A web comic by Callisto
Click here to read On Thin Ice: Part 8, Part 7, Part 6, Part 5, Part4, Part 3, Part 2 and Part 1.
Over 50 years ago, the United States and the Soviet Union were locked in battle.
It was a battle of power, each side trying to out-do the other with nuclear power…and rockets.
The USSR launched the first satellite (Sputnik I) into space on October 4th, 1957. Then the Soviets launched the first living animal into orbit on November 3rd, 1957, a former stray dog named Laika (who tragically died, partially due to the fact that they had no way to recover the dog’s capsule from space), yet again outdoing the United States who hadn’t launched anything into orbit yet.
Then the USSR launched the first person into space, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, on the 12th of April, 1961, yet again (as you may have guessed) leaving the USA behind in the space race.
But not for long. In the States, a space program had begun: NACA (soon to be NASA) which grew, and from it came the Mercury Program, which sent the first American person, astronaut Alan Shepard, into space; then the Gemini Program; and next, the Apollo Program.
You may have heard of some of these programs, but I’m almost certain that you’ve heard of Apollo. You’ve heard of Apollo 11, most likely… Because, hey, that’s the program that sent us to the moon for the first time!
But there were many very important lesser-known Apollo missions previous to––and following––Apollo 11. Like Apollo 1, which, though it never sent its crew to space and ended tragically with the deaths of three astronauts, may have saved NASA before it had barely started due to the hard lessons learned from the tragedy. Or Apollo 7, when NASA was first able to test out a manned Saturn V rocket in orbit.
But most important to this post––and to the entire environmental movement––was Apollo 8. Apollo 8 was the first mission to reach lunar orbit. And astronauts James Lovell Jr., William Anders, and Frank Borman were along for the ride, which launched on December 21st, 1968, for a six-day mission. Apollo 8 was the first human spaceflight to orbit an astronomical object: the Moon. Still, they never touched down on the Moon at all.
So why was this mission important, you may wonder, if they weren’t even landing on the Moon, and just flew around it for a bit?
You see, when Apollo 8 was launched into trans-lunar orbit, the astronauts were traveling farther away from our planet than any others before had traveled. The mission was not only important to the space program, because of all of the maneuvers, calculations, and theories they got to try in real life, and in preparation for a moon landing, but it was important in helping us realize something big…and very beautiful.
During the first-ever lunar orbit, when the Apollo 8 spacecraft came around to face Earth again, astronaut William Anders took one of the most famous photos in history: Earthrise.
Astronauts had looked back at Earth before, and taken photos of it, but what happened when Apollo 8 first went to the Moon was very special.
This photo was seen all over our world almost as soon as the astronaut photographer returned to Earth.
Nowadays this may not look that impressive. In fact, you’ve probably seen this very picture before. But imagine you hadn’t. Imagine that you lived in a world where no one had ever looked at Earth like this; never seen what our planet looks like from the outside. That’s what it was like, when the world saw this photo. People weren’t just looking up at the Moon at night, and seeing another world that most can only ever dream of stepping upon, and at this point, no one had; now, they were looking at their world. Our world.
This was the world upon which their parents, and parents’ parents, and their ancestors, had lived…the world upon which they now lived. And they saw that the planet that they were looking at, rising above the lunar surface, was alive. They could tell it was alive. Even if they had not known what planet it was, they would have been able to tell that this planet harbored life. They could see that it was blue, and green, and that it was living and breathing. That was the first time we’d ever really laid eyes upon it, and had seen how small it really was, even just looking at it from our own Moon. Millions of people saw our planet, looking as small and insignificant as our Moon does from here.
But the truth is that it’s not insignificant, and neither is our Moon. Every person I’ve ever met, every mountain I’ve ever climbed, every building I’ve ever sheltered in, every idea I’ve ever come up with, every friend I’ve ever made… is from that planet. This is the only home we’ve ever known, was the thought of almost everyone who laid eyes on this simple photo. And now it looked as small as a marble, on the front page of almost every newspaper and magazine.
We realized how small and delicate our planet is, but also how powerful the life is that thrives on it is. And for a lot of people, the ones who paid attention, the ones who were smart enough to listen and learn, knew: that planet––our planet––is in danger.
