Two-time Academy Award winner Emma Thompson and Gemini-award winner, Canadian Cree actress Michelle Thrush finished up a 10-day expedition with Greenpeace Sunday, where they, along with their 14-year-old daughters, got to see the effects of climate change up close.
They were part of the Greenpeace's campaign "Save the Arctic," which says the region is under threat not only to climate change, but to oil and gas exploration and to toxic chemicals that don't originate in the Arctic.
Thompson, a 55-year-old British actress, said she's been doing social justice and humanitarian work for years, and her trip to the Arctic, north of Longyearbyen, Svalbard in Norway, showed her how the fight to stop climate change is linked to issues like poverty.
"They often get placed in silos … often by NGOs, actually, as though somehow there's no connection," Thompson said. "It seems to me, at 55, and having done quite a lot of work in lots of different areas that everything is deeply connected."
That's something she wanted to show her daughter, Gaia Wise, on this trip with Greenpeace. Wise is only 14, but Thompson said her daughter is "not easily daunted." She says the trip to the Arctic was "an immeasurably important experience."
"My grandchildren … are going to be up against the destructive behaviour that we continue to indulge in," Thompson said. "So I want Gaia to see for herself what's going on. And it's been an incredibly powerful experience for her.
"She's seen the receding of the glaciers for herself; she's cleaned plastics from all over the world off an … inshore beach in the Arctic where they have no place and where they are contaminating the environment."
For Canadian Cree actress Michelle Thrush, the experience has not only been eye-opening for her 14-year-old daughter Imajyn Cardinal, who was also on the expedition, but for herself too. She said she didn't know very much about the Arctic when the trip began. Even though "Save the Arctic" focuses on what needs to change in order to preserve the Arctic, Thrush saw finally the Arctic with her own eyes: it was beautiful.
"It's been emotional, it's been spiritual for me. There've been moments where I have witnessed such incredible, pristine and gorgeous land, and water and animals," Thrush said, highlighting a moment when four walruses crouched on the ice not far from where she was standing.
"We saw so many things that I will forever carry with me."
Greenpeace 'has hurt communities'
Joanna Kerr, executive director of Greenpeace, said members of the organization haven't been the best listeners in the past when it comes to hearing the problems in indigenous communities, including in Northern Canada.
"The organization has recognized that the past history and the relationship with indigenous communities … has hurt communities, has hurt economics in Northern communities particularly," Kerr said.
Greenpeace has been accused of spreading misinformation about activities in the Arctic and has "no regard for their impact on our way of life," MP Leona Aglukkaq said at the Inuit Circumpolar Council's general assembly in Inuvik, N.W.T. last month.
But Kerr said things have changed.
"The organization, in the past few years, has really worked to stand behind nations, land rights, land claims," she said.
"You know, for many of us in this generation in the world we believe that climate change is the battle of our generation. And for … non-indigenous Canadians, reconciliation with First Nations communities is also the issue of our generation. And [Greenpeace] really is bringing these two issues together at this time."
Last month, Greenpeace and people in Clyde River, Nunavut came together to protest against seismic testing in the region.
The group warned that plans to gauge oil and gas reserves with high-intensity sound waves in Baffin Bay and the Davis Strait pose grave dangers to marine life.
"The extent to which we can build allies and support nations and support communities, you know, that's really our responsibility," Kerr said.
"So I think you'll find Greenpeace much more humble and … much better listeners than we have been in the past."