“Antarctica left a restless longing in my heart beckoning towards an incomprehensible perfection, forever beyond the reach of mortal man. Its overwhelming beauty touches one so deeply that it is like a wound.” – Edwin Mickleburgh, Beyond the Frozen Sea
In one week, I leave Australia to do something I’ve been waiting my whole life to do: see Antarctica.
A few months ago, I received the best job offer in the world: to be a paid lecturer on a cruise ship taking 100 guests on a two-and a half week boat journey to the sub-Antarctic islands, to Mawson’s hut, and to Commonwealth Bay.
Of course, I said yes. But it’s only now, a week before I leave, that I’ve been able to bring myself to write about it online. I keep pinching myself. Because only now does it seem like this fairytale of a pure white Christmas and New Year’s Eve is actually real.
You know those places, and people, that call to you in a way that you and those around you will never understand? That’s how I have felt about Antarctica. Since forever.
Ever since I was a child I’ve dreamt about the endless expanse of white – shades upon shades of sea ice, pack ice, land ice, shimmering and sparkling and teeming with wildlife. I’ve devoured books and stories of those who’ve been blessed enough to go there – from the heroic age of Scott and Shackleton and Mawson to today’s climate scientists determined to unlock the secrets in the ice that will determine humanity’s future.
I have a lot to do before I leave: borrow heavy duty gear from friends, pack, and finish preparing the lectures I will give to 100 guests from around the world. There is so much to do and endless amounts to learn, because Antarctica is perhaps the most important place on Earth when it comes to climate change.
We hear a lot in the news about the Arctic; the dramatic changes altering our northernmost pole. Antarctica’s changes are in some places less clear-cut; harder to explain. But with the potential of 70 metres of sea level rise trapped in the great East Antarctic ice sheet, Antarctica’s changes will determine the future for all of us.
Apart from a hardy flock of scientists ensconced in weatherproof bases, it’s not a place humans have a history of observing. It does its best to reject our attempts to measure it and understand it. Standing on the south pole and surrounding ice is, in my view, the rarest privilege left on Earth.
This journey is exactly the ending I needed to finish this year of extremes.
In just one year, I finished my book manuscript (in February), got it published (in April), co-starred in a documentary that aired on ABC (in April), went on a book tour around regional NSW, Victoria, Tasmania and Queensland (from April – August), attended the UN Earth Summit as a journalist in Rio (in June), gave well over 200 speeches to high school students and at community events, drove 9,000 kilometres through the national parks of Queensland, the NT and WA with Simon on our belated honeymoon (in September), moved cities to Canberra and settled into a completely new life there (in October), helped lead a recruitment process for a new National Director for AYCC (Ellen left in November), did a lot of consulting work and got a new job as a lecturer at ANU (teaching a course called Leadership & Influence out of the Fenner School of Environment and Society), and supported Simon through his successful preselection as the Senate candidate for the ACT Greens (election campaign is officially under way as of this week).
It’s been a crazy year, full of challenges. I’ve never felt the need to take some time to write and reflect as much as I have in the last few weeks. Antarctica is giving me that gift – the space to reflect on my crazy year, on the state of the latest climate science, and what role I can best play as everything in the world of climate change changes.
Because I feel a shift in the past few weeks. Do you? I feel the mood has changed, with the release of new science around the permafrost melting; with the report showing we’re on track for 4-6 degrees of global average warming; and the report showing that the world’s great ice sheets – Greenland and Antarctica – have lost 4 trillion tonnes of ice in 20 years. And our domestic political situation is changing, too. The toxic hate towards the carbon price is dissipating, it seems. Tony Abbott is now less popular than our price on pollution! He’s still likely going to be our next Prime Minister, but with Simon’s campaign and some strategic thinking we can stop him getting control of both houses of Parliament and winding back any piece of progress on climate and environment we’ve made in the past few years.
It’s going to be confronting – I spent all of the weekend watching YouTube videos about collapsing ice sheets and fast-melting glaciers and it was incredibly depressing – but I need to do this kind of reflection, at least once a year, to recalibrate my soul and stay in touch with my purpose. Antarctica gives me the opportunity to think about all of it, in the purest and most beautiful place in the world. Free from supermarkets and wars and inflation and trying to find a park in the madness of Christmas shopping. And it gives me the opportunity to share my passion with the 100 guests travelling with me, as together we share an experience that I know is going to be life-changing for all of us.
I promise I’ll try to write about it when I return. See you on the other side.