How do you mimic a place where temperatures plummet to a record-setting minus 128 degrees Fahrenheit, wind slashes the landscape at 100 miles an hour, and ice sheets average over a mile thick? A snowshoe expedition into the cold heart of a wilderness winter. While sub-zero temperatures, deep snow, and difficult weather conditions closed scores of schools across the upper Midwest this week, a combined Social Studies/English class embraced the harsh conditions. These classes mounted an expedition into the winter wilderness to study winter themed literature as well as how the history of international cooperation on the coldest, windiest, and iciest continent on earth might just serve as an example for multi-national initiatives in global environmental issues such as climate change.
The only continent on earth where no claim of sovereignty by humans is recognized and no native human population exists, Antarctica is governed by what is known as the Antarctic Treaty. First passed on June 23, 1961, the treaty prioritizes international cooperation in scientific research and holds the ideal that "in the interest of all mankind that Antarctica shall continue forever to be used exclusively for peaceful purposes and shall not become the scene or object of international discord." Signed originally by the 12 nations engaged in scientific research on the continent during the International Geophysical Year of 1957-58, the treaty has now been acceded to by over 50 nations banning together to keep Antarctica “a natural reserve, devoted to peace and science.” Even today, more than 50 years after its passage, the Antarctic Treaty is considered one of the most successful international agreements in history.
To get a small taste of what Antarctica is like, students donned snowshoes, dressed in layers, engaged in teamwork to break trail through the hip-deep snows, and worked their way deep into the heart of the winter wilderness. There, with hot chocolate and energy snacks, groups read stories of the wilderness spirit and discussed the Antarctic Treaty, honoring its success, speculating about the lessons we might learn from this landmark agreement as we face other global environmental issues that can only be successfully overcome with multi-national cooperation. Rather than hiding from the cold, we took the techniques learned in Conserve School’s Outdoor Skills class and embraced the conditions. And in the deepest, darkest, coldest heart of the winter wilderness, students may just have found a warm spark of hope for the future of all of us.
Photos contributed by Jeff Rennicke, English teacher.