11 Oct Why did I go to Antarctica?
It was 2009. Facebook hadn’t exploded yet, at least not in India. I asked myself “Why Antarctica?”. I had arrived in London as a student just two months earlier and my first international flight ever was to fly to the UK that year…
So I wasn’t a seasoned traveler nor was I truly an expert on anything at 22 years old. But somehow, Robert Swan, OBE – the UN Goodwill ambassador for the Youth, thought that my small projects, back in India, to raise awareness about climate change and the environment were worth taking me to the remotest continent to learn more. And so I fundraised, booked my tickets and showed up in Ushuaia, Argentina for the International Antarctic Expedition in Nov 2009. The 2041 Foundation had already begun to change my life.
You can’t manage what you can’t measure
On the expedition, I met people who were doing really inspiring things across the world and creating positive impact on the environment in unimaginable ways. Each one of us on the ship calculated our carbon footprint using a calculator provided to us and started discussing ways to reduce individual emissions. There were 45 participants on my ship. I ran numbers to deduce that if each one of us went carbon neutral, that would mean 45*4 = 180 metric tonnes (mt) of CO2 saved from entering the atmosphere annually. But was that a good enough number really? The global average CO2 footprint per person is 4 mt (as used above) but those on the ship were not average people. My fellow participants were mostly American and Europeans whose average emissions towered approx. 20 mt and 10-12 mt respectively. Getting to the Antarctic also caused an additional 5.44 t of CO2 emissions, so each of us had to add that to our buckets as well. What mattered though, was the new-gained knowledge about how much negative impact we were creating.
Every person who has been on the IAE had already worked in some way or another to reduce their footprint before getting there. But the real action starts when you go back. Or at least, as it did in my case. I wasn’t an expert when I went, but I came back to become one.
“Be the change you wish to see…”
I started working on ways to reduce emissions through my own lifestyle choices as well as hinting those to people around me. One of the key arguments I always ended up having with people was about food, having been vegetarian for over 12 years. Food systems contribute to approx. 25% of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, which includes methane, a gas 30 times more potent at heat trapping than carbon dioxide. Becoming a vegetarian or reducetarian is the easiest way to cut emissions on a personal level. If people didn’t buy my emissions argument, I would always state this- One plate of chicken takes up six times more land, water and other resources as compared to one plate of vegetables. Also, the planet grows enough food today to feed each one of the 7 billion people who live on it. Yet, most of that grain is used to feed the poultry, while there are millions of kids starving and dying of hunger. I have had a lot of friends and family whose views and choices changed after they heard these hard facts!
Traveling the world sustainably
In the next 6 years after visiting Antarctica, I had the opportunity to travel and set foot on all seven continents. And every place I have been has only inspired me to do more. I have offset all of my travel-related emissions using non-profits that plant trees across India and worked on multiple projects for local conservation. I have helped set up E-BASE Pench and E-BASE Ladakh using solar-powered energy. I have worked on projects that help track, report and reduce GHG emissions for multinational companies across 5 continents. I have strived every single day of my life and provided my hard-learnt expertise to help reduce the world’s carbon footprint in a myriad of ways, personally and professionally.
The Collective Consciousness of the 2041 family
Would I have known these data and facts if I didn’t go to Antarctica? Probably yes, but would I have advocated for it as strongly for the last 8 years and taken on the projects and initiatives I did? As Robert Swan said to me back on the ship- “Now you have been here. And this is your story. Antarctica is a part of your consciousness. Take this story back to the world and use it to become a driving force.” I did and continue to do so.
And I imagine that out of those 3500 alumni the 2041 Foundation has taken to Antarctica till-date, each of them has come back with a unique story of their own, moved by the beauty of the continent and created their own narrative that helps them and guides them to do what they do every day of their lives.
Would they have become strong champions of the environment if they didn’t go to Antarctica? May be. May be not. But I am sure as glad they all did. Because Antarctica is our story. And it inspires us every moment of our lives.
TEAM INSPIRE. TEAM INSPIRE. TEAM INSPIRE.
Divya Nawale – IAE ’09 Alumni
Communications (Youth) & Marketing Manager, 2041