The Next Chapter

Lynne Quarmby's memoir Watermelon Snow looks at past and present climate realities

The Canadian scientist, activist and politician spoke with Shelagh Rogers about her latest nonfiction book.
Lynne Quarmby is a Canadian author and professor of cell biology. (McGill-Queen's University Press)

Watermelon snow is the name given to snow that goes pink or red from a species of ice loving algae. Also known as snow algae, it is a type of snow that can form on a glacier, turning it darker, causing it to absorb more heat rather than reflect that heat and speed up the melting process. 

Watermelon Snow is also the name of Canadian scientist, activist and politician Lynne Quarmby's latest book. It's about a recent adventure trip she took on a schooner full of artists in the high Arctic. When writing Watermelon Snow, Quarmby was feeling burned out and frustrated. Her years of climate change activism hadn't achieved what she had imagined, and she was deeply concerned about the future of the planet.

Quarmby spoke with Shelagh Rogers about writing Watermelon Snow.

Feeling frustrated

"I had been active in the battle to try to reduce our fossil fuel use and in trying to get our society to turn that corner. I think I had been driven by fear and panic. I had this illusion that if I worked hard enough, and if I rallied enough people, we could turn the ship. 

I started to realize that I needed to accept that there's a lot that we're not going to be able to save. That's pretty heavy stuff.

"When I was up there in the Arctic on an actual ship, I started to realize that I needed to accept that there's a lot that we're not going to be able to save. That's pretty heavy stuff. 

"Glaciers advance and recede; ice freezes in the winter and melts in the summer. Things were melting — but we could witness the massive retreat of glaciers over the past decade or two — and from the ship we could see piles of mud and goo. It was clear, not in a scientific state, but in an emotional way, that we felt the warming in the melting."

SFU's Lynne Quarmby speaks out RAW

CBC News Vancouver at 6

7 years ago
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Between hope and despair

"I've tried to walk away from that teeter-totter between hope and despair. I don't think I succeed all the time, but I try to have the perspective that, obviously, we don't know the future. We don't know what wonderful things could happen — or what terrible things could happen. I try to stay in a place of just doing the right thing. 

"We know that, if we take a snowball from outside and bring it in the house, it will melt. But if we take that same snowball and we put it in a hot oven, it will melt a lot faster. I guess where I'm at is I'm accepting that the snowball is going to melt. 

If we can slow things down, what beautiful society could arise out of that and our coastal cities could be transformed into many other things.

"If we can keep it down to the rate of melting of the house, versus the oven, that buys us time. If we are going to have a multi-metre sea level rise, so much the better that it takes a thousand years, instead of 50 years. 

"If we do the right thing, we can slow that down. And if we can slow things down, what beautiful society could arise out of that — our coastal cities could be transformed into many other things. I view my job as working as hard as I can to slow things down, to provide the space for the brilliant young people that want to build a new future."

Lynne Quarmby's comments have been edited for length and clarity.

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