The South Pole Energy Challenge 2017

When Robert Swan arrived at the South Pole after months dragging a 350-pound sled up glaciers and over crevasses, he’d grown a frost-rimmed beard and lost fifty pounds. But photos of the exhausted explorer standing beneath the iconic flags show that strangely, his eyes had also changed—their normal blue burned into a pale grey.

Several months later, NASA scientists discovered Robert had been walking under a hole in the ozone layer above Antarctica. Since then, research has shown rising temperatures will lead to permanent and catastrophic global changes. Despite the urgent need to reduce anthropogenic warming, business has continued as usual; 2015 was the hottest year on record. So after working for thirty years to protect the environment that shaped him, at the age of 59, Robert Swan is leading one last expedition. “I hated every minute of walking to both poles,” Robert says, “but if we, our species is to survive, we have to do something, I have to do more.”

In December of 2017, he will spend 60 days man-hauling with a team of 4 including himself and his son Barney, from the edge of the Antarctic to the South Pole. The trip, unlike any Antarctic adventures before them, will rely solely on renewable energy to survive during the journey. “If alternative fuel sources can work in the most inhospitable place on the planet, they can work anywhere," Robert says. NASA is working with the 2041 team to design new technology to keep them alive. Specialized solar panels that can withstand frigid temperatures will melt ice and snow, and in a land where whiteouts can last for days, they will have backup heating sources like jet fuels made from coffee beans, food waste and wood chips.

Since the last time Robert stood at the South Pole, scientific consensus has delivered both ominous tidings and great technological advances. Just as the discovery of petroleum supplanted the whaling industry in time to save whale populations, green energy sources could still keep our planet from overheating. But innovation can’t work in isolation. In a globalized world, it’s anachronistic to think in terms of borders and boundaries. At the South Pole, where every line of longitude converges, we are all connected by what we buy, sell, and consume.

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Antarctic Treaty

In the year 2041, the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty could potentially be modified or amended. Our aim is to work towards the continuing protection of the Antarctic Treaty so that the last great wilderness on earth is never exploited.

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