For even then, we already had hints, serious hints, that our climate could collapse. We knew we were harming it, and in more ways than one. So, the few who were smart enough to listen and learn, but also care about our future, thought: I’ve got to do something to save it.
A lot of them did. And according to Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, that was when the environmental movement was born, really born. Environmentalists advocated for the stopping of littering and the drilling for oil, for saving almost extinct creatures, and many more wonderful things, sometimes for the first time. They even helped the world stop whaling!
But unfortunately many of the things that they were fighting for have not yet been accomplished. People still litter. People still pollute. People still drill into that very world whose picture had been taken on that winter day in 1968, turning the oil that they find into fuel which we pump into our cars and planes and boats and factories and houses. And that, in turn, goes into our delicate atmosphere that has protected us and which harbors life, the very life of which we are a part.
And still we choke our planet in toxic gases and deadly waste which we throw carelessly into the earth and cover it with the ground as if, when we can’t see it, it’s not there. But it is. We know it is. We know what we’re doing, how we’re destroying our planet. We know it’s suicide and mass murder in the making. And…most importantly of all…We know how to stop it.
But not enough of us reach out of our own egocentric worlds to do enough about it. Not enough of us seem to care about what lies beyond our own daily lives and daily comings and daily goings. Not enough of us seem to be able to open our minds to what we really are: a species committing that suicide and that mass murder, and realize that, if we don’t do anything more to stop it, our presence on our planet may be as brief as the blink of an eye.
We all have intelligent minds, capable of doing what we did to get as far as we have gotten, and capable of saving us from our mistakes. Many of us have convinced ourselves that we’re not doing anything wrong, and that everyone who tells us that it is are the ones that are wrong. But they aren’t. Deep down, we all know that they aren’t. We know what we’re doing. But stopping doing it, and working out new solutions, isn’t convenient enough for many of us. It won’t make us any more money, will it? It won’t turn a profit. Many of us don’t seem to think that if you just have enough money, it will solve everything, and don’t realize that they can’t just buy a ticket out of here when our planet dies.
Maybe we all need to open our eyes again. Open them like so many people on this planet did all those years ago, when they blurred with tears as they gazed at the picture of their home world. Maybe, if those of us who never listened or believed, saw the world as everyone first saw it back in 1968…it would impact them just in the same way! Maybe it would help them to see the world as it really is. Because if none of us realize what a horrible end we’re creating for ourselves and the many other creatures of our planet, we never really have: we’ve never really seen our world.
Let’s glimpse our world again.
Happy New Year!
In many cultures, the new year means making resolutions––that is, promising yourself that you will make some positive changes in the coming year. You might try to get rid of bad habits, throw yourself even more into your studies or special interests, or attempt something challenging. You might say, “I’m going to stop chewing my fingernails!” or “I’m going to train to run a marathon!” or “I’m going to read The Lord of the Rings trilogy!” (if you tackle that final one, be careful; I’m reading it now, and often find I get lost about midway into a paragraph when one of the characters begins recounting their history). Or––and this is my challenge: “I’m going to publish blog posts more often!”
Actually, it would be nurturing to you, too…but in a different way. Like flossing your teeth (even when you’re too tired), but your dentist compliments you at your next dental check-up to see how healthy your gums and teeth are. Or like studying (even when you’d rather be doing anything else), but then when you take a test, you realize you really do understand the subject and receive a better grade. Or like you make your bed (even though you don’t want to), but that night, as you climb into bed, you find it’s sooo much more comfortable to slide under smoothed-out sheets and flop your head onto a fluffed-up pillow…This year, make some resolutions to do something really nurturing for the earth. And while planting a tree or going on a trash-pickup are great, I challenge you to try something you can do year round, like using a recycling bin (see this post if you haven’t got one yet), composting, or growing a garden.
