Day 2: Passage to Antarctica

March 7, 2017:

The ship’s crew claim to have never seen a day like this.  We are here in the middle of the treacherous Drake Passage, sailing smoothly in tranquil waters.  In the entire world, this passage is one of the ultimate tests for a ship’s captain, but on this day, we are enjoying ourselves as we continue on our way to the Antarctic peninsula.  One of the seasoned voyagers on our ship swore that in his over 35 times across the passage, he had not once experienced conditions like this.  As a result of the favorable weather, we are actually predicted to make our first landing by early morning tomorrow.  I don’t have a comparison point to benchmark against, but I suppose the return journey may show us a different experience.  But for now, these navigable conditions are turning the crew’s notions of the Drake Passage upside down…

On board during the day, we are attending lectures by the ship’s scientists and experts, covering topics spanning wildlife, glaciology, and geology.  It’s a helpful introduction as we start to peel back the wonder of a place like Antarctica, which really doesn’t have  analogues anywhere else in the world because nothing is extreme enough.

Numerous times during the day, I enjoy going up to the bridge and staring out into the vast expanse all around us.  For a full 360-degrees, there is nothing but ocean all around.  Typically, in any place on land, the horizon is ultimately interrupted by something — a building, a tree, or a rock formation — but out here, the horizon is so unadulterated that the curvature of the Earth is visible.

Over the course of the day, we have become experts at spotting wildlife — especially whales.  The telltale signs for whales are looking for the puff of mist that occurs when they come up for air.  There is a particular frenzy and fervor around the ship that occurs when people hear that whales have been spotted.  Today, the first whales were sighted in the afternoon and the news spread like wildfire as people clambered to the sides of the ship to catch a view.  I got a few quick glimpses of a fin whale.

IAE-2017-Slideshow (39 of 238)
Picturesque sunrise on the ocean.

The main highlight of today was an opportunity to sit down with Sir Robert Swan, the founder of 2041 and leader of our International Antarctic Expedition.  Robert is the first person in history to walk to both the North and South poles.  After his expeditions, he has devoted his life to saving Antarctica from climate change and human activities.  The name “2041” is a reference to the year in which the Antarctic Treaty expires and the continent could be opened for drilling and other commercial, environmentally harmful activities.  Robert’s goal is to raise awareness and inspire people to take the necessary steps to get involved and save Antarctica.

As I had mentioned in my first post, I have come to Antarctica with more questions than answers, especially as they pertain to climate change solutions.  I know we have a problem, but now what?  I was hoping Robert would point me in the right direction. He did.

“We need to invest in things that are inevitable, but better.”

Robert believes in a pragmatic approach to global warming:

  • New technologies need to be considered.  The way people consume can only change moderately and not fast enough.  Instead, solutions such as carbon recapture (harnessing carbon during production processes or directly from the ambient air) and storage would be the only ways to actually reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere.
  • Changing the energy mix.  A rapid shift needs to be made to renewable energies across the world, away from the reliance on fossil fuels for energy creation.  However, we need to be aware of the carbon-creating activities that go into building new infrastructure (i.e. Tesla’s new Gigafactory will require heavy equipment and energy to build).
  • He understands that capital runs the world, and that wealth and power offer clout. His strategy for the International Antarctic Expedition is to educate and expose promising leaders to Antarctica.  In many ways he is investing in people he believes could become influential allies in the future.
  • Develop a consciousness in fast-growing economies. A convincing point was how the explosion of growth and wealth manifests in the developing Asian countries is what will swing the scales of climate change.  India and China have joined the West as being part of the climate problem.  While it is very reasonable for the rising middle class of India to demand the luxuries that the West has enjoyed over decades, the continuing economic growth for India’s ~1.4 billion population will have a far graver environmental impact than even the US, which has a population nearly 5 times smaller. To put this into perspective, India’s current population is just 400 million people less than the world population when Robert’s mother was born, 101 years ago.  So what is required is a growth in consumer conscience in India and China, to mirror the growth in consumption — demanding and developing products that continue to push the limits of efficiency.

Conceptually, it makes sense, but I feel that I’m still unclear on the actions that can begin to be taken to effect change on a macro level.  I’m hoping to get some clarity on this over the coming days.

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3 thoughts on “Day 2: Passage to Antarctica

  1. Good start to framing the issues. Perhaps we need to explore the self-sustaining eco-systems for buildings and infrastructure that Japanese have been pondering due to the incredible space limitations they face and dearth of energy sources they have. With the Fukushima disaster, nuclear power – a somewhat cleaner source is starting to play second fiddle. Based on current projections however, it is hard to see the energy mix changing fast enough as well – which brings to your last point as to how do we create cheap and small footprint implementable solutions in China and India to prevent from large environmental impact as the world works to improve the standards of living – more to ponder during your reflective moments…

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  2. Reminds me of the movie “Avatar” in which a scientist wanted to study the synaptic behaviour of that place while the military and the business group were after acquiring the precious metal deep embedded in the soil.
    Fabulous pictures…what a calm and peaceful environment….probably thats how earth may have been before it was infested with human population.

    Sorry that i am posting the responses to daily blog after so long.

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