A few nights ago I attended a fundraiser for UCLA’s Institute of Environment and Sustainability, a dept of the school devoted to researching and resolving the climate crisis. Al Gore and Lyn Lear were awarded for their excellence in the field but it was really us, the audience, who were rewarded with their impassioned speeches.
I was there with my band to perform a few songs, and to connect us all by our hearts. The very hilarious Sarah Silverman performed her sexy comedy, connecting us all by our commonalities, with poop jokes.
At Al’s table, front and center, sat Barbara Streisand, an environmentalist since the 80’s, and one of the greatest singers to grace the modern stage. My heart raced during my opening song, excited to be playing for a star-studded crowd, and for the timely issue of climate change that affects all of humanity.
But I wasn’t nervous because Streisand was watching. I’d met her two years ago when I performed at an event for The Natural Resources Defense Council, (The Very Awesome NRDC.) That day she and I found ourselves in the same hallway moments before I went on and she turned to me and asked if I still got nervous before I performed. I do now, I said.
Last night, I decided I would get clear with Al Gore in front of the audience of UCLA professors about an incident that occurred on my expedition to Antarctica last year with the Vice President. An incident that had a profound impact on me, shifting my perspective on the issue of climate change. For those curious as to what the expedition was about, think of it as An Inconvenient Truth, The Ride!
Our vessel sat motionless in a quiet harbor near Palmer Station on the Antarctic Peninsula. I was on the top deck of the ship near the bow admiring an enormous glacier with my camera. Through my lens the landscape looked like a movie set. There was nothing close enough to the glacier to reveal it’s scale on camera and no other colors than the thousand hues of blue and white besides the black rock the glacier was clinging to.
In my patient position I got to witness a large chunk of the glacier break off and fall languidly into the sea, as if in slow motion, falling straight down like a controlled detonation of a building, disappearing into a splash for a few seconds before it bobbled up and began it’s new life as an ice burg. I was witnessing warm weather take it’s toll on the environment.
I stood there drop-jawed, completely humbled by nature, as a gust of wind came racing through the harbor and hit the ship, whirling my hat and jacket in all directions, lifting me up a little, enough that I had to take a few steps to regain my balance. It was a common occurrence on deck. But in that particular whirling around, a wrapper from a snack I’d enjoyed earlier floated up and out of my pocket and into the air! Hands out reaching, mouth agape, breath held, I froze in fear watching this bright green wrapper flutter off like the feather in Forest Gump until it rested gently on the surface of the glassy, pristine, non-human, deep blue water.
My heart sank. And at that moment I wished I could too.
I’m the guy who picks up trash when he goes for a walk. I don’t care if somebody has peed in a cup and it if has a condom hanging out of it, I’m going to put it in the trash. But now here I am in Antarctica on a mission to preserve and protect our natural resources, and I’m the litter bug.
There was my trash staring back at me and I immediately started thinking about how I was going to fix it. SNACK OVERBOARD! Someone throw a life preserver! Of all the downloads I received on the voyage; the inconvenient truth about climate change, nothing was more obvious to me than this; this is what all the fuss is about: Man is having an impact on his environment. This is my fault. This was my trash.
The current was moving too quickly for me to run to a lower deck and retrieve it, besides I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. It stood out in a way that was so wrong, it was almost beautiful. It just didn’t fit in.
It was green and yellow with words on it. Nothing else in the Antarctic is green or yellow and there are no words or advertisements strung or spray painted anywhere. My piece of trash spoke volumes. You couldn’t miss it.
Fortunately, the wrapper drifted into a line of zodiacs returning to the ship and someone snatched it up. Since it would be coming back to the boat, I assumed we would receive an announcement from the Vice President or the ship’s crew, but it never came.
The incident said enough. The things we buy, use and throw away are our responsibility. Someday in a not too distant future, we’ll realize it isn’t money that keeps us alive, but our desperate need of clean water, fresh food, and clean air.
I apologized to Al and the ClimateReality team who were at the event, and thanked them for the invitation to see and experience our planet in a way that ultimately changed me, inspiring me to start a tree planting initiative and planting thousands of trees last year in effort offset the emissions of touring. Then I segued into a song about how it’s never too late to turn anything around, and played 93 million miles, as Barbara Streisand filmed us on her iPhone.
I follow @AlGore and @ClimateReality on twitter because they’re both up to date on science and legislature. It’s good to know what the natural world is up to, and what we humans are doing to save it, and what we humans are doing to save ourselves.