Last night, I met a guy who's been to the North Pole (multiple times), the South Pole (multiple times) and the top of Everest. I admit - I was a little skeptical when I went to his talk. I've come across a lot of other people who take on these big adventures just for the thrill or as a way to prove themselves, how hardcore they are. Climbing Everest, especially, seems like a big ego boost - and a selfish one at that, given the deaths in this year's avalanche.
But the guy who spoke last night - Eric Larsen - was a very thoughtful and smart fellow, who's spent 15 years exploring cold places. Part of what Larsen wants to do with his expeditions is raise awareness about the effects climate change are having on some of the most remote, most harsh environments on the planet, environments he hopes to document and preserve even though most people will likely never set foot there. As Larsen put it, he's doing these things not (in the words of British climber George Mallory) because they're there, but because they may not be there in the future.
Case in point, his most recent expedition. Earlier this year, he and another guy, Ryan Waters, made another trip to the North Pole - skiing, snowshoeing and - because the route involved traversing open water - swimming (in a dry suit). The whole thing was unsupported (no outside assistance or supplies), so the two of them pulled 350 pounds of their own food and equipment on lightweight sleds.
Larsen dubbed this expedition "Last North" because he expects it will be one of the last times that anyone will be able to make this journey, which starts on land (Northern Ellesmere Island in Canada) and goes to the geographic North Pole. Climate change and a shrinking, unstable Arctic ice pack will make future journeys like this next to impossible.
I like what Larsen is trying to accomplish and I like what he had to say about what people can do at home to mitigate the effects of climate change. Turn off the lights. Ride your bike. But it's nothing we haven't heard before and I get the feeling, based on the crowd that was at his talk last night, that he's kind of preaching to the choir. Most of the people who watch his movies or follow his expeditions are already doing these things and are already aware of the problems that climate change poses.
He's clearly got the knowledge and the experience and the smarts to be able to talk to more than a crowd of adventurers and grassroots environmentalists. So the next step should be to reach out to people who can effect real change, like, say, the Canadian government. Which, it's recently been reported, has been trying to prevent federal scientists from sharing the extent of Arctic ice loss with the public.
That seems to me to be a richer target for his campaign to save these polar places. Larsen's latest expedition began and ended in Canada and he's seen first-hand what climate change is doing to the landscapes and wildlife of our northern neighbor. He might get a frosty reception (ha) but he's been to colder places and - if he really wants to preserve them, working with the people who can effect real change will be both important and necessary.