Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Three generations of environmentalists 

In my pre-teen years, unlike many kids of my age, I wasn’t a devoted TV addict, but there was a handful of programmes I’d dash home for. One was (and still is) Doctor Who; another was BBC2’s “The World About Us” – a long-running series of documentaries presenting a multi-faceted view of the natural world. Being scheduled at 7.25pm on a Sunday evening was a source of much frustration for me as I had to cajole my parents to hurry home from church (being a very devout family we attended both morning and evening services every Sunday). At least when they changed the schedule to move the slot to 8.15pm I didn’t have to feign illness so often…

The films of Jacques Yves Cousteau featured frequently and were a favourite of mine. It wasn’t that I had an especial interest in oceanography any more than any other aspect of the natural world, but his passion was infectious, and his style of narration drew you in to his world so that you experienced it through all of his senses. Cousteau’s exploits pressed a lot of my buttons – I admired him as scientist, explorer/adventurer, naturalist, ecologist (in the days when the term was still new), inventor (he was co-inventor of the aqualung) and photographer. I was astonished too that he actually seemed to be making a living doing something that was so much fun. He had a kind of freedom which I’ve always envied, and never quite understood.

His son, Philippe, featured in many of those films, taking more and more of a leading role as his own skills and experience - and passion - grew to match his father's. It was after that series of programmes were made that Philippe was killed in a crash of their Catalina flying boat, leaving behind his wife, Jan, a three year old daughter and a yet-to-be-born son.

Jacques Yves Cousteau was a great environmentalist and a great storyteller, using the one to promote the other; now his grandson, Philippe Cousteau Jr, is following in that tradition – also, as it happens, in conjunction with the BBC. For the next fortnight, you can follow at his blog his exploits diving and filming in the Arctic for a forthcoming TV production; the official BBC account of filming, complete with video clips is here.

From today's post:
Even now, as we witness the catastrophic consequences of our actions, we are consumed with a desire to drill more, ship more, plant our national flags and greedily exploit whatever is uncovered by the retreating ice. Even as we watch the Arctic shrinking in front of our very eyes, its shifting ecosystem threatening the existence of all life on this planet, we are blinded by a frenzy of consumption, a myopic desire to advance our own self-interest. Already, environmentalists around the world are battling countries that want to take advantage of the retreating ice to drill for more oil, the very stuff that has caused the ice to melt in the first place! This is going to be a difficult trip but an important one. This world is changing and the poles are at the frontlines of that change. The great regulators of our climate, both the Arctic and Antarctic, face an uncertain future and seeing it with my own eyes will be both thrilling and terrifying.

Jan Cousteau, wife of Philippe, mother of Philippe Jr, co-founder of Earth Echo:
“Our children learned very early that they had a responsibility to this planet and knew that they must carry their father’s message forever with their own. He was and continues to be their guiding star, their inspiration, as he has always been mine. As the years passed we understood the sense of urgency for the tremendous task that lay ahead: more problems with more solutions to be sought. This was Philippe’s gift to us, the continuation of the legacy.”

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