END OF THE WORLD TO NEW BEGINNINGS- A travel tale to Antarctica

By Tanisha Arora (Guest Blogger)

As a designer, I find it absolutely thrilling and satisfying to create something beautiful from waste materials, things that would otherwise end up in a landfill, whether it is a window display, an entire space or simply an up-cycled gift for a friend.  If we look at what is happening in India in the last decade, cloudbursts in Ladakh, droughts in regions of Maharashtra, torrential rains in Chennai and regions around, Delhi ranking as the world’s worst city in terms of pollution recently, it is inevitable that we are now experiencing the full blown impacts of climate change due to unsustainable human activities. My personal and professional efforts started to feel insufficient and just like some of you, I often felt frustrated and wondered what can I do. 

Bangalore to Antarctica

Couple of years back I came across Sir Robert Swan’s Ted talk, only man to have walked to both the poles and someone who has dedicated his life to preservation of Antarctica.

He says “The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it.”

I discovered about International Antarctica expedition (2017) led by Sir Robert Swan and applied for it. On 26th November 2016 I was selected for the IAE 2017 along with 85 other individuals selected from 32 countries. But to get on that ship to Antarctica, I was faced with the challenge to raise INR 10,00,000 within one month in a country dealing with repercussions of demonetization. After a gruelling one month of fundraising, with plenty of disappointments, rejections and sleepless nights, I had finally managed to raise 80% of funds with two sponsors, Pepe Jeans and Farah Khan Fine Jewellery and crowdfunding.

After a 37 hour long flight to South America and a private jet from Buenos Aires to the southernmost city in the world, Ushuaia, we embarked on our two day voyage to Antarctica with Sir Robert Swan and his team through the roughest seas in the world.

Stepping foot on the frozen continent

After two days of voyage at sea, I woke up to find our ship surrounded with icebergs and snow-covered landscapes at a near distance. The very first time I saw snow in my life was only few months back on my journey to Nubra valley in Ladakh, so you can imagine how thrilled I was to see my very first iceberg! Now I was just a few hours away from stepping foot on Antarctica.

On our multiple zodiac cruises and landings, we watched a colony of chinstrap penguins shedding old features and waiting to grow new preparing for the harsh winters. The waddling Gentoo and Adélie penguins never fail to bring a smile on our face. It was really interesting to watch the dispute of fur seals on shore, snoozing crabeater seals on floating icebergs and we were fortunate to witness a leopard seal. The feeding humpback whales that emerged from the water at regular intervals went right under our tiny zodiacs! No camera or words can do justice to capture what we saw and experienced on this journey and it is forever inscribed in my memory. However, the best takeaway from this expedition was meeting with some inspiring people doing some spectacular work for the  environment. Being the only designer on board, the experience was absolutely refreshing as it exposed me to so many new perspectives and possibilities.

Rising Sea levels: Myth or reality?

One morning, we rushed to the deck braving the extreme cold only to watch the most spectacular view of tabular iceberg, technically a small fragment of an ice shelf but appeared to be the size of a football field.

As explained by Sir Robert Swan in one of his presentations, due to climate change the warming ocean water from below and the warm air from above make the ice shelves weaker. This results in thinning and calving which eventually leads to the collapse of massive ice shelf. These ice shelf, almost the size of a small country act as gatekeepers for the glacial ice, holding them back. However, according to Colin Souness, the glaciologist on board, the collapse of ice shelves in itself will not contribute to sea level rise as the ice shelf is already floating in water. However when the ice shelf collapses, the glaciers it holds back is unleashed into the ocean which will directly increases sea level.

Antarctica alone will not contribute to significant sea level rise but accompanied with the ice loss of gigantic ice sheets in Greenland as well as melting sea ice in the Arctic together, will contribute to substantial sea level rise in the near future.

Setting examples to inspire change

What a lot of people are also unaware of is that the clothing industry is the second largest polluter in the world after oil. From two seasons a year back in the day, some fast fashion brands are now churning out 52 micro seasons per year. The amount of waste generated due to today’s fashion and retail industry is incredibly high due to an unsustainable consumption pattern. With little or no efforts to slow down or recycle, most of this ends up in landfills.

Sir Robert Swan from an early age has been inspired by his mother to recycle.  She is now over a 105 years old and she still recycles. That day in conversation with Sir Robert Swan on deck, he shared his story about the global mission.  In 1993, Robert Swan selected a team of 35 people from 25 nations to raise funds, plan and implement the mission to safely remove and recycle 1500 tones of waste from the Russian base at King George Islands, Antarctica, left behind after years of research. It took them 8 years and multiple expeditions down south to clear up the tones of twisted metal waste which was then successfully recycled in South America. Robert strongly believes that by setting examples he can inspire change.

Today, as a part of IAE 2017, we stay connected and are constantly inspiring each other to do more in our personal and professional life.Currently, Robert Swan & his son Barney Swan are preparing intensively for South Pole Energy Challenge (SPEC). On 15th November 2017, they will embark on a 600 mile, 8-week journey on foot to the South Pole powered solely on renewable energy. Their goal is to set a simple examples for the world, if they can sustain on renewable energy in the harshest environment on earth then why can’t we?

One of the crucial learning from this expedition was that you do not need to be an environmental leader or an activist to find solutions and make a change. Whether we make an effort to change one small habit or to take on a bigger challenge to inspire change within our industries or societies, each step forward is for our own survival and the survival of all life forms on earth.

On the last day of the expedition, Sir Robert Swan gathered all of us on the deck and asked us to observe the untouched landscape of Antarctica around us. He then asked us to imagine the same landscape with mining stations,fuel industries and concrete structures. The bond that we developed with this place is difficult to transcribe in words but when you experience a place so beautiful, you realise the need to protect it.

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