Published on February 25th, 2019 | by Carolyn Fortuna
February 25th, 2019 by Carolyn Fortuna
In November, 2017, father and son Robert and Barney Swan became the part of the first team in history to walk to the South Pole powered entirely by renewable energy. Over the course of their 60-day expedition, they encountered an Antarctica that was melting beneath their feet. That soggy surface was an epiphany, and they realized then that they needed to make climate change visible around the globe and to inspire a vast movement of climate change action leaders.
The ClimateForce Challenge is the result of their determination to help us recognize our environmental impacts when we do business, power our homes, eat, drive, and fly.
“Increasing the use of renewable sources of energy is essential to reducing CO2 emissions,” says Robert Swan. By putting these clean energies to the test in Antarctica, the Earth’s harshest wilderness, he describes how they wanted to prove that renewables “can be developed for use anywhere, and, therefore, play a crucial part in helping the planet transition to a lower-carbon future.”
After experiencing first-hand the effects of climate change as an explorer, Robert has been on a 50-year mission to preserve the earth’s southernmost continent by promoting recycling, renewable energy, and sustainability. And his son Barney has now joined him on the journey.
To realize the ambitions of the 2016 United Nation’s Paris Agreement to hold global temperatures below 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels, we all need to be a part of innovative and likely life-altering solutions and changes. We in the climate action community have also often heard the mantra, “Don’t talk about polar bears. Climate change is a human problem that is hurting humans right now.” 2041 ClimateForce takes the approach that it’s important to educate society on the issues of climate change, even — especially — in the polar regions, by engaging people with actionable solutions that create positive impact.
The ClimateForce initiative began in earnest with a 20-something teaming up with his father — the first man to ski to both the South Pole and the North Pole in the late 1980s — and setting out on an epic journey to prove that sustainability can be achieved on a large scale. They and 2 colleagues embarked on a 600-mile skiing expedition across Antarctica.
A Renewable Energy- Powered Antarctic Expedition
The world’s first Antarctic expedition to be powered solely by renewable energy was a grueling personal challenge. A Solar Ice Melter, designed by NASA, was integrated into the sleds to produce drinking water throughout the journey. Solar panels powered the GoalZero lithium batteries in communication devices and cameras. Advanced biofuels were made out of woodchip waste. The renewable gear added an additional 44 pounds to the team’s load. But the Swans incorporated the extra weight to prove that, if the technologies could be used under such harsh conditions — as low as minus 55 degrees Celsius (minus 67 degrees Fahrenheit), renewables can be easily incorporated into daily life.
After 3 years of planning, the team completed their mission in 56 days. However, when they reached the South Pole, Barney Swan said he felt a distinct anticlimax, realizing it was the start of a much longer journey. “I’m standing there, and I’m like: ‘Great, I’m looking at the shiny object at the bottom of the planet. What’s next?’” Barney Swan told CNBC.
Robert Swan notes that Antarctica has “90% of the world’s ice, 70% of the world’s freshwater is locked within that ice. That place has the capacity alone to raise our sea level 20 feet, globally.”
With that backdrop, they realized the next step was to figure out a way for more people to get involved to combat climate change. “Everything came back to CO2 — the elephant in the room,” Barney Swan tells of the greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide. “You know, you watch a documentary like ‘Before the Flood,’ and I finish that thing, and I’m like, ‘Where is an actual thing that I can do?’ There’s no solutions, follow up. ‘Inconvenient Truth’ is not followed by convenient solutions. We need convenient solutions, now.”
Risks are Necessary for Healthy Planet Rewards
It’s been a year since the Swans’ Antarctic expedition, but their enthusiasm and drive hasn’t diminished. “I’m showing you that I made a risk to prove a point. I think all of us need to take a little bit more risks — sensible risks, smart risks, but risks for our future’s sake,” Barney Swan explains.
So the Swans took a professional risk and established the ClimateForce, a 7-year CO2 reduction challenge, which aims to mobilize the reduction of 360 million tons of CO2 by 2025. ClimateForce provides access to solutions that reduce CO2 for individuals and organizations through energy usage and carbon dioxide emissions, as many of us do not how to balance out or reduce the degree of impact that our carbon-creating actions cause.
Part of the ClimateForce framework is to integrate small solutions — everyday changes — into one’s lifestyle.
- Advocating with the utility for green energy, putting solar on roof
- Reduce, reuse, recycle through the power of the consumer
- Heating and insulation
- Carbon counting, with a net positive goal for personal lifestyle
- Meatless Mondays, diet focus, source local, health and fitness
Restoring is a necessary component of climate change action, and ClimateForce promotes big solutions for large scale impacts.
- Filtering carbon dioxide out of the air
- Reforestation, conservation
- Kelp/algae farms
- Sustainable data centers
- Ocean clean up of plastics and dead spots
Connecting people to the environment is also an important facet of ClimateForce’s initiative. Trips to the Arctic in 2019 as well as Iceland to the ClimeWorks and Data Center; Australia and the Pacific for an ocean clean up project; and, Kilimanjaro for tree planting are in the planning stages to give people the chance to discover their innate climate change strengths through adventure and tangible associations.
Next? Seeing Firsthand Effects of Global Warming at the North Pole
To make a larger scale impact, Barney Swan is currently working with Climeworks, a company that is working to filter carbon dioxide out of the air and store it in Iceland’s vast basalt deposits. On an individual level, Swan said he believes small steps — like a reduced meat intake and a conscious effort to recycle — can make a difference. “I love meat, but the sad reality is that that indulgent moment of feeling your taste buds explode, every time you do that, that is at the cost of our planet,” Swan offers. “We need to have a connection to things or we’re not going to bother protecting it. That’s the sad reality.”
Barney and Robert Swan are looking ahead to lead an expedition team to the Arctic so they can witness the effects of global warming around the North Pole. Having authentic, firsthand experience is vital for those who want to support a cause and encourage others to join them.
“I think people like an authentic story, they like people who try and disrupt, and not just doing what is happening right now,. They’re doing something that is really different,” Barney Swan argues.
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