Here are some examples:
Learn! Start researching climate change online or at the library. Remember: knowledge is power! Can’t participate in Fridays for Future, in which kids strike for climate justice? Then use Friday to do something else healthy for the planet, and think up new Earth-friendly habits for you and your family to try. For example…
Stop! One of the best things to do for the planet, weirdly enough, is to stop. Stop littering…it may seems like a little bit, but if everyone does it, it really adds up to a big mess. Stop using single-use items like plastic cutlery, plastic water-bottles, plastic straws, plastic containers, plastic wraps and bags… basically, all that plastic stuff, whenever you can. Stop shopping for things you don’t actually need. Stop wasting…which leads me to the next one…
Save! Save water…don’t run it while you brush your teeth, make sure the dishwasher has all the dishes you can realistically fit in it, and don’t leave faucets dripping. Save electricity…don’t keep your lights on when you don’t need them, only use your heating and cooling systems when you have to, and don’t leave doors open when the heating or air conditioning is on. Save food…here in North America, especially in the United States, we have a real issue with food waste. A seemingly innocent habit of tossing out a little more food than we should leads to 40% of food being wasted in the United States––nearly half of our food! That huge amount of wasted food increases the sizes of landfills, emitting greenhouse gasses, and meanwhile, eleven million kids are wondering when or whether they will have their next meal.
Think about the things you can do.
Think about how wonderful this earth is.
Think about how easy––yet unimaginably useful!––one little good habit can be.
Think about ways you might stop, save, and/or learn.
Thanksgiving, that uniquely North American holiday celebrated in the United States and Canada, is a time to be with our families, enjoy a special meal, and think about all we’re thankful for.
But this year, with its innumerable difficulties, social challenges and obstacles, and of course devastating pandemic, it may be harder than usual to gather with our families and maybe even to think of what we’re thankful for…the two most important parts of Thanksgiving.
This year has been so hard on so many people––including kids, although adults might not recognize this. The pandemic has made school this year more challenging and often less fun; many kids (like my sister and I) really miss seeing our friends in person. Some kids haven even dropped out! 🙁 But it’s especially been a hard year for many kids whose parents have lost their jobs––or worse, for those who’ve lost family members to COVID-19.
Climate change doesn’t help, either. Because even though we’re emitting less greenhouse gases this year due to more people working and learning from home, the climate is still under threat. But I don’t want to think about such depressing things when I’m trying to stay optimistic! I tell myself. Although I know I need to think about it––that is, think of ways to prevent or slow it. And even when that’s hard, it also takes a little optimism, and feeling grateful for what we have.
So, this Thursday, when you’re gathering around your table (or around your phone or tablet) to connect with your family––even if you don’t usually celebrate Thanksgiving in your country––take a moment to think of all the things you are thankful for.
If you have felt happy…be thankful for that, and for all the things that have gone right, that have given and continue to give you those precious moments of happiness.
If you have access to technology…be thankful for the technological advances, like those that allow you and your family to at least see each other’s faces, not to mention those which can slow climate change.
If you have a way to keep clean…be thankful for the sanitary supplies, like the good old-fashioned soap and water now available to almost everyone, that are keeping everybody so much safer and healthier.
If you have clean water…be thankful for that water. Some kids have to walk a long, long way to get it, and when they get there, the water often isn’t clean or safe to drink.
If you get to learn…be thankful that you’re learning, satisfying that deep hunger for knowledge, and giving you that chance to educate yourself of which too many kids are deprived. (Um, not feeling particularly grateful for school right now? Just consider what some kids have to go through just to get there!)
If you are fairly safe…be thankful for how safe you are, even if you still feel scared sometimes. No matter what your worries, chances are that you are safer (and more loved) than you know.
If you are loved…be thankful for that love. It is an irreplaceable gift given just to you.
And that’s not all…
Be thankful for how wonderful this world still is, considering how much worse it could be.
Be thankful for the people who are speaking out about the growing threat of climate change, and even willing to do something about it.
Be thankful that, miraculously, the world is changing not only for the worse, but also in many wonderful ways, however small, that slow down climate change and will eventually make our world better.
Yet sometimes…do you feel it’s not enough just to be thankful? Do you feel like you don’t have the resources to make a big enough impact? Have you ever wanted to help create more things to be thankful for––like a healthy planet? Do you want to speak out, but think, I’m just one kid…I’ll leave it to the experts and those already speaking out––?
