In an exclusive interview in Perth, world famous adventurer Sir David Hempleman-Adams tells Michael Alexander why he is calling on the world to wake-up to the impact of climate change.
From becoming the first person to trek solo to the Magnetic North and Geographic South Poles, to becoming the first person to fly a balloon over the Andes, the 20+ expeditions embarked upon by world famous British explorer Sir David Hempleman-Adams over the past 37 years read like a who’s who of human endeavour.
Yet for the first time in his career, Sir David, 60, was saddened when he successfully completed his latest expedition – circumnavigation of the Arctic to highlight the impact of global-warming on polar ice sheets – because it proved him right about the world’s drastically changing climate.
“In my travels to the North Pole and ice caps I’ve seen up close the changes that are happening there. And it’s not good,” he explained in an exclusive interview with The Courier during a visit to Perth.
“I’ve been very lucky over the years in being able to travel and in a selfish way I’ve been very lucky in being able to do the things that I’ve wanted to do.
“But I think as I’ve got older it’s time to give a little bit back.
“What I want to do is educate youngsters because I think my generation have messed up the world and it’s the next generation that’s going to have to put up with it.”
Sir David’s Polar Ocean Challenge, which took place over four months between last June and October, saw him and a hand-picked crew succeed in an attempt to circumnavigate the North Pole during a single Arctic summer.
Sailing an Irish- built 48 feet boat with aluminium retractable keel, the 13,500 mile voyage, which set off from Bristol via the Russian port city of Murmansk, faced swathes of pack ice as they sailed through both the infamous North East and North West passages – two marine channels once totally impassable due to ice -which have increasingly opened up due to climate change and warmer weather in recent years.
Sir David, vice president of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society (RSGS) regaled an audience about his adventure when he gave an ‘Inspiring People’ talk for the society in Perth on Tuesday night.
But speaking with The Courier at RSGS HQ in Perth, he revealed his “sadness” at the harm being caused to the planet and the climate change already affecting communities throughout the Arctic region.
“I hear all the time about the naysayers who say there’s ‘no such thing as climate change’,” he explained.
“They say ‘you always get these cycles’ – and they are absolutely right of course. Greenland was once green for example. But it normally takes 2000 years for those cycles to develop.
“What I’ve seen in my lifetime, from the first time I went to the Arctic in 1982, is one third less pack ice.
“We are seeing a massive change very very quickly and these Arctic communities are like the canary in the coal mine – they are seeing it before anyone else.
“Their hunting and gathering way of life has changed because the migration routes for fish and birds are changing. Polar bears and musk ox are struggling. The permafrost is slowly melting right across Siberia and impacting on roads and infrastructure.
“I’ve heard stories of many hunters being lost on their snowmobiles because they’ve gone straight through ice. It’s just the start of a big problem that will continue affecting the world.”
Sir David set up an educational charity called Wicked Weather which visits schools and which blogged live reports from the Arctic region.
Admitting he is “not a scientist”, he deliberately steers clear of politics and instead “states factually what is happening”.
But despite the widespread evidence, he gets increasingly frustrated about the general lack of action by government – and is particularly bemused by the denying attitude taken by US president Donald Trump.
He said: “It’s a huge problem. I don’t know quite why politicians haven’t grasped this. I’m not sure if it’s because they don’t want to believe it or it’s a vote loser.
“It is a hard thing when youngsters say ‘what can I do about it?’
“We could become the greenest nation in the world, with the right investment. But I was told if we turn off the whole of the UK for a whole year, that’s one day power in China. How do you get that across to a youngster?
“That’s why I’m slightly frustrated about Trump and the rest of his advisors. I’m hoping that some of the brilliant brains they’ve got in America will sit him down and say ‘hold on a minute, this is real!’ – because you just can’t get away from the evidence.”
Sir David was presented on Tuesday night with the prestigious Scottish Geographical Medal – the ‘Nobel Prize’ for Scottish Geography which honoured his lifelong commitment to furthering our understanding of the planet.
He added: “To get The Scottish Geographical Medal is a wonderful honour. To receive this from your peer group is very special indeed”.