow us to travel and reached 80 degrees north, only 600 miles from the North Pole. Throughout this journey every day we would participate in 4-6 lectures focusing on renewable energies, climate science, storytelling workshops (to effectively bring back our learnings to our communities) and fun activities in the wild, such as hiking in the tundra or kayaking in the Arctic ocean!
Photo: Trenton Branson
I met some truly inspiring individuals who humbled me with their immense knowledge. Professors from The University of Texas, CEOs of multi million dollar corporations, the Mayor of Cairns (Australia), founders of NGOs, school teachers, conservationists, eco focused startup founders, students studying sustainability, and many more!
Photo: Trenton Branson
The arctic wilderness is the most beautiful landscape I’ve ever laid eyes on, pristine snow capped mountains hugged the ocean and the jaw dropping wildlife sightings made me feel like a 5 year old giddy with excitement. One of my favourite moments of the trip was when our lectures would be interrupted by wildlife sightings. It was completely acceptable (and encouraged) to get up and leave the moment somebody spotted a whale or polar bear from the deck and we made the most of it. I saw walruses, beluga whales, humpback whales, 7 polar bears, lots of arctic reindeer and birds native to the Polar regions…but the moment my heart skipped a beat was when we spotted a 200 year old Bowhead whale.The rarest of all arctic species, the Bowhead was almost hunted to extinction for its oil and can you imagine it was the first time one NatGeo naturalist who’s been working in the Arctic for 30 years had seen one? We were so so lucky! Despite all the excitement and mind blowing lectures and inspiring people, we all experienced severe heartbreak.
Photo: Ahmed AlDhaheri
Photo: Trenton Branson
I felt uneasy and unsettled when we reached the Arctic and I noticed it was nowhere near as icy or as cold as it should have been. I didn’t use my ski coat or half my thermals because it just wasn’t cold enough.
Look at these photographs, and tell me, is this what you expected the ARCTIC to look like?
Did you know the Arctic is melting FIVE times faster than in the 90s? This is alarming news, and a crisis of the largest scale as it means our lives as we know it, is under threat. If the ice continues to melt at this rate, sea levels will continue to rise, wildlife will vanish, and we will be left with no home. The cause of this melting is a direct result of climate change, something each and every one of us is responsible for.
Our planet is under threat as a result of industrialisation and our daily activities, that have been negatively impacting our ecosystem for decades. Elements of our modern lives have spiralled out of control and led to our current climate crisis. Everything from extreme levels of mass material consumption to the way we consume food (single use plastic packaging, importing food, the way we farm our cattle and crops), to the way we travel (petrol cars/planes etc) have resulted in severe climate change including rising sea levels, unusual temperature changes and polluted oceans and land. In fact, we need to reshape the way we think about the climate crisis as it’s not our planet that needs protecting, it is us as the human species that is in danger as we are the ones who are facing the consequences of climate change. Let that sink in.
The good news is that with the age of technology and the digital age, we know now more than ever before. Thus, with all this knowledge comes ample opportunity for action.
Our beautiful and prosperous country is filled with opportunities to make us the pioneer of the Caucasus and lead the green movement in our region. As a geographically small nation, we can move quickly and take advantage of our size and amazing pool of resources. I’m oversimplifying here but also proposing a very realistic outlook. We can transition to renewable energies (we are a sunny and windy nation! Solar and Wind power for the win!) and tap into making use of our 9 climate zones to integrate renewables, we can invest in carbon capture technologies, ban single use plastics across the entire country, empower our farmers by choosing locally, sustainably sourced food and so much more! The opportunities are abundant!
Environmental awareness is gathering momentum across the world, as nations are uniting on the UN’s Paris agreement, many countries are banning single use plastics and integrating more renewable energies, but we certainly need to move faster. In an ideal scenario, we need to reach zero emissions by 2050, and we have international agreements like the Paris agreement in place to facilitate that but we need to push our policymakers to take it more seriously.
