Nat Geo's 'The Last Ice' Doc: What's Really at Stake With Global Warming

Time is running out; scientific projections forecast the total disappearance of the Arctic summer sea ice—our planet's cooling system—by as early as 2040. While the world is focused on the COVID-19 pandemic and its disastrous effects on our economy, some believe global warming as less of an immediate concern. But not for the scientists who see the pandemic as the loudest wake-up call for our broken relationship with the planet.

National Geographic's new feature doc, The Last Ice, reveals even more of what's at stake with global warming—the disappearance of the Indigenous Inuit communities' way of life that is dependent on the Arctic sea ice. Premiering on National Geographic this October, and screened at film festivals around the world, the doc follows the Inuit communities fighting to protect a rapidly warming Arctic and to keep their traditional culture alive.

Melting ice
In this aerial view melting ice forms a lake on free-floating ice jammed into the Ilulissat Icefjord during unseasonably warm weather on July 30, 2019 near Ilulissat, Greenland. Sean Gallup/Getty

Filmed over four years in Canada and Greenland, The Last Ice features interviews with Inuit community leaders, activists, traditional hunters and youth advocates. It examines the effect the melting sea ice between these two countries has on the 100,000 Inuit who live in the Arctic, on and around this frozen ocean. Now the newly open waters are being exploited for financial gains: oil and gas deposits, more efficient shipping routes and increased fishing and tourism.

But for the Indigenous Inuit, development in these sacred waters is a threat to the future of their home and traditional culture. While the land and wildlife disappears so does their way of life of fishing and hunting. If not the moral imperative of protecting the culture and rights of Indigenous groups, what will it take to get the world to care?

The Last Ice Aleqatsiaq Peary
Aleqatsiaq Peary, the great-great-great grandson of American polar explorer Robert Peary, who it's believed was the first person to arrive at the North Pole in 1909. National Geographic Society

Protecting the Planet Is Our Best Health Insurance

If the disappearance of our planet's cooling system, the Arctic sea ice—and the Indigenous culture that survives on it—is not enough of a wake-up call to protect our planet, the pandemic should be, says the executive producer of The Last Ice, Enric Sala, also a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence. Protecting the world's "white heart" is also our best health insurance and is economically wise, urges Sala in an interview with Newsweek.

The melting Arctic sea ice trickles down to everything—weather patterns completely changed, loss of wildlife, the dying of Indigenous cultures—and beyond to the world's economy and health of all its people. Sala hopes the film creates urgency by showing protecting the planet's wild places isn't something we can put off.

For more than 100,000 Inuit who live in the Arctic, on and around the melting ice, an entire way of life is at stake. National Geographic Society

"If nothing else, if we want to prevent another pandemic, the time is now to invest in protecting our own planet," says the marine conservationist and founder of National Geographic Pristine Seas, an initiative to protect the ocean's last wild places.

The Pandemic Is a Wake-Up Call for Humanity

"The pandemic is the loudest wake-up call we have for humanity; it's the strongest example we have on why the health of the natural world and why our relationship with nature determines our health and well being and, ultimately, survival," says the National Geographic expert.

Sala believes the pandemic effects—human suffering and economic downturn—that will last for years are a result of our broken relationship with nature. But he says there's good news: We can fix it—saving nature can save us all.

With a new book coming out this month The Nature of Nature: Why We Need the Wild, Sala explains there's an economic argument for protecting the world as well. "We have economic studies that show very clearly a world with more protection would be a world where the global economic output would be larger. We released an economic report last month that showed that for every dollar, at least in protected areas, nature gives us five dollars in return."

It would create millions of jobs, if we had 30 percent of the planet protected, for example, says Sala. "If we give more space for nature, we'll get many, many more benefits in return," adds Sala who urges the world to listen as the Arctic summer sea, "our planet's air conditioning" disappears.

Polar Bears
Two polar bears walk over sea ice in Lancaster Sound, Nunavut, Canada. National Geographic Society/Ron Chapple

If we need another reason to care about our planet, Sala says we have to give more respect to nature now—the more we encroach on animals' wild territory increases our risk of a pandemic. "Moving animals around the world like commodities is not a great idea," says Sala, "It only takes one person to get in touch with one of these animals at a market for the entire world to suffer."

The One Thing We Can Do Everyday to Save the Planet

So what can everyday people do starting today to protect the planet? "I always like to mention one thing that everybody can do, which would be good for their health, and also good for the planet. And this is something that people can do every day. Eat more plants," advises Sala.

"A plant-based diet would reduce the amount of land that needs to be used to raise livestock, which would reduce the amount of greenhouse gases that we put in the atmosphere," says Sala, adding that 41 percent of the land in the United States is used to raise livestock.

"If we had a plant-based diet with less animal protein, we would need less land to feed the world. And part of the land would be restored into nature, which would produce many more benefits to humanity."

Protecting the melting Arctic sea ice and the world's last wild places is not only a moral imperative and economically wise, it's essential to our global survival, argues Sala. "We need the wild because it is our life support system and it's what makes human life on this planet possible."