V i v i a n  S o n g
Freelance writer
Freelance writer
Nature's crusader

Toronto Sun, Sun Media papers, May, 2007.

OTTAWA -- Poet scientist. The combination is so rare it's almost an oxymoron.

But that's what they call Jean Lemire in Quebec, a man with the fastidiousness of a scientist and the vision of an artist.

Tonight, Lemire's prolific career as a poetic cinematographer and storyteller on nature's behalf will be honoured at the Canadian Environmental Awards Gala.

"I'm only 45," chuckled the biologist recounting his reaction when he learned of the award. "But it's a great honour."

Lemire's passion for the Earth has taken him to Greenland where he filmed Whale Mission: Keepers of Memory in 2005. He also took his lens and millions of viewers to the Arctic where he filmed the Gemini-Award winning Arctic Mission, an expedition through the Northwest Passage depicting the Arctic's fragile splendour and its role as a harbinger of climate change.

But it's for his most recent and daunting adventure to the Antarctic that Lemire reserves his most ardent words -- a zeal that can't be feigned.

"For 430 days, you're asking yourself who you are and who you want to be. The privileged contact with nature changes your vision of life," Lemire said.

"During that mission, I was able to retrieve my relationship with silence. There's something in silence I really like . . . It was a big part of inspiration for me."

The next instalment of Lemire's legacy is due to be released as a documentary in the fall, The Last Continent.

During the 15-month trip, Lemire invited the public to follow his 13-member crew of the Sedna IV as they battled extreme isolation, months of darkness and stress. About 900,000 people logged onto the website every day, including students at 830 schools.

"We're not trying to explain climate change, but that we are victims of climate change," he said.

The crew braced themselves for nine hostile winter months, bringing skis, sleighs and snowshoes -- a time when other scientists would traditionally leave the continent.

But plans for the Sedna IV to freeze over were thwarted by a mean temperature of -5 C. Their coldest night was only - 14 C. Temperatures in the Antarctic peninsula have risen six degrees during the last 51 years, he said.

As the keynote speaker at tonight's gala in Montreal, Lemire said he intends to move one man in particular, a man whose government policies on the environment are "too far behind" and out of step with the public.

"I know John Baird will be there," Lemire said, referring to the federal environment minister. "I want to say that we are here to help. We have a good feeling of what the public wants. I will try to touch him with images of the Antarctic."




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