'All one can listen to in Antarctica is silence'

Apr 19, 2012, 07:38 IST | Ruchika Kher

The first person to walk to the North and South Poles, Sir Robert Swan who is regarded as one of the world's most intrepid explorers and environmentalists, will be in India to spread the message of recycling and environmental sustainability

As part of Project SEARCH (Sensitisation, Education and Awareness on Recycling for a Cleaner Habitat), a Tetra Pak and TERI joint initiative, Sir Robert Swan will be visiting India shortly, to encourage school students for their active contribution towards environment sustainability. The 55-year-old shared his beliefs, goals, love for Antarctica and most importantly, his India visit in an email interview with The GUIDE. Excerpts from the interview.

You are coming to India to create awareness among children about environmental issues. How important is this in today’s world?
It is very important that we work with young people for they are the ones who would be the future decision makers. There are 315 million young people between 10 and 24 years in India, representing 30 per cent of the country’s population. Unless we empower the young population to make informed choices, we cannot achieve sustainable development because sustainability is not just about environmental protection it means the wholesome development of a society by judiciously using available resources.

How best do you plan to utilise your trip to India?
I will be talking to a lot of students and teachers, and would share with them all that I have learnt and experienced in my life. India is a country with a lot of energy and I want to contribute to the sustainable growth of this fascinating nation.

You have walked to both North and South Poles. What had inspired you to conquer these two summits and what was going through your mind then?
I had a childhood dream of emulating Sir Robert Falcon Scott’s 1912 journey to the South Pole. I watched a film when I was 11 on Antarctica and from that day onwards, I wanted to be there! I dreamt of being the first person to walk to the North and South poles. And I did it! Everyone warned me that it was not possible but I decided to go ahead with it. I believed in myself. It was not so much about conquering but about reaching a goal that I set for myself.

How and when did you get interested in Project Antarctica?
The only word that comes to my mind when I think of Antarctica is ‘Inspiring’. All one can listen to in Antarctica is silence, that continues to teach me something each time I go there.

What is the purpose of 2041 and how are you planning to create awareness about it?
The 2041 team led the first corporate expedition to Antarctica in 2003, during which 42 people from 18 nations joined us on our ‘Leadership on the Edge’ programme. Since then, over 700 corporate leaders, educators, students and entrepreneurs have experienced Antarctica with the 2041 team. The main idea behind this is to engage with climate change and global warming and to my mind; Antarctica is the perfect backdrop for this. 2041 is not just about taking people on an expedition to Antarctica but creating a network of leaders, who would take on the sustainability challenge and initiate pioneering work in their countries.

What are the future projects that you will be working on?
This is a historic visit to India. My association with Project SEARCH is very special as it deals with the issue of education that is very close to my heart. Together, we are going to create a huge movement to encourage students and teachers to take up recycling as an important step towards sustainable living. I am also going to be part of an initiative called Cycle for Recycle where we will bicycle around cities in India, encouraging people to recycle, actively. I would also take two outstanding teachers from Project SEARCH schools with me to Antarctica next year in March.

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