2071 and climate change: will human ingenuity save the day?

Last night I saw the final performance of 2071 at The Royal Court Theatre in London. This was a presentation by UCL’s professor of climate change, Chris Rapley, who was Executive Director of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme, Director of the British Antarctic Survey and director of the Science Museum. He called the piece 2071 because in 2071 his granddaughter will be the age he is now. He wonders what sort of world she will live in, whether it will be inhabitable at all.
It was a compelling talk basically about how the world’s dependence on fossil fuels has disrupted global carbon cycles, accelerating global warming and potentially threatening the survival of human civilisation – certainly as it is today. Professor Rapley talked about his research in the polar regions and how the ice cap is melting. He recalled holding a piece of millennia-old ice core from Antarctica and as it melted in his hand breathing the air that was millions of years old. As this was a theatre performance, rather than a lecture, I was expecting a bit more drama rather than what was essentially a TED talk against a background of some albeit beautiful computer assisted design and musical score – or an audience Q&A afterwards. 2071 has understandably received mixed reviews. Nonetheless it was food for thought.
Last year I went to Arctic Lapland – to see the Northern Lights – and stayed at the Ice Hotel in Sweden. The nearest airport to the Ice Hotel is Kiruna, Sweden’s northernmost town, 145km within the Arctic Circle. Kiruna is a mining town which is physically being moved – the entire town is being demolished and rebuilt 3km to the east – in order to avoid it being swallowed up by the activities of Sweden’s biggest iron ore mine which have expanded to reach 1km below Kiruna, undermining its foundations. Kiruna was was built in 1900 to support the mine, and its relationship with the mine has been described as symbiotic. In Kiruna man’s activity is literally destroying his habitat. But Kiruna can be relocated. The Ice Hotel is rebuilt every year.
We don’t have the option of moving away from the climate change issue and simply relocating or rebuilding elsewhere. But we can adapt. Professor Rapley’s presentation highlighted how we often don’t realise the need to do so until it is too late. His message is that governments need to stop talking about climate change and work together to find ways of doing something about it. He hopes that human ingenuity will save the day. His granddaughter wants to be an engineer so that she can look for a solution.

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Book review: Cold Feat – an inspirational Arctic adventure

In May 2013, Philip Goodeve-Docker died during a charity expedition to the Arctic when his tent was swept away by a violent snowstorm. Although his companions called for help, the best of modern technology was no match for the forces of nature. It took rescuers 30 hours to reach them, and by that time Philip had frozen to death.

This news story resonated with me because, just a few weeks earlier, I met polar explorer Duncan Eadie who has been on several expeditions to the Arctic. ‘Cold Feat’ is Duncan’s account of his first expedition – to the North Magnetic Pole. Duncan and a team of lawyers led by famous British explorer Pen Hadow braved the Arctic wilderness to trek to the top of the world. This book offers the reader a vivid glimpse of the place Philip described with unnerving prescience as one of the world’s most dazzling, beautiful yet deadly landscapes. It is an exhilarating and inspirational read.

The first few chapters cover Duncan’s determined efforts to join a polar expedition and the months of preparation: a demanding fitness regime where three daily gym sessions were supplemented by dragging tyres around the heath at night and gruelling training weekends; freezing different chocolate bars to find out which ones were still edible in Arctic conditions; and getting the right kit together, including shopping for ‘wind-proof’ underwear. Then the scene shifts to the pure, icy Arctic landscape and the characters that inhabit and explore it – and the real adventure begins.

‘Cold Feat’ transports the reader to another world – you can almost smell the clean, bitterly cold Arctic air that freezes the hairs in your nose, and feel the deep pile carpet in the world’s northernmost hotel. You get to know the explorers’ routine – long days of riding skidoos or skiing pulling heavy sledges or ‘pulks’ across a harsh frozen terrain followed by hours of melting ice for cooking and making drinking water – the toilet issues and the physical hardships including eyes frozen shut, frostbite and broken teeth. You get to know their personalities – their individual strengths, skills and vulnerabilities and their fantastic team spirit; the ‘ice dance’ that kept them moving and the shared laughter that kept up their morale.

You also get to know Duncan – his warmth, humour and strength of character. Although there are some hilarious stories, there are also dilemmas, disappointments and intensely private moments: when his frozen fingers fumbled for his camera as he lingered outside the tent mesmerised by the dazzling beauty of the Arctic landscape, but he was too emotionally overcome to get the shot, his genuine, cold-sweat fear of a polar bear encounter. And the poignant moment when he placed a single stone from his father’s garden onto the Arctic stones that mark the North Magnetic Pole. These are not spoilers. There is a lot more to this story.

‘Cold Feat’ is a raw, personal account of the adventure of a lifetime interlaced with some history of polar exploration and quotations from famous explorers. There is also philosophy, including lessons that apply to life in general: to embrace the unknown without fear; to be as prepared as you can be, while recognising that you can’t be prepared for everything; to remember that getting there is the intention, but getting back is the imperative.

The blurb describes ‘Cold Feat’ as the story of an ordinary man going on an extraordinary journey. But nothing about Duncan or his book is ordinary. ‘Cold Feat’ is a beautifully written account of an extraordinary adventure of the kind that brings out the best in people – and risks the lives of the best people.

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