The Royal Scottish Geographical Society (RSGS) host a series of talks through the winter, and the two that I have managed to attend this year have been both totally inspiring and a little overwhelming. Inspiring in the challenges that they undertook, but overwhelming for the same reason. They were both focused around the idea of doing something ‘big’ to raise awareness for environmental issues, although neither of the speakers really started off with that focus. They got me thinking about how far I would go for the cause?
The first I attended was called “Swimming on top of the World”. Having spent 7 summers on the Arctic island of Svaalbard, Lewis Pugh observed first-hand the devastating effects of global climate change on ice cover and decided that he needed to do something about it.
As a swimmer, Lewis decided that he would swim in vulnerable ecosystems to raise global awareness for his plight. He wanted world leaders to sit up and take notice of the devastating effects of global climate change. So, where better to start that the North Pole, which as a rule should be frozen over? In a literal sense, he went to the limit - geographically, physically and mentally in order to raise awareness for a cause that he believed in. The water temperature was a staggering -1.7°C and Lewis swam 1km in just under 20 minutes, earning himself the nickname “The Human Polar Bear”, which is also in reference to his ability to increase his body temperature before he undertakes these swims. The water was so cold that the cells in his fingers froze, causing his hands to swell so that he couldn’t move them, and it took 4 months to regain full feeling in them.
Lewis pushed his body and mind to the end and beyond comfort zones, so why are the rest of us sitting comfortably watching our world suffer beyond belief? Personally I think that it’s because the problem of global climate and environmental change feels so big and beyond our control that we can’t possibly do anything to change it. And if I think about the problem for too long I can feel pretty pessimistic about the whole thing. But Lewis gave me hope for the first time in a long while. Global leaders listen to him, he’s got power! But should we have to put ourselves through the ultimate challenge in order to make politicians sit up and listen? Why don’t they see it as a big enough problem already? The video was made to raise awareness of this and I highly recommend watching the other videos available on TED, even if only to catch a glimpse of the power of Lewis’ story-telling.