How Ice Carved My Scientific and Political Identity

I’m a glaciologist; my love lies in the icy heart of our planet and the vast change it can bring about. As someone who is educated in the science behind climate and environmental change, it would be wrong of me to not shout from the rooftops that our planet is changing at a rate it simply cannot keep up with. Right now, it’s the ice itself that is changing. It is melting faster than we can comprehend, and it is changing everything.

A sign showing Solheimajökull’s snout position in 2010. The current snout of the glacier can be seen far in the distance.

Ice has shaped my identity in the same way it shapes the Earth. When I failed biology and lost my lifelong dream of becoming a vet, glacial geology came into my life and carved out a new identity. Instead of sutures and needles, my mind became filled with equilibrium lines and accumulation areas; I found myself with a new purpose. The ice — or the more encompassing term, the cryosphere — allowed me to reinvent myself and find my passion, which extends outside the classroom and into every aspect of my life.

The ice allowed me to reinvent myself and find my passion, which extends outside the classroom and into every aspect of my life.

Visiting Solheimajökull in Iceland earlier this year changed everything for me. Seeing the rate of retreat for the glacier was a shock and an awakening. I knew it was bad, but for the first time I saw just how bad it was.

Handing my undergraduate dissertation in earlier this year. By understanding past glaciers, I have been able to develop a better understanding of the possible retreat patterns of our current glaciers.

The glacier ice of Solheimajökull has carved the path for me to follow an eco-friendly lifestyle. I now follow a plant-based diet, shop secondhand, and travel more consciously. The way I live is just as important as what I study because they’re so intertwined – by reducing my carbon footprint and researching glaciers, I am doing everything I can personally do to reduce their rate of melting. I truly believe that we as consumers can drive changes from the ground up (the amount of vegan products available in supermarkets, shops and restaurants is increasing as rapidly as the number of people becoming vegan) but I also understand that the biggest changes need to come from the top. Big corporations, and most importantly our government, need to set the precedent. New laws and policies need to come into place to protect our planet.

But where does STEM fit into politics? It’s a big question right now as we enter this era of unprecedented change. Wonderful ideas like the Green New Deal float around while those in actual power vehemently deny that climate change even exists, let alone the extent of it. Every day we publish new data on climate and environmental change, yet we are ignored, time and time again.

So where do we fit into this picture? Where do people in STEM belong in the political equation, and can we really make a difference?

I was lucky enough to visit Mount St. Helens last September. Going on different field trips has helped me understand the importance of science and science policies in areas other than climate science.

The answer? Yes. As I write this, Greta Thunberg has arrived in the U.S. after her zero-emission boat trip across the Atlantic. School strikes are taking place every Friday. Today people of all ages across the world will join the Global Climate Strike. Extinction Rebellion is planning more and more actions. The world is starting to wake up and listen. Slowly, but surely, people are understanding what we are facing, which is giving way to a new wave of voters, people whose eyes are open to the environmental crisis facing us. Politicians like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are fighting in our corner, fighting for our beliefs.

Our roles as people in STEM and people who can vote are intertwined.

And that’s why our vote is important. Just like we can drive changes from the ground up with consumer choices, we have the power when we vote. We have the knowledge and understanding to educate everyone we possibly can about why caring for our planet is important and which politicians can put these ideas into practice. We have the power to drive change by turning out and voting for climate-forward politicians. Our roles as people in STEM and people who can vote are intertwined. If we are part of one, we must be a part of the other to get our voices heard.

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Yasmin Cole
Yasmin Cole

Yasmin Cole is a graduate in Environmental Hazards and soon to be masters student researching Polar and Alpine Change. Her passion for glaciology extends into every aspect of her life. Her scientific and sustainability journey can be found on both Instagram and Twitter @glaciergalyas.

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