Eccentric Robert Swan: I Am Mad, So?


Eccentric Robert Swan: I Am Mad, So?

Dubbed as one the greatest living explorers, Robert Swan is dedicated to preserving of the Antarctic as the last great wilderness on earth. He speaks to AWANI Review during a recent visit to Malaysia.

To most people, Robert Swan the Englishman from Yorkshire is probably "mad" and he knows it. He even asks himself often, "Am I mad?"

But he does not give a hoot to what people may call him - for he knows he is eccentric and he knows that when both the North and South Poles start melting and half the world is swimming, he would definitely not be the one in the water.

You see, Swan is the first man in history to walk to both the North and South Poles in 1984.

Not only did he walk to both, later he returned to clean up the poles from garbage, such as 1500 tonnes of steel waste left there from decades of scientific research. He brought the waste back to Uruguay and recycled some 900 tonnes of it. He has returned, time and again, and as the interview takes place, expeditions to the poles are in plan.

Robert Swan: I Am Mad, Maybe

    Dubbed as one the greatest living explorers, 62-year-old Swan is the founder of 2041, an organisation dedicated to preservation of the Antarctic as the last great wilderness on earth. He was recently in Malaysia as the keynote speaker at the KWAP Inspire Environmental Conference 2018.

    Why would anyone want to risk their life in a weather of negative 77 degrees Celcius, with ice forming in their underpants, unless they are absolutely bonkers?

    I am a traveller. I am neither an environmentalist nor a scientist. I am a survivor, for I am really good at staying alive!

    Swan explains simply - it is to save the planet and ensuring that climate change does not happen for the worse and wipe out the entire humankind. Not to mention for the sheer love of travelling and admiring Mother Nature.

    "I am a traveller. I am neither an environmentalist nor a scientist. I am a survivor, for I am really good at staying alive!," says Swan, who has probably had frost bite his body off in many places. Such adventures, he says, matter for the rest of the world, for such shout-outs will promote the messages of renewable and cleaner energy - for in the Antarctica, that is the main energy to survive on.

    Last November, Swan undertook the South Pole Energy Challenge, a 600-mile journey to the South Pole with his son Barney, surviving solely using renewable energy.

    He says that it is pertinent to spread the message for the world is now in the race for fossil fuels which will run out soon if we are to only depend on them.

    "I have asked my son this question: "Am I mad? Let’s just clarify this," and he says "No, you’re not mad, dad. You’re a little bit out there but you’re not even crazy.  Actually, you are just very focused and people can look at your focus and say, "Well, that’s a bit strange!"."

    The man who cannot sit still, despite having a painful hip due for an operation soon, says that it does not matter what people think of him. What matters is that he brings changes for the better.

    "I make a lot of changes in life but anybody who hasn’t changed their mind changes nothing. They don’t change anything. So, yeah, I could be called crazy, or mad. I think I’m slightly eccentric but what’s that? When you look back at great leaders - and I’m not a great leader - I’m just trying but you know, Winston Churchill, Gandhi, Mandela - all the great leaders have often been called crazy. So, I don’t mind being called crazy.

    "What I mind though is, people should actually look in the mirror and they should ask themselves that in a thousand years from now - if we are still around, if you look at Robert Charles Swan, officer of the British Empire, and you look at people who really don’t care - who is going to be called crazy when half the planet is swimming? I don’t think it’s me," says Swan matter-of-factly.

    For now, Swan's main objective seems to be to get the young people to take on the challenges that he has taken on, and make the world a better place.

    What worries him is that while the young people today have access to too much information, they seem to lack models of inspiration for them to want to get up and do something about the problems around them.

    He says nothing is impossible for he dreamt of walking on the poles at the tender age of 11 and it happened.

    Robert Swan: Overload of Information But No Inspiration

      "I think the young people today are beseeched by too much information, what they are lacking is inspiration. So, if you speak to young people - which I do a lot - they’ll often say to me, where’s the inspiration in all of this? What are we supposed to be doing? It’s all negative news - we are surrounded, unlike me where I had (only) one channel."

      Jacques Cousteau says if you mess with the ocean, if you mess with the planet, it will come and get us. What people fail to understand is that the planet is hugely more powerful that we are

      "Now, they have got everything coming from every single different sides. Most of it is negative. So, I’m not surprised that young people actually give up and just spend their lives going like ‘this’ (scrolling through phone motion). But they are looking for something and they are looking for hope and there isn’t much hope when they look at the world, when they look at how everything is projected."

      So, how I inspire or try to inspire, especially with my son - remember, he's integral to this - is to actually be authentic because there’s so much surface stuff in our world and I think what young people love is that we try hard and we are authentic and we go out, have really bad times doing things we believe in doing, like walking to the South Pole and only surviving on renewable energy."

      "Any young person can see climate change global warming - all these problems - and just a tiny little good news is Rob Swan’s son just walked to the South Pole and has had a pretty tough time but they survived only on renewable energy, maybe we could do something," says Swan, excitedly.

      He says there should be less criticism on the young people for not doing anything but rather, pull them up and say, "Hey! You can do something and here are some easy things you can do!

      "It means we’ve got convenient solutions, not inconvenient truth. And I really, really respect younger people - they are far better educated and more knowledgeable that I was at that age and I think that we owe them this. I don’t think that they need criticism. They need inspiration and be given small easy things that they can do and feel like that there is hope, that maybe they have dreams. I had a dream when I was eleven to do something that everybody said could not be done, and we did it!" says Swan.

      While Swan is excited if anyone should want to follow him to the North and South Poles, he says it is not an adventure for everyone.

      "The North Pole and the South Pole are just examples. I really don’t want anybody else to go through what I have been through. Jacques Cousteau says if you mess with the ocean, if you mess with the planet, it will come and get us. What people fail to understand is that the planet is hugely more powerful that we are. And I have seen it in its raw thing so close and it’ll take you out clearly," says Swan, pointing out to flooding and landslides in Malaysia as examples. 

      While he says there are millions of people struggling to stay just alive and feed their families and don't have much time to think about these problems, there are many more millions more who can do something about saving the planet, albeit in their small ways, but the latter are not doing so, says Swan.

      "So, it’s really question of trying to prioritize what to inspire people that they can, that’s the thing that they can. Gradually, things are going to get worse and worse for all of us because it’s too late to stop some of this from happening. And therefore, it’s just terribly important there’s millions and millions of small actions that people need to do on behalf of the people who can’t do it.

      "I don’t blame someone who’s got nothing for cutting down a tree - I don’t - but I blame a corporation for cutting down a tree or polluting your wonderful environment here - I do," says Swan. 

      To know more about Swan's adventures and probably to join him or support him on his expeditions, visit 2041