June 1998

Interview with Alex Hartridge, Greenpeace activist, environmentalist and co-ordinator of Solar Polar 2000, Antarctic expedition.

Could I just ask you first to outline the nature and purpose of your expedition?

The purpose of the expedition is to highlight climate change world-wide, but focusing on the Antarctic. There has been a rise of two and a half degrees centigrade on the Antarctic Peninsula in the last 40 years. Though scientists say there is no recognised climate change overall in Antarctica, there is this regional warming along the Peninsula which is alarming and needs to be prevented. What we are doing is an expedition with as little fossil fuels as possible, utilising renewable energy wherever we can. We are going to sail to the Antarctic, and trek unsupported - which means we will take all our own provisions with us and carry all waste. The route will be about 300 miles, over mountainous terrain. It is pretty tough. And we are thinking about doing a glacial research project, this has not been determined yet. What we will be doing is sending back a diary every day of images of Antarctica, particularly of the threatened ice shelves, which are Larsen B and possibly Larsen C in the future. That is the overall plan of the expedition, and we shall also do a couple of dives at the end.

Diving in the Antarctic?

Yes, a small programme to film marine life, because we want to convey to people it is not just overland that is going to be threatened by climate change. Marine life will be at risk through warming oceans as well. That is the expedition side. We are raising money to install renewable technology, which will probably be solar, on public buildings in the UK. We still have to wait for a final answer from Centrepoint, but they are interested. I approached them because - they are a homeless charity you know - they said they are interested but they are looking for a new building, they have just got to find one. We are also putting either financial donations or, again, solar technology onto the new Field Studies Centre at the Gilbert White Museum which is in Selborne. So they would be the two charities to benefit from our expedition. And both of these points will be visual examples of renewable technology working, and benefiting the general public. Let’s hope it works, as it is the way forward. It means pushing companies and governments to invest in renewable technology.

What are the dangers involved in this sort of trip?

It is potentially quite dangerous. It is possibly more dangerous than if we were going to the Pole, because it is heavily crevassed on the Peninsula. And it is very mountainous. We shall be carrying all our own equipment, which could be anything up to 100 lb. We will be assisted with parasails, which are like large kites, symbolising wind energy. They are attached to the person by harness, and you fly them and they pull you along, and if the wind is right and the conditions are right you can make quite good headway in a day. However we will have less room for mistakes on the Peninsula, because it is quite narrow, compared to the inner continent. It is a bit more risky.

And how long will it take, and how much will it cost to do it?

Well, we are allowing six months from the UK and back to the UK. We will be taking 80 days’ worth of supplies for the trek, that is really edging on safety. We probably would be able to do it in say 40 days, it depends if we do do a glacial research project, it should take about 40 or 50 days. That is the problem with the Peninsula, you might have to sit in your tent for a week. The weather is different from that further into the continent. It is generally more unpredictable and visibility is not always so good.

How many are in your team?

At the moment there’s two definites, and one quite possible. One is deciding what he is going to do next year. I am termed the expedition leader, which does not mean that I am going to be guiding the expedition at all. It is just that it was all my idea and I have networked people together and have been the main co-ordinator. One is a friend of mine called Peter Morris who is a mountaineer and also a linguist. He’s very good on technical things like computers which will be useful when we are releasing images - when we’ll be using a laptop and digital camera and so on. He knows all about that kind of thing. And we‘ll have a polar guide who is the person who is interested but hasn’t officially made a commitment. The three of us are all environmentalists. So that ‘s the team and then we’ll have a support team with a radio operator and a couple of divers, a doctor or paramedic. So it’ll be a multi-skilled team. I want as few people as possible without jeopardising safety. Because the less people we have then the better it is for the environment. A lot of people are saying if you’re an environmentalist why are you going tramping around in Antarctica? which is very true - but I just want to bring it home to people who‘ve been following our expedition what exactly is happening down there and what needs to be done.

Will you be able to see any evidence of Global Warming, of climate change at all?

Maybe, if we can reach certain parts that have broken up.

And lastly what sort of wildlife do you expect to encounter? Do you get polar bears?

No, you get polar bears in the north, in the Arctic, in the Antarctic you get many penguins, mainly emperor and adelie’s seals, lots of birdlife, cetaceans etc. So it is a massive place for wildlife - I don’t really think people quite realise what is down there.

"I believe that homo sapiens have wantonly opened an ecological Pandora's box of interrelated crises. We are wasting the world - we can not expect to get away with it. Anthropological climate change is unprecedented and the potential consequences are cataclysmic and possibly irreversible; for example, loss of biodiversity, collapse of eco-systems, ocean circulation shift and world weather patterns disrupted. Rational solutions and technology are available now and renewable energy is one of those solutions but they need to be invested in and instigated now if we are to stabilise climate change for a sustainable future. Transients that we are, we continue to pollute, exploit and destroy the planet.: we are systematically placing ourselves on the final index of extinction."

Reply to Alex Hartridge

View Contributors