Sir Robert Swan

Last week I went to hear Sir Robert Swan speak for the Resources for the Future lecture series. He was the 1st man to walk to both the South Pole (900 miles) AND the North Pole (700 miles). Due to global warming and the melting polar ice sheet up north, he may be only person ever to be able to accomplish this feat. (Click here for video) On the way to the South Pole, they had food for 80 days pulled on sledges. They had to cross 6000 crevasses, averaged 12 miles per day, and only had a sextant and a watch to guide them. On days that they didn’t move at least a mile south, they didn’t eat (he lost 67 lbs). The average temperature was negative 65 degrees farenheit. They made it in 70 days. The ozone hole was discovered during the same time they were traversing the continent, and thus they were not prepared for their faces blistering and eye colors changing permanently. “We hadn’t read in Scott’s diary (first man to walk to the South Pole), ‘chaps face fell off today, all blind, rather tricky’–it wasn’t something we were expecting,” he joked. He asked how many people knew that the ozone hole was patching itself up nicely nowadays, and I was one of only 3 people in the room of 150 audience members who was aware of that fact (thank you, Jim Williams’ Quant class). Next year he plans to reverse the trip, starting at the South Pole and heading north to Cape Evans. He hopes to do it using only renewable energies (no coal or gas this time!), and they plan to harness the wind (imagine parachute/kites pulling them on skies), to complete the trek in only 45 days!

Sir Swan was super, super inspiring. As someone who has recently begun to explore the nexusbetween storytelling/inspiration/performance and intellectual/environmental/lecture-based presentation, his lecture was just what I needed to see how it can be done well.

He goes to Antarctica every February with a group of determined, passionate people; to share the awe of the place, so they can take back their stories and inspire others to care about Antarctica too. (Pick me! Pick me! I have always wanted to go to Antarctica, and am seriously scheming about this.)

Other notes from the lecture:

I try to live by, “If you can do or dream you can, begin it now. For boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.

I keep hearing “save the planet!”. The planet will look after itself, it’s our involvement in it that may suffer. However, “the greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it”

4 things I have learned:

  • 1) I hate walking
  • 2) negative 89 degrees Farenheit is cold. I don’t like sweat ice in my underpants.
  • 3)no insurance agency dares insure my life
  • 4) there are so many negative people. We MUST be positive because no one is inspired by negativity.
  • You never forget starving, I hope you never have, but it makes you grateful not to starve.
  • People ask me “Why did you do it?” I remembered my dreams. Don’t lose yours!
  • Leadership is delivery agains the odds, with minimum resources. If you make a committment, follow through.
  • Inspire others by showing it, living it, don’t just send an email. Get out there and DO it! Leadership is about response to challenge. But it’s also about being RELEVANT, not just honorable and good. STAY RELEVANT.
  • On a team, choose different and strong people. Tell eachother the truth. Laugh. On the way, look for champions (people who will support you!)
  • Sometimes leadership is supporting people to do their jobs.
  • He was in debt $1.2 million at age 28 (the boat he borrowed to get to Antarctica sunk), and it took him 10 yrs to pay off (there’s hope for me yet!). Later, with $12 million and 8 yrs, he was able to remove 1500 tons of Soviet scrap metal from Antarctica and recycle it in Uruguay.
  • We are overloaded with information, we don’t need information. We need inspiration. The best way to be inspiring is to engage people rather than talking at them. He invites young people, globally to join him on his ventures to achieve this. It’s about Sustainable Inspiration, which is not difficult to achieve in a gloomy world, but it is important to revist the inspiration ourselves so we don’t get bogged down as we do our jobs.

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