The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it.
By Robert Swan
This is a quote that gets used very often in the sustainability community, especially in reference to climate change. While many correctly credit this quote to Robert Swan, less know of his history.
In this article:
- Who Is Robert Swan?
- Robert Swans Motivation to Protect the Poles
- How Robert Swan Fights Climate Change
- How You Can Fight Climate Change
- How to Learn More About Robert Swan
Who Is Robert Swan?
Robert Swan is most famously known as the first person to have walked to both the north and south pole. Swan started his journey to each pole from the very edges of the surrounding ice sheets and walked a combined sixteen hundred miles. Temperatures were so cold Swan noted you had to be careful not to take an uncovered breath or your teeth could shatter.
But what Robert Swan is also famous for is his mission to protect the poles from melting due to human-induced climate change, as well as from future fossil fuel exploration and extraction.
In 2041, a treaty will expire that protects Antarctica from being developed. While it’s possible the treaty will be extended, it may not be, opening up Antarctica, “the last wilderness left on the planet”, as Swan refers to it, to destruction.
For both of these reasons, avoiding melting and avoiding the destructive extraction of fossil fuels, Swan has become an advocate for the environment.
What Is the climate crisis?
Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions from human activities are causing the planet to heat up. The impact of this is beyond global warming. As the earth heats, all sorts of other direct and indirect impacts will take place.
The effects of climate change include, heat waves, increased spread of infectious diseases, increased sea levels, food security issues and changing food production patterns, habitat loss, ocean acidification, dead zones, and many, many others.
As the world’s population continues to increase, the changing climate will be a major treat to future generations. The increase in human population is also expected to worsen the situation, since there will be more people.
Not only will there be more people, but the average impact of each person may increase. Certain parts of the world have yet to industrialize. These parts of the world must make the transition to an industrialized nation in a way that skips the high polluting mistakes as the rest of the world.
Robert Swans Motivation to Protect the Poles
Swan’s desire to protect the planet isn’t just a feel-good sort of thing where he thinks saving the environment is a good thing. He’s actually lived through the dangers of climate change while in the north pole.
During his time at the poles, there was a huge hole in Earth’s ozone layer, which exposed Swan directly to the suns harmful rays. Swan claims this caused the colors of his eyes to change color.
However, this is not even the part of the story that convinced Swan to act on climate change.
One day, while exploring the north pole, the ice began to melt from under him and his team a full four months before it normally does. He suddenly realized he was just in danger and that there was a major problem.
If he didn’t do something soon to stop the poles from melting not only would this beautiful place be gone forever, but all of society would be at risk as well from sea level rise.
How Robert Swan Fights Climate Change
By 2041, the year the treaty expires, earth’s temperature is expected to rise by 5 degrees celsius and sea level to rise by half a meter if nothing is done to slow the current rate of fossil fuel consumption.
What happens when the sea level rises by half a meter?
According to Swan’s book “Antarctica 2041 My Quest to Save the Earth’s Last Wilderness” one tenth of human shoreline would no longer be habitable and certain cities would be partially or completely underwater.
There are already an estimated 800 million people that are at risk from sea level rising by half a meter and this number is only increasing as more and more people are living on the planet and in coastal cities.
With all of this in mind, Swan has journeyed all around the world sharing his stories and spreading his message. He has engaged with hundreds of schools around the world in order to teach today’s youth about living a more sustainable life style.
Going back to the quote, “The Greatest Threat to Our Planet is the Belief Someone Else Will Save It”, we can see Swan not only lives by this quote but has made his life’s work to get others to do the same.
Even though Swan faced a major injury on two consecutive expeditions, he committed to one final trip to the South Pole to show the world what you can accomplish through perseverance. In January 2023, he made it to the South Pole along side his son.
How You Can Fight Climate Change
Swan believes the single greatest threat to our planet is inaction. This is also true for the impacts climate change will have on our lives, well-being, and societies.
With climate change being much a major threat, here are some things you can do to prevent it:
Lower Your Carbon Footprint
Each action you take has an impact on the planet in terms of creating greenhouse gas emissions. Your carbon footprint is the sum of all those different actions. Lowering your carbon footprint is a major step in fighting global climate change.
Use Less Energy
We all use energy each day in our homes and lives to do various things. Energy consumption is one of the top contributors to greenhouse gas generation. Using energy efficient technology is a great way to lower energy use.
I also recommend you learn which options are the most sustainable for you. For example, is it better for you to use an electric kettle or gas stove kettle? What about a dishwasher or hand washing?
Still, the best recommendation here may simply be to use less. Research shows that our happiness increases as we use more energy, but only up to the point where our basic needs are met.
After that, more energy use does little to improve overall well-being. In fact, non-energy consuming activities like socializing, exercise, or going for a walk are far more influential on improving well-being.
Use Renewable Energy
Swans ambitious goal to preserve Antarctica against the effects of climate change can only be met through sustainable development.
This means countries such as the United States will need to greatly increase their use of renewable energy in order to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases. Further, developing parts of the world such as Central Asia will play an important role as well.
Switching to renewable energy would also have benefits ranging from lowering our use of natural resources, decreasing air pollution and improving improve air quality, energy security, create jobs, and improve human health.
Some great renewable energy sources include solar, wind, and geothermal. You can learn more about switching to renewable energy sources here.
Eating Less Meat
Meat and other animal food sources are thought of as having a high carbon footprint. This is only true if you are eating conventional animal products compared to pasture raised. Pasture raised meat may also have a lower impact on water supplies since much of the water used in growing feed is eliminated.
I’ll leave you with this final thought about Robert Swan and his famous quote. Before Swan went on his journey to the poles, he made a promise to the famous Jacusto to make sure he left no waste behind in the polls.
This was especially difficult not only because Swan had to haul his waste with him, but also because his ship home sunk, leaving debris all over the ocean.
He went back and made sure it was all cleaned up and recycled. He even made sure to recycle tons of material left behind by people before him.
In addition, he journeyed back to the south pole on a trip where he only used renewable, cleaner energy sources. He even lives in Antarctica in a home powered by solar for an entire month of the year.
If Swan was able to recycle his waste and live on only renewables in one of the harshest place on the planet, we should be able to as well or at least much more of us should.
How to Learn More About Robert Swan
If you’d like to learn more about Robert Swan and his mission, check out his book below. He’s done some truly great work and there are many great stories and lessons within his book. I highly recommend reading it, even if your not interested in sustainability.
You can also check out a podcast episode of voice recordings of his latest and final journey to the South Pole. The episode is about 35 minuets long and worth every second on listening.
The voice you are hearing is from both Swan and his son. The recordings are a voice log recap of their days in Antarctica. If you are curious of what it’s like to spend time in the coldest place on Earth, this will definitely give you a good idea.
On this journey, they used solar panels to assist them in their energy needs. Again, if they can make solar energy work in the most brutal conditions on the planet, then we all can too.