Poles apart; adventurer to speak on environment

Polar expedition veteran Robert Swan at Beardmore Glacier in Antarctica in 1985.

Robert Swan is the first man to walk to both the South and North Poles. He’s trudged through winds at 50 degrees below zero. He’s scrambled over ice floes breaking apart under his feet. Fearless, you might think. A return trek across Antarctica, even at 59 years old, can’t daunt a pro like that.

Can it?

“I’m bloody terrified to go back there,” Swan said in his English accent. “But once again, you make choices.”

Swan, who’s from Durham in northeast England, will talk about his expeditions and how they led to 2041, an environmental crusade he launched to conserve Antarctica. Presentations will take place Wednesday at the College of Charleston, followed by another talk at Half Moon Outfitters.

The college talk begins at 4 p.m. in the School of Sciences and Mathematics Building Auditorium, 202 Calhoun St. The event is free and open to the public. The talk at the outfitters starts at 6:30 p.m. at the James Island shop, 94 Folly Road. Seating for both is limited.

Swan’s polar expeditions in the 1980s began simply as adventures, but the experiences coalesced into an ardor to preserve what he sees as a priceless vanishing environment, and by extension a threat to inhabited regions.

He talks about faces peeling apart and eyes burning in Antarctica as the trekkers moved under what they didn’t realize was a hole in the protective ozone layer in the atmosphere. He talks about grappling with an Arctic ice cap that was melting four months earlier than it had in recorded history.

“The environment is much more powerful than we are. I’m not a scientist. I’m certainly not some raging bloody ‘greenie.’ But I’m actually very good at surviving. We know climate change is happening. What we don’t know is how much we’re causing it,” he said.

“All these issues we face are about our survival. They aren’t somebody else’s problem. We can make choices. We can do things to survive.” One of them is moving to renewable fuels. Among other objectives of the return trek to the South Pole he plans to walk with his son in 2016 is an attempt to survive only on renewable energy such as solar power even to melt ice for drinking water, he said.

“The way to save Antarctica is business-like, because business is why we go there. It’s time to draw a line in the snow, a line in the sand. If we are still chasing down fossil fuels in 26 years we’ve lost it. The economic reasons to go on with it won’t add up,” he said.

One lesson learned from his expeditions, he said, “Things go wrong. There’s no use sitting there crying about it. The only way through a survival situation is to stay positive. You come away with a sense you can make a difference.”

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