“Why did I go to Antarctica?”


Divya Nawale, an Arctic Angel, 2041 Alumni and one of Asia’s Top Sustainability Superwomen in 2020, shares her experience travelling to Antarctica twice over with the 2041 ClimateForce team on the International Antarctic Expedition. In November 2021, Global Choices will be sending 2 young people to join this expedition and is holding a competition for 1 of the covetable places. Read on to hear how the expedition shaped Divya as an advocate for the Polar ice and learn how to apply to this journey of a lifetime.

It was 2009 and I was a fresh graduate with the quintessential existential crisis “What do I do with my life?” I knew I wanted to make the world a better place in some small way and hoped to travel the world a bit. My first ever-international flight was to the UK that year! I wasn’t a seasoned traveler nor was I truly an expert on anything at 22 years old.

Yet somehow, Robert Swan OBE – the UN Goodwill Ambassador for Youth and first person in the world to walk to both the North and South Poles, thought that my small projects in India raising awareness about climate change and the environment were worth taking me to the remotest continent to learn more. So, I fundraised, booked my tickets and showed up in Ushuaia, Argentina for the International Antarctic Expedition (IAE). The 2041 Foundation had already begun to change my life.

Why does Antarctica need protecting? Why 2041?

Currently, Antarctica is a Global Common. No one “owns” it but each one of us owns it together. And the continent will remain so, until the year 2041 – which is when the Antarctic Treaty will come up again for re-negotiation. The Antarctic Treaty is truly the greatest example of peace and environmental protection on our planet. Antarctica has 91% of all the ice in the world and about 86% of all freshwater that occurs in the form of ice. As Robert Swan says, “Melting all that ice is probably not a good idea”. The only reason any political power could be used to exploit Antarctica in 2041 is if we don’t start taking action TODAY and ensure a clean and healthy planet for the future. In the spirit of “Think global, act local”, for us to protect Antarctica, we need to start working on solutions back home!

What gets measured gets done

On the expedition, I met people who were doing inspiring things in the world and creating a positive impact on the environment in unimaginable ways. Each one of us on the ship calculated our carbon footprint using a calculator provided to us and started discussing ways to reduce individual emissions. There were 45 participants on my ship. I ran numbers to deduce that if each one of us went carbon neutral, that would mean 45*4 = 180 tons of CO2 saved from entering the atmosphere. But was that a good enough number really? The global average CO2 footprint per person is 4 tons (as used above) but those on the ship were not average people. My fellow participants were mostly Americans and Europeans whose average emissions towered approx. 16 mt and 10-18 mt respectively (footnote 1). Getting to the Antarctic also caused an additional 5.44 t of CO2 emissions, so each of us had to add that to our buckets as well. What mattered though, is the new-gained knowledge about how much impact we were creating (both negative and positive).

Every person who has been on the IAE has worked in some way or another to reduce their footprint before getting there. But the real action starts when you go back. Or at least, as it did in my case. I wasn’t an expert when I went, but I came back to become one.

“Be the change you wish to see…”

I started working on ways to reduce emissions through my own lifestyle choices as well as hinting those to people around me. In the decade since returning from Antarctica, I have travelled to all seven continents. I have offset all of it using non-profits that plant trees in India. I have helped 2041 set up E-BASE Pench and E-BASE Ladakh using solar-powered energy. I have worked on projects that help reduce and track emissions for multinational companies on a global scale. I currently work on clean energy and environmental projects across Southeast Asia. I have strived every single day of my life and provided my expertise to people from all over the world to help reduce emissions in a myriad of ways, personally and professionally. More recently, I am proud to have also become part of Global Choices’ Arctic Angel Action Network, collaborating with young leaders around the world to advocate for the urgent protection of the Polar ice.

Going back to Antarctica and experiencing climate change

Going to Antarctica is a privilege. In 2018, Robert Swan invited me to go back on the Expedition as a part of his team and as the Head of special projects, I was given the opportunity to make the entire expedition a certified CarbonNeutral Voyage. While it was amazing to see how much more knowledge the 2018 cohort had and how “sustainability” was a buzzword that we talked about 24/7 on the ship, what alarmed me about going back was that the ice I saw and walked on was much thinner than it was in 2009. The Ice Crisis was right beneath my feet this time.

And it made my advocacy that much stronger – I returned with first-hand knowledge of the impacts of climate change in the beautiful landscape of Antarctica and the realisation of what it means to lose this landscape: the epitome of peace and the last great wilderness on the planet.

The Collective Consciousness of the 2041 family

Would I have known these data and facts if I didn’t go to Antarctica? Probably yes, but would I have advocated for it as strongly for the last 8 years and taken on the projects I did? As Robert Swan once said to me – “Now you have been here. And this is your story. Antarctica is a part of your consciousness. Take this story back to the world and use it to become a driving force.” I did and continue to do to this day.

I imagine that out of the 4000 alumni that the 2041 Foundation has taken to Antarctica, each of them has come back with a unique story of their own, moved by the beauty of the continent and created their own narrative that helps them and guides them to do what they do today. Would they become strong champions of the environment if they didn’t go to Antarctica? Maybe. Maybe not. But, I am sure as glad that we all did. Because Antarctica is our story! And, it inspires us every moment of our lives!

The 2021 International Antarctic Expedition is taking place from the 3rd to the 14th of November, departing from Ushuaia, Argentina. To join this journey of a lifetime as an ambassador for the Global Choices Arctic Angel Action Network, find out more and apply here! Applicants must be over the age of 18 in November 2021.

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