“Small moves, Ellie. Small moves.” The iconic quote from the Carl Sagan inspired movie, Contact, was first spoken as Ellie’s father was coaching her on how to find a signal on her ham radio and grew to a theme in the film. Patient perseverance is a likely path to success while rushed insistence is more likely to help one realize failure. Each small step is progress bringing one closer to a goal. While it is certainly not applicable to everything in life, I have been aware of this theme in conversations and invading my thoughts during the [email protected] Reef to Rainforest expedition.
I crossed the milestone sixty dives on this trip to satisfy the requirement for Dive Master Certification. Beginning with Open Water Certification and throughout my dive training I have been impressed by my instructors’ abilities to demonstrate dive skills smoothly and slowly. As a student it calmed me and allowed me to observe the details of maneuvers. Last summer I completed a Peak Performance Buoyancy Specialty in Perhentia, Malaysia. My instructor, Andrew, uttered the phrase “slowly, slowly, slowly” multiple times during the training. The phrase had been expressed to him by his dive instructor in years previous. Slower breathing and slower movements can save air, help inspire calm confidence, and ultimately lead to a safer, longer, more enjoyable dive. Embracing “slowly, slowly, slowly” as a concept has made me a better diver and will, without a doubt, be valuable as I move into educating and guiding divers as a Dive Master.
As a science educator I find that before they learn better, my students often want final answers to the questions we pose in class and many at first expect that one experiment completed during a two-hour lab period will quickly resolve the research problems we confront. I think my students’ initial ideas of science are generally reflective of the larger population. Unfortunately science is not in the business of instant gratification and the process does not have an end point. Science is not a race to the top of the mountain, it is a process of spiraling around the mountain, slowly, slowly, slowly increasing in elevation and often backtracking and exploring multiple paths to ensure the chosen path is the best one.
The path of rapid consumption we, as a global society, have chosen is certainly not the one pointed out by what we have learned through the process of science. We extract naturally occurring resources at a massively unsustainable rate while natural geologic change is incredibly slow and fairly predictable. Cycles of global warming and cooling and carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere of our planet are clearly documented in ice core samples. As CO2 levels in the atmosphere slowly increase so does the temperature. And as CO2 levels slowly decline the temperature drops as well. This occurs on a time scale measured in hundreds of thousands of years allowing for life to slowly adapt via evolution, a process that requires those massive amounts of time.
As a major stabilizing factor for this cycle, carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere when algae, plants, and some types of bacteria take it in during photosynthesis and it re-enters the atmosphere when organisms including animals respire. When we extract carbon from the earth, process it, and burn it as fossil fuels, it directly enters the atmosphere as CO2. Rapidly loading the atmosphere with carbon dioxide is coupled with increasing global temperatures at an unprecedented rate, faster than life can adapt through evolution and faster than photosynthesis can mitigate. Deforestation for short-term gains compounds the problem by removing some of the most effective carbon sequestering agents, trees and peatlands. Swiftly, swiftly, swiftly rainforest is being decimated to make way for human consumables.
Those who are aware and passionate about this massive problem are often driven to attempt to swiftly, swiftly, swiftly fix it. This drive is easy to understand, but not realistic. It will take changes in entrenched behaviors, industry, and local and national economies. Building awareness through education can be extremely effective, but occurs slowly. Constructing sustainable and ecologically sound profitable industries that provide jobs for local workers occurs slowly. Creating motivation for governments to sway economies in support of environmentally responsible industry occurs slowly. Those who are passionate about urging these changes should not despair, rather they ought to see each small step as the progress it represents and remain patiently persistent.
In the words of Ellie, “Funny, I’ve always believed that the world is what we make of it.”