by Betsy Herbert, Earth Matters
published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel 07/14/2016
I extensively planned my year-long trip around the world, but considering today’s quickly changing environmental and political conditions, I still expected — and got — the unexpected. A few examples:
On April 30, 2015, I abruptly left beautiful Jasper National Park, heading for the nearest international airport — in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. After a death in my family I needed to fly back to California.
Edmonton is the staging area for Alberta’s large-scale tar sands projects including nearby Fort McMurray. The five-hour bus ride from Jasper to Edmonton passed through forests — or rather, crowded plots of young spindly trees that are routinely hacked down to feed the region’s huge pulp and paper mills. As we approached Edmonton, oil derricks and trucks abounded. Red signs along the highway warned: “Dangerous Goods Route.” I noted that this place seemed like a wildfire waiting to happen.
Exactly a year later, on May 1, 2016, the catastrophic Fort McMurray wildfire broke out, some 270 miles north of Edmonton. The wildfire consumed 1.4 million acres of forest and caused the evacuation of 90,000 people from Fort McMurray. It wasn’t officially under control until July 4. The Canadian government has yet to release its final report on the blaze.
On June 15, 2015, as I arrived on Greece’s largest island, Crete, the European Union/Greek crisis dominated world headlines. Would the EU boot the Greeks out or give debt relief? When I left Crete for Athens on June 30 on the overnight ferry, there were warnings of a run on Greek banks the next morning. I wondered if I could get travel money. At 6 a.m. people were lined up in front of banks waiting to withdraw funds, but I lucked out and got 100 euros, the maximum allowed, from an ATM.
Though overshadowed by headlines of the debt crisis, floods of Syrian refugees had already started pouring into the Greek Islands, especially Lesbos, when I arrived in Crete.
A year later, in 2016, Greece is still in the EU and will be bailed out with $8.4 billion in aid, allowing it stay afloat for the next few months. And now it’s the UK that’s leaving the EU.
On Oct. 26, 2015, while my flight from New Delhi was in mid-air, the magnitude 7.5 Hindu Kush earthquake struck South Asia. The epicenter was in Afghanistan, but Pakistan suffered hundreds of casualties. Tremors in New Delhi sent thousands of panicked people into the streets. I didn’t learn of the earthquake until I checked into my hotel in Bangkok.
On Christmas Day 2015 (a hot summer day in Australia), I tried to rent a car to drive the scenic Great Ocean Road along Victoria’s south coast. Alas, rental cars were all booked, so I flew to Sydney. Hours later, a wildfire burned along Great Ocean Road, destroying 116 houses and burning 6,200 acres of dense forest.
On Feb. 13, 2016, I stood in front of this gargantuan glacier in southern Patagonia, hoping to witness what scientists were expecting at any moment— the collapse of the ice dam at the glacier’s face. It happened ... but not until March 10.
On March 11, 2016, after visiting the Galapagos Islands and other regions in Ecuador, I departed for El Salvador. During the flight I got a birdseye view of the volcano Tungurahua erupting. I could see a long trail of black ash being spewed into the air near our flight path. Just five weeks later, on April 16, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake devastated parts of Ecuador.
Betsy Herbert is a freelance writer who recently returned from a year-long journey around the world. You can read her travel blog and environmental articles on her website (www.betsyherbert.com).