This post is the second one of a series of four posts describing my voyage to Antarctica and experience as a participant of the women in science and leadership program Homeward Bound.
If you have missed the first post, here it is: (1/4) – The sound of our collective voices was loud, very loud, as it should be, always
“I chose life over death for myself and my friends… I believe it is in our nature to explore, to reach out into the unknown. The only true failure would be not to explore at all.” Ernest Shackleton, Polar explorer
(c) Photo: AP
Antarctica…The landscapes were hauntingly seductive. On the first days in the peninsula, the dark rocky islands were timidly hiding behind the fog, no iceberg on the horizon. A surreal lunar scenery very different to the image I had of the frozen continent. Interestingly, as we were diving deeper into our inner journey of introspection, the landscapes were opening up, revealing their shapes and icy shades. The fog had gone.
(c) Map: Sarah Hamylton
My first encounter with an iceberg was very similar to the first time I saw a kangaroo hiding behind a bush in Australia: I first thought hard about what it could be based on what I had already experienced in my life (A ship? Icy land?) before putting the element into context – Oh, we are in Antarctica, this is an iceberg! (In the case of the kangaroo, I thought for a few seconds it was a very weird dog!).
Mindfulness was key to go beyond our collective excitement and deeply appreciate the pristine beauty of Antarctica, its grace and sophistication. For a month, I lived in this fearsome white universe, surrounded by penguins, seals, whales, orcas, birds, mosses (and women). I was stunned by how the wildlife had trust in us and wouldn’t feel threatened by our presence, despite having never seen humans. I wish we were the same with other humans, Darwin probably has the answer to this…
Antarctica was the perfect place to help me clear my mind from my chaotic modern life stretched between studies, deadlines, relationships, social media, etc. and to open up to new emotional and intellectual explorations.
Antarctica has a very interesting history in regards to women. Women were widely discouraged from exploring the continent until the mid-20th century, and the United States prohibited American women to work in the region until 1969. Luckily, things have changed and our expedition was the largest-ever female voyage to Antarctica!
There is a lot to learn about leadership from the way Antarctica is governed. Antarctica does not belong to anyone. Instead, countries wishing to have a say in how the Antarctic (both the continent itself and the surrounding Southern Ocean) is governed must sign on to, and agree to abide by, the Antarctic Treaty.
Antarctica is much more than iceberg-stunned seascapes and extraordinary wildlife. It is one of the last true wilderness on the planet. It is also an extremely fragile natural world, a critical barometer of our planet’s health and of our society’s behaviours and decisions. Ice is melting at very fast rates, it is more than time to act together for a more equitable and sustainable future.
(c) Oli Sansom – Homeward Bound
In 2017, I co-signed the “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice”. The first Notice was released when I was babbling my first words, in 1992. Why hasn’t the first warning reached humans? Why the planet I am left with as I am approaching my 28 years old has been so badly looked after? Is that because all or most of us do not literally feel we are part of the biosphere? As long as Nature is seen as separate from us, we will not accept the warning. What will the world look like if we ignore this second warning and keep transgressing the planetary boundaries? We have been acting with our brains, but have we forgotten our hearts? I hope that finally, we will start treating Earth as our home, our only home.
This sense of home, children from all around the world have it, as I noticed when reading to penguins moving letters Columbian children had addressed to them.
When listening to our Nobel Prize but also Homeward Bound participant Susan Scott talking about gravitational waves and black holes, I was reminded about how little we, humans, are. There is no planet B and our fascination for space and futuristic space exploration becomes meaningless if humanity does not do anything to ensure its own survival.
Thank you Antarctica for nourishing my reflexions and re-igniting my will to make a difference for a better world. Your scenery etched in my mind. You are now, for sure, part of me.
By the way, did I forget to mention in this post I plunged in the icy seas? Twice?
Other posts about my journey to Antarctica: (1/4) – The sound of our collective voices was loud, very loud, as it should be, always , (3/4) – All voices matter , (4/4) – So, what’s next?
About Homeward Bound. Homeward Bound aims, over 10 years, to heighten the influence and impact of a 1000 women with a science background in order to influence policy and decision making as it shapes our planet. I have had the incredible opportunity, together with 78 other women from all around the world, to take part in this worldwide and world-class leadership, strategic and science initiative and outreach for women. Homeward Bound includes a year-long science, leadership, strategic and communication training. It culminates with a 3-week voyage to Antarctica. Our 2018 cohort was the world’s largest-ever female expedition to this part of the world!