If you have been following the news recently, the climate reports are not good. When a Category 5 Hurricane pummelled my friends in Abaco, Bahamas, I was chewing my fingernails. While watching the storm updates, I binged on nachos to make me feel better. Reading the recent UN Report on the Climate, I wanted to slip into a funk over the forecast of imminent doom. The oceans are warming; the Greenland ice sheet is falling apart; and the Amazon rainforests are burning. It's natural to feel powerless in the face of such enormous issues. But as a cave diver, I have learned to challenge the impossible.
It can be hard to envision how to escape an underwater cave, barely taller than my helmet when my buddy is trapped in a whiteout of silt. But as a successful cave diver, I have learned a lot about solving issues when others might give up. Swimming through the veins of Mother Earth, in your drinking water, I have worked with scientists on the front lines of climate research. Their news is sometimes terrifying, but I choose to tackle those dire climate revelations in the same way I work toward surviving a cave dive that has gone bad.
Today, we need to act as global citizens, believing that our collective actions will have a positive impact. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain by being better stewards of our earth. Refilling a reusable water bottle or eating less meat might seem like small overtures, but they all add up. Eco-friendly lifestyle choices make a cumulative difference in our world.
When I am groping for a broken guideline in the dark cave, I calmly find it and choose to fix it. I concentrate on small victories, making the next best positive choice to move forward. There is no point in focusing on the big picture of getting myself out of the cave. I need to put all my efforts into solving a series of small problems that will add up to success. The same is true for any significant issue, such as climate change. It will be mitigated through a lot of small actions by a lot of people. There will be no magic bullet and no Planet B.
When my heart wants to beat right out of my chest in fear, I recognize that I have to slow down, take a deep breath, and rid my head of chattering emotional noise. Panicking will not serve me well when I am relying on my life support equipment to deliver each sustaining breath. I must remain pragmatic, and focus on the small steps to survival. It is no different for humanity, attempting to find a way forward in what feels like an increasingly uncertain future. We all need to calm down and recognize that climate change is not a left versus right political issue. When that happens, we will need to work collectively to engage in bold solutions.
Few people will ever walk as close to the edge, as close to their death as I have. Those terrifying experiences make me reflect deeply on my place in the world. My decisions before and during a cave dive can have implications far beyond myself. My diving partner, my family, and community are considered in my choices. But when I survive a terrible situation through a series of small actions, I recognize that I, like everyone else, is capable of far more than I might believe. Surviving a life-threatening experience empowers me to take on significant challenges and encourages me to help others understand that we can prevail over things that appear impossible, like saving our planet.
Jill Heinerth is a Canadian cave diver, underwater explorer, writer, photographer and filmmaker. Many consider her the best female underwater explorer in the world, and she has dived in some of the most extreme locations on the planet, from underwater caves to icebergs in the frigid waters off Antarctica. Her new book, INTO THE PLANET - My Life as a Cave Diver, takes you places where no person has ever gone before, where fear must be reconciled and the innermost parts of the human condition are revealed.