Well, if you’re thinking this, you should not let it stop you! Do it anyway! If everyone who is speaking out now let this worry get in their way (and I’m sure they might have thought this same thing, too, at some point), there would be no Malala Yousafzai, no Amy and Ella Meeks, no Alexandria Villaseñor, no Isra Hirsi, no Katie Eder, no Vic Barrett, nor even Greta Thunberg to inspire us. Unthinkable!
And as for me, I certainly wouldn’t be writing this…I might not even know anything about climate change at all!
So, speak out––and don’t let anyone stop you! No one can take away your voice…or, for that matter, your optimism, or your thankfulness for the planet we live upon! You alone can decide not to let anyone silence you or convince you to just give in or give up.
For one happy day at least, just be thankful for this amazingly beautiful, wonderfully life-supporting, unfathomably special, irreplaceable Earth––the Earth that we have the marvelous good fortune to live and grow upon.
Thank you for reading!
Halloween, a.k.a., All Hallows Eve, is one of my favorite holidays because it’s just so much fun to dress up––and, of course, get candy!
But what happens after the busy holiday is over? What happens to the old Halloween costumes with which you’ve officially finished? What happens to the zillions of candy wrappers? What happens to all those little cheap plastic things that are fun for a short time, but then you’re done with? What happens to the old jack-o-lanterns? In other words — what happens to the trash?
The answer? I’m sorry to say, they’re probably in the garbage can or in a big black garbage bag ready for eternal relocation to the overflowing local landfill. This outcome for the Halloween trash is frustratingly hard to avoid––that is, unless you plan ahead and use the five Rs!
For our Halloween reformation, let’s start with the costumes, one of the most important parts of the spooky festivities (hopefully you didn’t buy a costume before you read this article!). There are 4 things you can do:
Now…on to the candy, everyone’s favorite part of Halloween! (Yes, even you grownups who eat the leftover candy.) Of course, there’s nothing wrong with trick-or-treating, but there’s definitely something wrong with all the wrappers from the trick-or-treating.
Now there’s good news…and there’s bad news: The bad news is you can’t recycle or compost most of the candy wrappers, except for those made of paper like the paper sleeve around some candy bars (like Hershey’s). The good news is that you can reuse the clean wrappers and make them into art!
Here are some fun examples of art made with recycled items:
(Pretty crazy, right?)
Now on to the last things: Halloween decor! Okay, as for the reusable Halloween stuff? Just box it up and save it for next year…or if you’re done with it, offer it to a thrift store, too. But as for pumpkins…
I love Halloween, don’t you? But it’s just one of the many holidays of fall and winter. Watch out for more posts about eco-friendly ways to spend your holidays––hey, that rhymed! But for now, just get ready for one crazy Halloween clean-up while I continue trying to figure out what the heck I’ll make with my cooked pumpkin this year…Who says you have to wait for Thanksgiving to eat pumpkin pie?
You step into the warm sand and wiggle your toes. Then you run towards the ocean, and you can hear the laughter of kids building sand castles and splashing in the salty water. When you reach the water, a smile comes to your face; it seems like an endless expanse of swimming pool. You step deeper into the water and waves lap around your knees; then you step in even deeper, and the sea is up to your waist; next, you bend down, and let the water slip around your shoulders. You let out a cry, because the water is cold; your bathing suit won’t protect you much from that. Then you leap forward and start swimming.
Your arms and legs paddle the water, and propel you farther into the ocean. You take a deep breath and close your mouth, then dive into the blue sea. You had put on goggles to protect your eyes, so you are able to see through the water. You swim downward, and touch the sand that has settled at the bottom with your hands. The sand slips through your fingers and makes a cloud around your arms, before drifting back down––or being carried away––by the ocean current. By this time you need air again, and swim back up to the surface.
