Robert Swan’s life reads like a boy’s own adventure tale with a modern eco-twist.
Inspired by the daring age of Antarctic exploration, Swan followed in the footsteps of his heroes; the men who risked, and lost, their lives to reach the South Pole. At the age of 29 he embarked on an expedition to the South Pole that was unsupported — a trek that required him to pull his own sleigh and that lacked medical support crews. By the time he was 33 he had become the first man to walk to both the North and South poles unsupported. But for Swan, the epic journeys to the Poles, and the sailing and overland adventures that have followed, unearthed more than just a spirit for adventure. He experienced firsthand the impact of humanity on the environment when under the hole in the ozone layer at the South Pole, the harsh ultraviolet rays from the sun burned his skin and permanently changed the color of his eyes. It firmed a desire to preserve the fragile natural world and to educate and inspire others, particularly the next generation of decision-makers to do the same. “As the last unspoiled wilderness on Earth, Antarctica is currently protected by the treaty prohibiting drilling and mining until 2041. Decisions made by today’s youth will impact our entire planet’s ecosystem and the future of life on earth,” he says on 2041.com.
2041 Web site
Icy alarm in Hokkaido
His polar icewalks gained international attention and in 1992 he was asked to speak at the UN Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, later gaining an OBE and being appointed Special Envoy to the Director General of UNESCO in recognition of his work. At the Earth Summit in Rio he committed to a “global mission” to remove 1,500 tons of waste from Antarctica. Swan and a team of young people from across the world were successful in cleaning up the Russian Antarctic base of Bellinghausen by 2000, making it inhabitable for wildlife again. Foresight, planning and determination then are not alien to a man who spent five years sourcing the funding for his first Antarctic expedition, and Swan’s latest project is taking an even longer-term view. Swan founded his organization “2041” in 2003 in order to further his mission of action and education. Named after the year in which Antarctica’s protection against mineral exploitation ends, Swan regularly takes business people, teachers and students on expeditions to Antarctica to impress on those with the capacity to enact change that preservation of the environment is essential and achievable.
Continuing the green mission on the continent by minimizing the human footprint in the region, his international teams have helped design and build the world’s first education station in Antarctica that is run solely on renewable energy. Add to the expeditions, ocean voyages on a boat with sails made from recycled plastic bottles, and it’s clear that the veteran polar explorer is a man who is doing all he can to protect and preserve the Antarctic.