Delivering the message
Robert Swan is a man on a mission - not the first in his illustrious career as a more than accomplished explorer, but certainly, by his own admission, his most important.
Sir Robert Swan, OBC (Officer of the British Court) is the only man who has walked to both the North Pole and the South Pole, and lived not only to tell the tale, but use these incredible accomplishments to bring attention to his true direction in life: the advocacy of the planet itself.
Over the past week Mr. Swan was on Martha's Vineyard in his high-profile sailing yacht giving lectures at the Old Whaling Church and the Chilmark Community Center, talking with individuals about becoming involved in the planetary struggle for survival on an individual basis.
He is a very engaging speaker both one to one, and in front of an audience with his large display photos of his past polar expeditions as well as his global exposure as an environmental advocate.
In 1992 Mr. Swan was invited to speak at the first World Summit for Sustainable Resources held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He addressed all the world leaders at the time and his message was simple. Through his experience and exposure he had the qualification to call on the leaders to take responsibility for the emissions each country was producing. He challenged them to reduce their output and increase their development of renewable energy resources. His lecture was the first of many to come with more and more evidence that the planet was suffering under the strain of international business as usual.
In the ensuing ten years he bought a very specialized sailboat that had originally been built for polar exploration and redesigned it to suit his own purposes.
He calls his yacht 2041. The significance of 2041 is that it is the year that the International Antarctic Treaty will be up for review. The treaty protects the last untouched wilderness on the planet from any drilling or mining exploration. He also organized and managed an expedition to remove 1,500 tons of scrap, waste and trash from pre-treaty exploitation attempts from the coast of Antarctica. He then dismantled his yacht enough to put it on a huge trailer and toured all throughout Africa taking his accomplishments on the road, so to speak, and introducing people who had never seen a boat or heard of these global considerations to the crisis facing the planet. In 2002 his final stop was the second World Summit in Johannesburg, South Africa, where he addressed the assembly again.
Photo by Danielle Zerbonne
By this time there was much more awareness to the global situation and his message was even clearer. It was not an issue of whether or not the crisis was caused by humans. Global warming, climate change, whatever you chose to call it, was very real.
The real challenge that faces us all is doing our parts individually and nationally to reduce the reliance on fossil fuels and encourage the development of renewable energy resources.
Following the second summit, 2041 was re-launched with three young Africans aboard. After circumnavigating the African continent, Mr. Swan and his crew sailed across the Pacific to begin a world tour to bring their message to the world.
In 2003 he led an expedition to Antarctica involving 42 people from 18 nations to study firsthand the effects of global warming and discuss real solutions to what has become a crisis that knows no borders. Every year since he has made the same expedition available to leaders of industry, teachers, students, community representatives, and virtually anyone who wants to be sponsored to participate.
The boat made the West Coast tour. The Vineyard stop is the first after her 3,500-mile passage up from the Panama Canal. She will be in Nantucket for the next week before proceeding on her world tour: New York City, Washington D.C., and Miami this year; Great Lakes, the Mississippi River, New Orleans next year before heading to Europe. The boat will visit European ports before stopping in Copenhagen for a summit to discuss CO2 levels in the global atmosphere. Then on to India in 2010, the fifth largest producer of carbon dioxide in the world. Next, Russia, the fourth largest producer. In 2011, the boat will be visiting China, which as of three months ago, surpassed the U.S. in CO2 production to claim the number one position as a producer of carbon dioxide.
Photo courtesy of Robert Swan
Sir Robert's message to Islanders was that he saw the will and the passion here on the Vineyard to demonstrate leadership on a national scale.
"Please engage yourselves," he instructs. "Let's see solar panels on the roofs of these beautiful houses. The challenge will be met on an individual basis, and the leaders will be setting the standard by practice and participation. Everyone needs to engage on a personal level to make a difference. The biggest threat to the planet is the belief that someone else will save it."
If you missed Robert Swan's Voyage For Cleaner Energy appearances on the Island, you can read his message at 2041.com.
Seaver Jones, who cruises on "Crowflight," his 1966 wooden Pacemaker Sunliner, divides his time between wooden boat building on the Vineyard and ranching in Patagonia, Chile. His column Breakwater News appears monthly in The Times.