A conversation with Pieter Folkens

I had the good fortune to meet Pieter Folkens a couple of days ago.

Pieter Folkens is a highly acclaimed illustrator of marine mammals. He has contributed to books, films and television. He is also a researcher and was a founding board member of the Alaska Whale Foundation. His other full time job is working his search and rescue trailing dog (they are members of CARDA, California Rescue Dog Association).

I met Pieter through Peggy. She is currently putting together a marine mammal information leaflet for users in the Monterey area. Pieter is a friend and colleague of hers and he is helping her with the layout and design of the leaflet. Peggy and Pieter have worked together particularly in the area of large whale disentanglement.

We accompanied Pieter, his wife Ellen, and a group that Pieter had given a talk to, on a whale watch trip with Monterey Whale Watching. Afterwards over lunch, conversation turned to a couple of subjects, one heartwarming, one less so.

The heartwarming topic was of a Gray Whale. While migrating north up the Pacific a Gray Whale had, by accident, found its way across the top of Alaska and northern Canada into the Atlantic. It is believed this occurred in 2007 when a shift in the Arctic winds pushed ice eastwards into the Atlantic where it melted making it possible for the whale, and possibly more than one whale, to venture farther east. Once winter returned and the ice reformed the Gray Whale’s pathway back to the Pacific was blocked. So from there it attempted to migrate south and, on finding a left turn, took it and ended up in the Mediterranean Sea near Israel. In 2010 it was seen retracing its route and making its return migration northwards. I do not know whether it was able to return to the Pacific. This true story filled me with such admiration for these creatures, their lives and the incredible journeys they undertake. Imagine driving your car and getting lost; you can stop at the nearest service station to ask directions and if in another country you can point at a map and gesticulate frantically to get help… These whales do not have that option. Their lives and journeys are so completely beyond the realms of our understanding, it takes my breath away to think of it.

The second subject was climate change / global warming / climate disruption; it is being given many names these days. Pieter has researched this subject in depth and collected a wealth of data, and in some cases collated where the data is lacking. His conclusion is that climate change is a fallacy. By this I do not mean that the climate does not change; it does and has changed throughout Earth’s long history, but rather that humans are not the cause of change right now. We are not warming this planet, indeed what is more likely is that we are currently entering a cooling phase in the Earth’s cycle.

Now I do not write with any suggestion that I know anything about this topic. I hope to speak to Pieter again and record some accurate observations, data and conclusions based on his knowledge, but for now I am left thoughtful. Let’s imagine that Pieter is 100% correct. We are not at present causing any shifts to the Earth’s climate and the reason that it is presented to us that we are is a dishonest one.

What would be the outcome of exposing this particular lie?

The fall out could be monumental. Our world is suffering from our continued irresponsible abuse of it. Whether or not we are causing climate change we are acting in a manner not becoming of the level of intelligence which we credit ourselves with. How quickly would an uncovering of the truth be used to perpetuate our current less than truthful lifestyle? A highly complex issue could be reduced to the lowest common denominator and give everyone, from politician to man in the street, the perfect excuse they could ever hope for to perpetuate a damaging way of life.

I am thoughtful and concerned. However, it also reinforces my own personal perspective; that we are all only ever responsible for ourselves, but that that in itself is a big responsibility. I can choose whether to investigate for myself Pieter’s perspective, I can choose what to make of the answer if it shows he is right, I can choose to observe our actions on this planet regardless of whether climate change is caused by us or not, I can choose to weigh up the work of honourable scientists against the work of less honourable ones and decide whether or not to paint them with the same brush, I can choose to either sit back and say ‘I am powerless, let the leaders sort it out’ or to see my own responsibility to act in a way which my heart tells me is right.

I hope to speak to Pieter again and be able to write more about this subject. Pieter is very concerned about the state of our planet and his concerns concentrate on the areas which he believes are the real problems such as over-fishing, ocean pollution, deforestation and over-population. In his words, “From everything I have seen, we are entering a cooling phase. Historically, cooling trends lead to reduced agricultural production, wide-spread starvation, and social unrest. This is something we can prepare for, but we’re focusing more on mitigating CO2 emissions that will have no effect on the climate while avoiding the real dangers that lie ahead.” Food for thought maybe.

And fingers crossed, Pieter may also tell me if the Gray Whale made it back to his Pacific Ocean home…

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One thought on “A conversation with Pieter Folkens

  1. Dear Amanda,
    My words are not as eloquant as yours therefore I can’t possibly comment on
    your work in the right way. It’s so wonderful!
    With tearful eyes, I am sending both you and Peggy a big huge hug!
    You are both so special and I really appreciate everything you are doing.
    What a blessing to have had the opportunity to share God’s amazing seas and “critters” with you both.
    With gratitude and love,
    Cindy Thomas (and Tony)
    ps: It’s an amazing thing that this married couple could both be so equally in LOVE with this new whale watching adventure. Our children say we are “obsessed” 🙂 So be it!

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