My job is to organize and guide polar expeditions. But my real work is sharing my experiences and my wonder so that other people might care about the world's most remote and frozen places - places that they may never see. I've been reflecting on this more than usual this week as world leaders gather in Scotland for COP 26 (the 26th "Conference of Parties") to discuss climate change and how the world will respond.
As a polar guide, the effects of climate change hit close to home. I see the changes first hand and on a regular basis. I feel the loss of sea ice and polar habitat deeply; like a friend getting a bad diagnosis. It hurts, and it's scary. But I also feel the optimism that comes from identifying a role I can play in the solution.
Before I get to that let me say that people's curiosity runs wild when they learn that you've been to the North Pole. They ask a ton of questions: "You've been to the North Pole? How did you get there? What's it like? What did you do there?" This is also true with other locations (Everest, Kilimanjaro, the South Pole, etc.) but it's particularly relevant with the North Pole because the North Pole is so unique - it's unlike any other place on the planet. And the more a person knows about the North Pole the more questions they'll ask. "What do you mean there's no land? Are there animals? Any polar bear? Is the water salty? Can you drink it?"
And here's the opportunity, small as it may seem. To share, with even just one person, why the polar regions are so amazing, and why they are so important. The reality is that most people know very little about the polar regions. By sharing our personal stories and experiences, our enthusiasm and love for these places, we can inspire other people to appreciate their complexities, their intrinsic value, and the critical role they play in our climate.
Take, for instance, the seventh grade class I spoke to by zoom last spring about the North Pole. I shared some facts and figures about the ice, and some NASA satellite images; but their eyes only lit up when I started sharing my own personal stories. What it sounds like when a lead is closing. How frustrating it is to ski 10 miles north but then drift 3 miles south while I sleep. What I love about being there and why this place matters so much. By the end of the zoom they had so many questions their teacher had to cut them off to get to their next class. In sharing my experiences with them their curiosity about the North Pole was turning into caring for the North Pole.
Each of us has huge potential to inspire other people. And the best kind of inspiration (at least according to psychologists) is spontaneous and unprovoked. By simply sharing our stories, we can have a ripple effect, the results of which can be dramatic and immeasurable. Add to that the empowering concept that we each have a role to play in the future of these places, and you very well might set someone's "gears of change" into motion. And right now that's exactly what the world needs.
To understand why the North Pole is so important to life on Earth (and to see Annie talk really fast) watch this 3 minute video challenge.