12 days till Christmas - reflections from a leadership journey for Women and non-binary in STEM focusing on sustainability, climate change and global challenges- culminating in an expedition and leadership journey to Antarctica.
'No one will protect what they don't care about; and no one will care about what they have never experienced.'
The guilt has been there from the start. When I applied for, and then signed up on this adventure. A promise of a different leadership program with a focus on global challenges, collaboration for a new and different future. One with sustainability and climate change front and centre. And one that culminated in leadership training and practice on an expedition to Antarctica to see, and learn from the effects of climate change directly.
Reflections. L-R: Leadership programs require a lot of stickies-the mega planning panel, the sunsets on Antarctica (no false colours), workshop on global challenges.
It’s novel and unusual, more so for the fact that it is aimed solely at women and non-binary in STEMM (Science Technology Engineering Maths and Medicine). The principle being that we, and the Planet we inhabit, needs a new kind of leadership, a new way of thinking and doing. Collaborative, long term sustainable thinking, aspects of leadership that our current global leaders fail to embody and in which there are very few women representatives. This combination was the reason I applied and the reason why after selection I signed up for the leadership journey. But what did I think about travelling all the way to Antarctica, to the only ‘unspoilt’ continent, burning carbon to get there and impacting the biodiversity of the very place I want to protect?
These conflicts are common in our daily lives. Driving a car, turning the heating-up, the air-conditioning on, wanting to be out in and experiencing nature, but knowing that by doing so I will leave a footprint. There has been lots of work that demonstrates that the best advocates of nature protection are those that spend time in nature, this is exemplified in David Attenborough’s quote 'No one will protect what they don't care about; and no one will care about what they have never experienced.' Having visited Antarctica, I have a new reverence for the continent. It surpassed my expectations in its white, blues and blacks, by its vastness, its wildlife and harsh beauty. It has changed me and I feel different for the experience, better able to advocate for its protection and its special place in a conservation narrative.
Despite positive reflections on the journey to Antarctica and how it has shaped me, how it will change my future actions and life, the guilt niggles and the conflict is real. There was much discussion amongst the leadership program’s participants of this conflict. Some of the participants in our online leadership program chose not to travel to Antarctica and I believe that all those that did travel, did so with questions and conflicts in their mind. Tourism to Antarctica increased ten-fold between 1992 and 2020 and continues to grow. This growth has impacts and implications, proactive management through IAATO (International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators*) is key, but is it enough? And how do we balance building knowledge, appreciation, and care without harming what we aim to protect? These are not easy questions to answer.
Image from the IUCN showing the increase in visitor activity to the Antarctic Peninsula, with it comes challenges to the environment we want to protect (data from IAATO).
Guilt is not a positive emotion and doesn’t lead to the type of change that I wish to see. My aim is to use the wasted energy spent on guilt into positive action and awareness raising, to leverage my experience to encourage others to care and act themselves. This blog is the start of that process – thanks for joining me on my reflections I hope they and the photographs of the landscapes and wildlife inspire you to take positive action and banish the guilt.