This article originally appeared on VICE ASIA.
Plunging naked into the zero-degree Arctic ocean was not on my itinerary when I accepted polar explorer Robert Swan's invitation. But there I was, experiencing what can only be described as an icy heart attack, gasping for breath, muscles contorting in agony, while simultaneously feeling reborn, liberated, and cleansed. Imagine baptism, on crack.
If you're thinking this Robert Swan dude sounds like one crazy mofo, you'd be right.
Last April, my business partner and I received a call from the 2041 foundation. For the last three decades, it has been on a mission to reach the world with a clear message about the importance of international collaboration to sustainability. Where does Robert come into the equation? He's the first man in history to walk to both the North and South Pole unsupported, and an environmentalist. He's also the founder of the 2041 foundation and leader of the 2041 ClimateForce Arctic Adventure trip.
And when Robert calls you with the opportunity of a lifetime to join him in the Arctic, you don't say no.
A few months later, I boarded the National Geographic Explorer ship with Robert and 80 other green heroes from over 40 countries – all of us on a mission to witness first-hand the impact of the climate crisis on the Arctic. As a social entrepreneur and co-founder of Green Is The New Black (a media platform empowering individuals and businesses to take #LittleGreenSteps daily to protect the planet and its communities), I thought I had it all figured out. After all, I talk about this issue all day, I live consciously, and I hope to empower others to do the same.
But recently I'd noticed a sliver of apathy starting to wheedle its way into my psyche. Could all of these little things I was personally doing really make that much of a difference? Is it too late to save our planet? What is the point of even trying? Isn't it the duty of governments and global organisations to make change happen?
It turns out I didn't have my shit together as much as I thought, and there was a lot to learn.
The Arctic is an overwhelming place, and its sheer scale juxtaposed with its fragility was awe-inspiring. I visited in June when the sun never sets, days roll into one, and at every turn lies another majestic sight. We watched polar bears, reindeer, walruses, seals, and whales in their natural habitats. We witnessed vast landscapes of unspoilt natural beauty. We kayaked among the icebergs and respectfully trekked across fauna and flora on land.
The Arctic is magical. But it is in danger.
Our trip was unseasonably, and worryingly, warm. We were told to expect an average temperature of -10 to 0 degrees. Instead, we got 0 to +8 degrees. An 18-degree difference.
We also discovered that a mere 30 years ago, it was possible to walk across the North Pole. Now it's impossible; the ice has melted. And that ice melting has had a devastating knock-on effect globally. Sea levels are rising, climate disasters and more extreme weather patterns are the norm, not the exception. I knew that our actions were destroying one of the most beautiful places on earth, but to see it with my own eyes hit harder than the icy cold burn of my arctic plunge.
The good news is there are loads of incredible people out there trying to make a difference through education, activism, spreading the message, and making small changes to their lives every single day. Not just the likes of Robert Swan, but regular people from all walks of life, like me, like you.
So what did I learn? Thanks to this trip, it became more apparent than ever that our #LittleGreenSteps approach is the right one, and it does make a difference. The UN agrees. It recently launched its Anatomy of Action report, with the research and scientific data proving that small individual actions lead to systemic changes.
When it comes to sustainability, it's easy for individuals and organisations to believe they need to be perfect, see it as a failure when they are not, which then becomes a barrier to action. This is nonsense! Everyone can start with making small sustainable changes in their own lives which collectively can change the world.
See the rest of the photos from the trip below:
This story was written in partnership with Green Is The New Black.
The Green Is The New Black documentary The Naked Arctic Adventure premieres on Friday, Nov 1. Or if you fancy visiting Antarctica, the 2041 foundation is accepting applications for its Nov 2020 expedition now.