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Environmental photographic activist Chris Parkes documents the unique ways people across the globe are making sustainable problem-solving a part of their daily lives. As he puts it, “If you don’t give people solutions they can grapple with, you’re not going to get anywhere.”

This is why, together with his team, he flew to Iceland.  The country is on the very frontlines of climate disaster, given its proximity to the Arctic Circle. With this expedition he wanted to inspire others by showing how daily choices — no matter how big or small — are essential in addressing the growing effects of climate change.

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The first big stop was at Friðheimar, Iceland’s largest tomato producer and a major source of ongoing inspiration for Chris.  Proprietors Helena and Knútur Friðheimar have been horticulturalists for about 25 years. Their family have found remarkably resourceful solutions to grow the finicky crop in a challenging climate. Critically, they use geothermal energy to power the greenhouse, negating the carbon emissions typically necessary to run such an operation. In lieu of pesticides, they combat aphids and other pests with a predatory mirid bug – Macrolophus Pygmaeus – instead. Finally, they house bumblebees rather than the traditional honey bees. Due to honey bees’ natural drive to migrate, bumblebees are a more reliable pollinator in the greenhouse’s limited space.

The family’s generational commitment to these sustainable farming techniques was so much a part of their everyday problem-solving not because it was the “right thing to do” but because it was the “best way to do it.”

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Kötlujökull is the tongue of the Mýrdalsjökull glacier — the fourth largest in Iceland at 1,480 meters tall — and home to the Katla Ice Cave, Chris’ easternmost stop on his journey.  Glaciers have become flashpoints for climate change, a symbol for the compounding effects of continued inaction. The team’s tour guide, Silas, informed them that Iceland’s glaciers are receding at a rate of 50 meters a year, releasing greenhouse gases at an exponential rate.

As Silas led them through Katla, they were impressed by the rock-hard, crystalline ice, dimpled like a golf ball that surrounded them in every direction. The otherworldly effect was compounded by layers of black that could be seen upon closer inspection of the ice walls. These bands of ash were left behind by volcanic eruptions leaving a natural historic record. Unfortunately, that ash traps heat, increasing the rate of glacial decay. “Silas had a nice philosophy about it,” Chris says. “He believed this is the cycle of nature working, and that to bring a halt to the negative effects of climate change on the caves, we have to tune into nature’s rhythm a bit more”.

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Chris reiterates the need to keep fighting the good fight in small, achievable ways.
He firmly believes we must change the conversation from one of moral superiority and perfectionism to one of thoughtfulness. If you’re being thoughtful, you’re doing the best you can and that’s as much as anyone can ask.

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