What does it mean to be zero emissions? Essentially adapting our lifestyles to emit no greenhouse gases into the atmosphere to prevent further rising of temperatures, i.e. global warming. This means changes such as switching from petrol cars to electric, integrating solar and wind power into our homes, workplaces and schools and thinking about greener ways to live our lives. It goes without saying we need support and subsidies from our government on a national level to implement these changes and help us transition faster, but there are also plenty of things we can do TODAY on an individual level.
Here are FOUR ways we can apply a conscious filter to every step we take and make deeper lifestyle changes.
1.Adjust your DIET
Consume less meat. Why? Many reasons, including deforestation to make space for cattle, and high methane emissions of animals (they emit terrifyingly high levels of CO2 in the atmosphere that causes global warming). I know this is hard with our mouthwatering dolma and kebabs, it’s a big challenge for me personally but I am now committed to sticking to locally sourced seafood where possible and eat meat once a month only as a treat. Burgers and steak, I love you but I love our planet more. I’m not saying you need to go vegetarian completely,, you can just cut down on your meat intake to once a week or even less and already make a difference!
Meat aside, we also need to be mindful of consuming produce that is locally sourced and sustainable (to reduce the carbon emissions of its journey to your plate). Get curious with your food, and ask questions!
- Adjust your TRAVEL methods
I know it’s easy to jump in your car and call it a day or hop on a plane (aviation is responsible for 12% of global emissions, whilst road transport is responsible for 74%) but we need to adopt more eco friendly manners of travelling. For short daily travels using bicycles, public transport, electric powered vehicles, sharing cars, riding scooters and good old fashioned walking are some of the best eco alternatives. For longer distances, where possible we can opt to take trains, and fly less often but stay longer (something I am still working on improving!). We are also abundantly blessed with beautiful destinations to explore on our doorstep, so we don’t always need to travel across the ocean to enjoy a holiday!
- Reduce your CONSUMPTION
Consume less disposable and material items in general. We’re really simple beings and the more we spend time in nature, the more we will realize how little it takes for us to be happy and healthy. Go minimalist and you’ll enjoy the lightness it brings. Apply it to every aspect of your life, your home, your car, your handbag, your office and watch your life positively change.
From a food perspective, we need to avoid ALL single use plastic items and switch to more sustainable alternatives. Plastic bags at the supermarket, plastic cutlery at cafes, plastic straws and cups at restaurants and schools. If you need more pointers click here!. Plastic aside, disposable paper cups and other seemingly “recyclable” materials are the next habit we need to kick. Sadly, recycling is NOT the answer. A frightening statistic shows only 5% of recyclable items are ACTUALLY recycled. Imagine that! Where does the rest go? It pollutes our parks and beaches, overflows landfills, creates garbage patches in the ocean, and heartbreakingly invades the homes and the bellies of delicate wildlife.
Get into the habit of carrying your own eco kit to cut down your single use disposables habit. Remember you don’t need to be perfect about it, but continuously trying is what matters.
Pack your backpack or car with a refillable bottle, a portable Tupperware and cutlery set, a tote bag and anything else you might need, and watch the world smile at you.
- Live a more CARBON NEUTRAL life and Plant trees!
What on earth does that mean? Basically our modern lifestyle means we emit a whole lot of greenhouse gases (that contribute to global warming, mainly CO2) just living the way we do, so we need to calculate our carbon footprint regularly, reduce them where possible and offset the rest (for example by planting trees! Trees naturally absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere!). There are so many easy lifestyle choices we can make and improve over time.
Think about how you can reduce emissions with your food (and where it travels from), your household (and if you can integrate renewable energies to run it), your car (share rides or go electric!), your domestic and international travels, your office and everywhere in between.
There are areas that are hard to compromise (for me it’s traveling and all the flights I take!), and this means we should take responsibility for our actions through balancing our carbon emissions and offsetting them. You can calculate your footprint online (for example THIS website is great at calculating everything from your flight to your food!) You can then decide on HOW you’d like to offset your emissions, either through planting trees (or paying someone to do this for you), or investing in clean energy technologies or other green initiatives.
I hope you find these tips helpful, believe me, I know it’s not easy to make these changes but it’s simply a matter of habit and determination. Together, we can change the tides!