Once your head breaks through the surface of the water, you gasp in lungs full of air, but once you catch your breath you don’t hesitate to dive under again. This time you see pieces of shells mixed amongst the sand below. You see a conch shell, and your heart soars with delight; it is whole, not a chip of it is missing. You reach down to grab it, but it moves just beyond your grasp, so you swim closer to it…but again it seems to move further away. You try to grasp it a few more times, but just as before, it never lets you touch it. You look around to see if any of the other shells are affected by the waves, but they haven’t moved a bit. When you look back down at the conch, you realize that it is ten feet below you now. How did it do that? you wonder. You swim toward it, hoping to just grab it…
Suddenly, you realize that you’ve been underwater for almost a minute, and your lungs are screaming for air. You look up, and see the surface far above you. You didn’t notice that you’d swum that far down! A strong current comes out of nowhere, and drags you farther out to sea. You kick and fight the water around you, but it does nothing. The current is too strong. Panic flares through your body. Are you going to drown down here? What are your parents and friends thinking, back up on the beach? Did they see you go under, and are they calling the lifeguard? Or are they all too busy chatting, and have no idea that you are sinking into the ocean’s depths?
All of a sudden, you realize that you are now being carried into a reef. Had you not been in life-or-death danger, you would have been star-struck by the beauty of the diverse corals and other aquatic life around you. You thrash in the water, and notice that you’ve caught the attention of a creature, but you don’t know what it is, because you only see it out of the corner of your eye. Then, you see the conch in front of you, and nearly gasp with surprise. You grab out for it, and to your shock and delight, your hand wraps around it. Suddenly you feel rejuvenated, as if your lungs are full of air again. How did that happen? You don’t care; you’re just glad that it did.
Now, you notice your surroundings. You gaze at the reef in awe. The vibrant colors around you dazzle you, and with the hand that isn’t clutching the conch, you can’t help but reach out and touch a orange brain-coral you drift by. A school of blue fish swim around you and tickle you with their soft fins. A large smile spreads across your face; this feels like a dream. You let the current drag you along, although it’s not nearly as strong as before, and you could easily swim against it if you wanted to.
A sea turtle swims by, but when she sees you, she turns her head away from you defensively. Why would she do that? You’re a human, not a shark; you don’t mean it any harm. The reef suddenly disappears below you, and you find that you are now floating above an underwater cliff. You gaze down it, and stare deep into the fathoms of the ocean and the darkness beneath you. Your curiosity calls you to swim down, and see what lies in the world beneath you. You follow its command, and slip downward, still clutching the magical conch. As you swim leagues beneath the surface, you almost forget that you are a land creature, instead of one of the sea.
When the chill of the deep water creeps into you, you look around, and for a second, you wonder if you have swum into outer space. The only light around you now is the twinkling stars. Or are they stars? They are stars––the stars of the deep sea. They are the light that the creatures down here give off to communicate or lure in lunch. They are stars of bioluminescence. You reach forward to an especially bright star, and find that it is a dragonfish. The small creature looks somewhat like something out of your nightmares, but it also brings a sense of calm to you. It is welcoming you to its home. You follow it as it swims through the abyss, and it shows you the grandeur of its habitat.
You would have followed it forever, if something had not told you to go up. But which way is up? You don’t know for sure, now, but your legs and arms direct you that way. When you go up, you squint, as you are wrapped in warmth and light. The dragonfish cannot follow you, so you say goodbye. When you reach the top of the cliff again, you look around you.
Your heart fills with horror. Everything is lifeless. At first, you think that you are in the wrong place, but recognize the shapes of the coral…or what used to be coral. The skeletons of the coral are pale and brown. A plastic bag drifts by. A plastic bottle lies in the sand. Oil, darker than night, slides around you. How did this happen? How long were you gone? You swim sorrowfully through the dead reef. Even the current seems dead. The sea turtle you saw before swims by, one of her flippers wounded. Now you know why she had turned away from you: she knew what humans could do.
Now, she just looks at you with deep sadness in her eyes. She knows that you, as an individual, are not to blame; it is your kind that are to blame. Your tears mix with the salt water as you think, “It doesn’t have to be this way…it doesn’t!” The turtle turns her gaze away from you. You feel shame for your kind. Having arrived on the beach once again, you sink to your knees in the sand. “It doesn’t!” you exclaim again.
Suddenly your eyes open. You are lying in your bed in your house.
It may have been a dream, but you know that what you saw in the dream is true. “It doesn’t have to be that way,” you say aloud, and with all your heart you know that this is so. But will you do anything to prevent it?
That’s up to you.