Environmentalist Jon Bowermaster looks at the future of natural gas, world's oceans

Contrary to Western belief, the long-term effects of pollution are not universal knowledge throughout most of the world, says National Geographic contributor Jon Bowermaster. On the Dalmatian Coast in Croatia, the ocean-health expert has seen old women throwing perfectly sorted recyclables into the ocean (“that’s where they belong,” she said), and in the South Pacific he struggled to explain the concept of conservation to a population of natives whose ancestors have used the ocean as a recycling bin for the last 1,000 years.

On French Polynesian coral atolls, he said, “These are people who don’t look past tomorrow. They’re not worried about five or 10 years from now, they’re worried about catching a fish to eat tonight. Their parents and grandparents threw all of their garbage into the ocean, so that’s what they do. When it was just coconut husks, that was perfectly fine. But, now its Coca-Cola bottles and plastic wrap.”

On Thursday, Sept. 19, Mr. Bowermaster was joined by Wiltonian Daryl Hawk for a conversation, presentation, and Q&A session at Wilton Library. Both men are part of The Explorers Club, headquartered in New York City, and are known for documenting difficult-to-access areas of the world.

Mr. Bowermaster is a longtime National Geographic contributor and documentary filmmaker who has produced non-fiction content across the natural world. His works include a series on using ocean kayaks to explore the health of the ocean — Ocean 8 — and the recent anti-fracking concert documentary, Dear Governor Cuomo.

The presentation revolved around a collection of Mr. Bowermaster’s projects after a 20-minute interview with Mr. Hawk. The writer’s multi-media presentation included pictures and video of his experiences in Antarctica, an area he has been visiting since 1989. One of the explorer’s current projects is a 3D, IMAX-style documentary about the health of the Antarctic peninsula. The film records the effects of climate change on the peninsula, which is the point of the world that has experienced the most drastic and rapid temperature increase over the past decades.

A clip he showed from the film in which an iceberg arch collapsed, he said, recounts an experience that surprised a trip full of adventurers with a vast amount of Antarctic experience.

“Between all of us on that trip, there was a lot of Antarctic experience. It’s rare just to see an iceberg arch like that,” he said, “but not a single one of us had ever seen one collapse in person. We weren’t even going to go out of our way to check it out at first, but by the time we got to it again the next day, it had completely crumbled.”

This movie, prepared for scientific institutions and museums, will be the first to document the deterioration and change of the Antarctic continent in full-3D. Using big 3D cameras while sailing “very slowly” the group was able to create a film that will “put icebergs and penguins in your lap,” when one sees it, he said.


Recently, Mr. Bowermaster has also become a strong anti-fracking advocate in New York state, where he lives in Stone Ridge. Fracking is the hydraulic drilling process by which natural gas is extracted from shale rock beds under the ground.

“Hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars are being used to — essentially — explode thousands of gallons of water, and chemicals into the ground to extract this stuff when the U.S. Geographic Service says we only have a maximum of 20, or 30 years’ worth of it. How does that make sense?”

To coincide with this problem, he said, there is little long-term research into the effects fracking has on the environment. Leaking methane and problems with clean transportation of the gas pose grave problems for companies looking to profit from the “clean energy.”

In an entry from his website, JonBowermaster.com, he writes: “To reasonable people it makes a whole lot of sense that the act of pumping tons of unidentified chemicals, water, and sand into the Earth’s surface and then exploding them will result in catastrophes for both land and man. Yet the energy and natural gas industry question[s] that outcome, insisting that the long- and short-term impacts of hydraulic-fracturing on human health demand ‘more study’.”

At Thursday’s presentation, Mr. Bowermaster said he is very sympathetic to the plight of the American farmer who can lease his land to oil companies to fund a well-deserved retirement.

“I understand that when you are a struggling farmer and an oil company representative walks up to your door and offers you $250,000 or $500,000 or $1 million to lease your land for natural gas, that you have to take it, because I would take it. But when that well dries up and the gas company is gone, you have to be able to think about the damage they have done to the land,” he said.

Before the presentation, Mr. Bowermaster asked rhetorically, “What if we had invested all of that money into something else? Something renewable like solar, or wind power? Why are we spending all of this money on something that is only going to last for 30 years?”

Click this link to watch a clip from Mr. Bowermaster’s first Antarctic documentary, Terra Antarctica, and to visit his personal website.