I’ve always been fascinated as to how writers and journalists create their stories, in particular their career story. It’s a path coloured with initiative, dedication and passion. And this was to be the case for Alanna Mitchell, a successful Canadian science journalist. I was intrigued by her life story having travelled with scientists for over 30-years. Her origin of story begins in the Galápagos Islands, with her motivation to walk in Darwin’s footsteps. Darwin challenged not only the church but also scientists of his time with his natural selection theory. Her comment instantly resonates with me, as I reflect upon my own travels through Galápagos National Park. I too, was inspired to write and publish my own story – Discovering Darwin’s Islands.
Alanna grew up in Canada; her father was a scientist and her mother an artist. With the worlds of art and science united, Alanna seeks to paint narratives with words. She says “We need art to explain what it really is”. Her childhood was nurtured by field trips and a tremendous sense of curiosity. In fact, she referred to this curiosity as a sacred principal, which has stimulated her own curiosity and to seek stories that people are not looking for. She has written about topics as diverse as the Earth’s magnetism and cancer. Her book ‘Seasick’ published in 2009, provides insight into science researchers, and their current understanding of our global ocean. Life on our planet is reliant on life in the ocean; essentially the ocean contains the switch of life.
The ocean chemistry is changing in locksmith with climate change. Alanna shared some frightening facts – already the ocean is 30% more acidic since we started burning fossil fuels during the industrial revolution. As a consequence of ocean acidification, marine shells will become thinner. She refers to marine biologists, such as Nancy Forton, who have been a significant part of her quest to follow her calling and to write about the ocean.
Alanna drew up our Earth’s evolutionary timeline, the mass extinctions, and the changing pH scale of our ocean. In 1750, our oceans measured a pH of 8.20 compared that to today at 8.05. By 2050, the pH measurements are predicted to be 7.70. It’s a worry, since pH readings are measured on an exponential scale – in other words, the ocean has not been this acidic for 65 million years. She quotes Tim Flannery, a climate scientist, who believes we are cataloguing the last days of life on Earth as we know it. We are heading towards a mass extinction. Paleaotologists suggest planet Earth has experienced at least five mass extinctions. The dying of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago is famously known, however, it is the Permian extinction 252 million years that is referred to as “the great dying’, with 95% of species becoming extinct. We can only summarise the future fate of our blue planet.
One interesting part of her talk was more personal and reflective. With her growing concern to enlighten the world and to take action; equally the pressure and responsibility grows insurmountable. What does she do after a period of frustration, guilt and despair – she decides to forgive herself and to acknowledge the pain and suffering. It’s a release of energy and a test of courage to gain wisdom. She raises the questions – “how to move on and how do we make redemption?” Ultimately, we forgive each other and our species. Perhaps this will lead to the next wave in our evolution, in order to thrive. It’s the essence of Darwin’s theory.
Science has been telling the story of climate change for some time. It’s now time to write a new ending – a new tale. Alanna acknowledges we need support from governments and policy changes to transform systems in our society. Population pressures are profound – but it’s also a carbon issue. Alanna is asked the question from the audience about her experience with women scientists. She acknowledges women are very generous – “they are committed and they are passionate”. We need many people to take this stance.