Antarctica: Pole to Soul Part 1

2016-01-15-1452853205-4964087-Antarctica_20121202_8326.jpgPhoto Credit: Martin Bailey


We are restless people. Over the last 100,000 years, a mere flutter of the eyelid in geological time, we have wandered the whole world. We have become physically planetary. Indeed our presence and actions on six of the world’s continents in a fractional blink seem to be tipping us collectively, and our billions of fellow travellers in the global interconnected family of nature, into the Anthropocene. This is a new epoch for our one and only home in which what we do now ultimately shapes the destiny of all life on earth.

Is this depressing? That we might literally be eating our future through unsustainable agriculture and diets that destroy our wild and wonderful spaces? That our appetite for cheap, available, abundant energy in the form of fossil fuels might slowly be cooking us all in an insulatory cloak of carbon dioxide? That we are already hugely rich beyond our craziest dreams, yet are wilfully blinded by our Cyclops-like obsession with money? We seem to have forgotten we have two eyes, and there is more than one way to see the world.

Or is it inspiring? Can we open our hearts and minds to the complex, series of interdependent challenges we face? Acknowledge these unprecedented times and our own shadows? Accept the reality and awesome responsibility of the Anthropocene? Grieve our losses, and reconnect with our common humanity? Perhaps only then can we fall back into what the amazing Dr Martin Shaw calls an ‘ancient love affair and dream tangle’ with the Earth, which might just save us all?

An extraordinary emergency calls for an extraordinary emergence. That we find something within ourselves to overcome our petty differences, to bust wide open the illusion of separation that sets us apart from one another and the breath-takingly beautiful world that truly sustains us. To see ourselves as the humble stewards of this creation, not it’s domineering, exploitative masters.

I have circumnavigated our ‘Only Planet’ twice. Once by plane in 2000, and a second time without going anywhere near an airport in 2007/8, a flight-free adventure around the world about which I wrote a book. That overland and sea journey ‘revealed the fine-grained texture of the world at ground level’ according to ‘slow guru’ Carl Honore. It changed me. Profoundly. As all the best travel does.

And having given up flying on holiday twelve years ago I am about to board the aluminium sausage recreationally for the first time in a very long time. I’m journeying to Buenos Aires to begin a grounded excursion through the Andean foothills, fertile pampas and shingly wind-swept steppes of Patagonia, down to ‘El culo del mundo’ in Ushuaia – the capital of Argentinian Tierra del Fuego.

There amongst the fjord-like canyons I’ll board the ship that will take me to the Antarctic peninsula, the finger tip of this vast island continent, in whose hands our fates are held. For me this is a form of environmental pilgrimage, to bear witness to the dramatic changes being wrought by human-induced climate change at the bottom of the planet. To see first-hand the shifting ice sheets and their increasing instability that hold the potential to drown our world.

2016-01-15-1452852920-4779343-antarctica.jpgPhoto Credit: Nick Cobbing

I am all too painfully aware of the carbon cost of this journey, of a ‘last chance to see mentality’ that compounds the very problem it seeks to explore. And yet if I can bring back this visceral testimony and use it soulfully to touch others and inspire and deliver real change in my work, then hopefully it will not be in vain.

Setting foot on my own and earth’s seventh continent is a rare and extraordinary privilege for which I am already truly grateful in anticipation. It will make me a truly planetary individual. I doubt it will end my wanderlust and restlessness, and perhaps it shouldn’t. For it is only through this ‘blessed unrest’ that we can ultimately ‘imagine better’ for all our tomorrows and make it happen.

I’ll be blogging this journey here over the coming weeks. So please join me. For my journey is really our journey. Towards a future where we’re not just ‘planetary’ physically but philosophically. Where both our eyes are raised to a far horizon bigger than our introspective, individualistic atomised selves. Where we dare to drift back into that dream tangle and rekindle our ancient love affair with each other and the earth. Where we change the world for good.

Ed Gillespie is Co-Founder of www.wearefuterra.com, author of ‘Only Planet – a flight-free adventure around the world’ and off to the Antarctic…

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Antarctica: Pole to Soul Part 1

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