TED Talks: The Last Pristine Continent…a talk by Robert Swan

The Last Pristine Continent

2041 will be a pivotal year for our planet. That year will mark the end of a 50-year agreement to keep Antarctica, the Earth’s last pristine continent, free of exploitation. Explorer Robert Swan — the first person to walk both the North and South Poles — is on a mission to ensure that we extend that treaty. With passion and vigor, he pleads with us to choose the preservation of the Antarctic for our own survival.

Let’s go south. All of you are actually going south. This is the direction of south, this way, and if you go 8,000 kilometers out of the back of this room, you will come to as far south as you can go anywhere on Earth, the Pole itself.

Now, I am not an explorer. I’m not an environmentalist. I’m actually just a survivor, and these photographs that I’m showing you here are dangerous. They are the ice melt of the South and North Poles. And ladies and gentlemen, we need to listen to what these places are telling us, and if we don’t, we will end up with our own survival situation here on planet Earth.

I have faced head-on these places, and to walk across a melting ocean of ice is without doubt the most frightening thing that’s ever happened to me.

Antarctica is such a hopeful place. It is protected by the Antarctic Treaty, signed in 1959. In 1991, a 50-year agreement was entered into that stops any exploitation in Antarctica, and this agreement could be altered, changed, modified, or even abandoned starting in the year 2041. Ladies and gentlemen, people already far up north from here in the Arctic are already taking advantage of this ice melt, taking out resources from areas already that have been covered in ice for the last 10, 20, 30,000, 100,000 years. Can they not join the dots and think, “Why is the ice actually melting?”

This is such an amazing place, the Antarctic, and I have worked hard for the last 23 years on this mission to make sure that what’s happening up here in the North does never happen, cannot happen in the South.

Where did this all begin? It began for me at the age of 11. Check out that haircut. It’s a bit odd. (Laughter) And at the age of 11, I was inspired by the real explorers to want to try to be the first to walk to both Poles. I found it incredibly inspiring that the idea of becoming a polar traveler went down pretty well with girls at parties when I was at university. That was a bit more inspiring. And after years, seven years of fundraising, seven years of being told no, seven years of being told by my family to seek counseling and psychiatric help, eventually three of us found ourselves marching to the South Geographic Pole on the longest unassisted march ever made anywhere on Earth in history. In this photograph, we are standing in an area the size of the United States of America, and we’re on our own. We have no radio communications, no backup. Beneath our feet, 90 percent of all the world’s ice, 70 percent of all the world’s fresh water. We’re standing on it. This is the power of Antarctica.

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