Robert Swan and Son to Recount Antarctica Adventure at Sun Valley Forum
by Karen Bossick
In 1986 Robert Swan set out to trek 900 miles to the South Pole following the footsteps of his heroes—Antarctic explorers Robert F. Scott and Roald Amundsen.
He and his 23-year-old son Barney just completed a second trek to the South Pole. But this 600-mile, 56-day journey was not about a personal challenge but, rather, a global challenge.
It was a green trek in a world of white, powered solely by renewable energy technologies.
“If we can survive on renewable energy in the most inhospitable place on earth, we can do so anywhere,” said Swan.
Swan mesmerized attendees with stories recounting what it took to become the first person in history to walk to both Poles during the third annual Sun Valley Forum in 2017. He’ll be back at this year’s forum July 31-Aug. 3, along with his son Barney.
“We are so fortunate they are coming to Sun Valley,” said Forum Founder Aimee Christensen. “Right now they’re in San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, London and Cannes—so busy!”
“We don’t speak just to speak but we speak to the right people—world leaders, corporate business leaders, people who can make a difference,” said Swan. “And I’m very impressed with what Aimee and her team are doing.”
Swan’s efforts to take his message from polar tent to lecture hall, from the Antarctica ice to world capitol buildings couldn’t come at a more appropriate time.
Glaciologists at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography just released a study that shows that global warming has melted more than three trillion tons of ice in the Antarctica since 1992. That’s more than four quadrillion gallons melting into the world’s oceans—enough to fill more than a billion swimming pools and cover Texas by 13 feet. And it’s only getting worse, they said.
Antarctica’s melting ice is responsible for a third of the rising sea level around the world. And scientists say the cause is undeniably due to temperatures boosted by increased carbon dioxide from the burning of gas, oil, coal and other fossil fuels. The ocean is 1 degree too warm for the ice, matching the temperature changes the planet has experienced since the industrial era began.
During their trip the Swans, their filmmaker and guide used solar panels and an ice melter designed by NASA to power their cooking stove in minus—40 degree temperatures—temperatures cold enough to make their boots fall apart. For backup when there was not enough sun they used biofuel developed at the Shell Technology Centre in Bangalore, India.
The foursome made their way from the Ronne Ice Shelf to the South Pole Station at the center of the continent subsisting on dehydrated meals and coveted M&Ms. They burned 8,000 calories a day—sometimes 2,000 more than they took in.
“The surface we walked has seriously changed since I walked it 32 years ago,” said Swan. “It’s become softer, more difficult to travel. The time for inconvenient speeches is over. Our world is in a survival situation. We need action. Antarctica is melting.”
Swan soon found his deteriorating hip incapable of maintaining the 12 miles they needed to make each day. So the 62-year-old explorer passed his baton onto his son at the halfway point. After undergoing a battery of tests he cajoled his doctors into allowing him to reunite with the expedition for the final 59 miles.
The Swans’ prime aim is engaging and inspiring the next generation to tackle climate change and preserve Antarctica.
To that end Robert founded the 2041 Foundation, named for the year in which the Antarctic Treaty can be renegotiated to ensure that it continues to be used for peaceful purposes.
And they’ve established the ClimateForce Challenge to reduce 320 million tons of CO2 from the atmosphere before 2025. Robert took young leaders to Antarctica and he will take a group to the Arctic in 2019.
“This is a negative world we live in right now and this young generation needs inspiration,” Swan said. “My son Barney is a millennial and he made this incredible journey at 23. How could you not be inspired?”
HEAR THE SWANS AT THE SUN VALLEY FORUM
The 2018 Sun Valley Forum: Turning Risk into Opportunity will showcase leaders and innovators July 31-Aug. 2 who have the vision and courage to accelerate the world’s transformation to sustainable, equitable, secure and resilient economies and communities.
Speakers include Antarctica explorers Robert and Barney Swan; Rob Bernard, chief environmental strategist for Microsoft; Jeff Goodell, contributing editor to “Rolling Stone” magazine and author of “The Water Will Come;” James McMahon, co-founder of The Climate Service; Linda Sheehan, senior counsel to the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation; Steve Wysmuller, global lead meteorologist for IBM, and Kimi Werner, the U.S. National Spearfishing Champion.
This year’s event will also include an inaugural Youth Forum in partnership with the Environmental Resource Center for youth ages 5 through 13 on Aug. 1-2. And the forum will partner with the 5Point Film Festival on the evening of Aug. 3 to present meaningful adventure stories designed to inspire commitment to positive change.
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