A Letter to Alumni: The Taxi Cab to Indifference

SOI Alumnus Donovan Taplin participated in both SOI’s Arctic and Antarctic Expeditions, experiences that forever changed Donovan’s view of the world and inspired him to make a difference in his community through the power of storytelling.

Donovan submitted the following guest blog as a reminder to alumni to hold onto the passion and drive gained during SOI’s life-changing journeys to the Polar Regions, and never fall prey to indifference…

Donovan in Brazil during the Earth Summit. Photo (c) Fatin Chowdhury

A Letter to Alumni:
The Taxi Cab to Indifference – Keep your Expedition Momentum Alive

In February of this year I was traveling in a taxi cab from St. John’s Newfoundland to Portugal Cove Newfoundland. There I was boarding a Ferry to my hometown of Bell Island. Ice flows drifting from the Arctic had made their way into the harbours and bays of Newfoundland and Labrador, blocking many of the “ocean highways” used by residents of the province. Getting to and from my hometown was becoming increasingly challenging because of this. The blockades of ice are spectacular to see, but terribly unpractical for those who depend on travel by ferry to work, to their homes, and to the many other off-island daily commitments one may have.

“Hopefully the ice won’t be too bad” I remarked to the cab driver as we made our way toward the ferry terminal.

Without prompting he said “I don’t believe in that whole climate change thing. Not a word of it.”
I nodded slowly as he continued.

“It’s all cycles in nature. Nothin’ to worry about.”

This was certainly not the first time I had heard this tired, overused, and unfounded claim about anthropogenic climate change. Of course, the taxi driver couldn’t have possibly known that four years prior I had travelled on expedition to both the Arctic and Antarctic as a participant of Students on Ice where I learned first-hand – from leading experts – the science behind our changing Polar Regions. I figured he was awfully unprepared for a debate, and honestly, after a long day spent at the University and unsure of whether I would get home or not, I was too lazy to correct his position.

It is here that I was falling victim to the worst enemy of the change agent: indifference. Indifference is our greatest vice. Indifference is the soundless facilitator behind countless historical shortcomings. It is our indifference – on the part of those of us who know better – which can enable the continuation of misinformed discourse in addition to the inactivity of the public at large and those who represent us from the local council chamber to the federal political stage.

Juan Montalvo, an Ecuadorian author and essayist is quoted as saying “There is nothing harder than the softness of indifference”.

Indifference is the nadir of the change one expects to champion. It can only be surmounted by challenging assumptions and keeping the flame of urgency lit beneath us.

The work one undertakes and the causes one fights for are often truncated not from a lack of evidence or scientific backing, or of the need for change, but instead from a lack of will. This can take the form of a lack of political will, a lack of public will, or a lack of personal will.

After returning from expedition to the Arctic in the summer of 2010, a lack of personal will was my last problem. More than ever in my life I was brimming with a curiosity and a drive for my place in the world and the role I can have in mitigating issues from the community level to the global level.

In a post-expedition blog entry, just weeks after returning from the Arctic, I wrote that:

“Where I learned the most was in the realm of the intangible. I found more about myself in the moments where my hand was outreached to feel the crystals of a ten thousand year old iceberg or as my feet were shocked from the run-off of a glacier with ten kilometers still ahead of me or as my eyes were fixated with those of a Polar Bear as our Zodiac bobbed in the waves and cameras pinched every second. It was then that I found my capacity for things on a global stage and that magic and possibility still exist in a world which seems to get smaller with every click of a mouse.”

Keeping this motivation alive can be a challenge. As the weeks following an expedition turn into months, and the months into years, it is unavoidable and normal for the heightened drive and euphoria experienced on-expedition to taper off.

Four years later the momentum I gained from the expedition can still be found in the speaking engagements I partake in at many events, in numerous classrooms, and various conference halls. It can be found in the time I spent with the Students on Ice Alumni Delegation at the United Nations Conference for Sustainable Development, and it exists in my election as a Councillor to municipal government in my hometown. As of May, I have joined the Students on Ice team, working out of Gatineau, Quebec. Working on a daily basis with the organization has proved for a great amount of reflection and overwhelming nostalgia.

What I have come to understand is that Students on Ice doesn’t expect for all alumni to become global change makers, to attend international conferences, to speak at schools, or to create and sign environmental petitions. While we celebrate these achievements from many of our alumni, we also appreciate the very personal awe and transformation gleaned from the expedition experience.

As the Students on Ice mandate proudly reads on this website, our mandate is to: “provide students, educators and scientists from around the world with inspiring educational opportunities at the ends of the Earth and, in doing so, help them foster a new understanding and respect for the planet.”

It is my contention that this respect is more than passive. This respect is manifested in a willingness for alumni to confront the everyday indifference they encounter, to challenge assumptions, and embody their new found appreciation and respect for our planet.

Donovan speaking at the Students on Ice fundraiser in Toronto. Photo (c) Martin Lipman

Donovan speaking at the Students on Ice fundraiser in Toronto. Photo (c) Martin Lipman

Now to get back to that taxi ride I mentioned. It was thinking of the great alumni network of Students on Ice – and their tradition of leveraging the expedition experience to jettison oneself from the comfort zone– which moved me to ask the taxi driver to reconsider his position on climate change. I can’t say if I changed his mind during our drive to the Bell Island Ferry. But what I know without reservation is that there is a value in challenging the assumptions, and in stirring a reconsideration of one’s perspective on the issues which are affecting each and every one of us. The ripple effect of challenging indifference is immeasurable.

My main role with Students on Ice is the production of a coffee table book which will mark 15 years of successful educational journeys to the ends of the Earth. This book is in many ways a celebration of an organization and the alumni of its program; a legacy of a community whose pursuits have enlightened innumerable amounts of people, bringing them out of indifference, apathy, and inaction, to lead fulfilling and meaningful lives which have contributed to not only their personal growth, but to the growth of organizations, communities, and the home countries of alumni.

It is with this celebration of the Students on Ice organization in mind that I call on alumni to avoid the taxi cab rides of indifference, and to continue to be champions of the momentum of their expedition experience.

Kindest regards,

Donovan Taplin

Students on Ice is proudly supported by bv02.

This website was made possible by a generous contribution from the Leacross Foundation.