It is getting hot in here, why I went swimming in Antarctica!

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It was 22 November 2009, when our ship anchored in the breathtakingly beautiful Cierva Cove in Antarctica, when my roommate Jena Saffery rushed in the cabin, shouting “We are going to take a polar plunge. Put your swimsuit on. Quick.”

So that’s us, a group of 48 people from 18 countries, in the International Antarctic Treaty Expedition (IATE09) to Antarctica. We came from different backgrounds, cultures, bearing different points of views and systems of values. But one thing we had in common, we loved the environment and we wanted to do something to make a difference.

One of the many activities during the trip, was a discussion on a special way to convey the message about global warming.  Over the last 50 years, the Antarctic Peninsula where our expedition took place has experienced an increase of 3 degrees C in mean annual temperature. And we came up with the wild idea, to plunge into the icy water, to send out the message, “Hey, it is getting really warm here”.

And there I was, standing by the ship gangway, together with my friends, waiting for the chance to challenge our courage and commitment to climate change communication. It was totally freezing. My mind was crying “No I am not going to do this”. I fought hard holding myself from running back to my warm cabin. I waited for a few ice pieces to float off my way, and there I went.

I went down, and I thought “Oh my God, what am I doing?” It felt like thousands of needles were stinging my whole body. I opened my eyes, the water was so clear, so blue, so beautiful! But I needed to get out, or I’d die! Obviously I did not, that’s why, I am here, today, writing this blog.

Well, I don’t mean to be here to boast of my courage. I just want to say, an old same thing: Yes, the climate change is really happening, although our polar plunge might have been a little too extreme to convey the message.

A lot of people asked me, “Why did you go to Antarctica again?” I was there 12 years ago, in 1997, in a UNESCO’s expedition with 35 young people from 25 nations, led by Robert Swan, a world-known polar explorer, a leading environmentalist, and I became the first Vietnamese ever to set foot in the cold continent. Well, I went back, because Antarctica is the most beautiful place I’d ever been to. But more than that, I went back, because I was seeking solutions.

While our 1997 trip aimed to call for global attention and raise awareness about the emerging environmental problems, our 2009 trip, also led by Robert Swan, and organized by 2041, was a trip of commitment, solution, and action. We have done enough of awareness raising! People are a lot more aware now, but they don’t know what to do. If we just stand there and point at problems, but not showing solutions, no one would listen to us.  

And that is why I have continued to work on it, no matter how some people keep telling me that I am wasting my time. That is also the reason why I have joined the global campaign of 350.org to help spread out the message of action.  People in my country usually think environmental protection is the job of the Ministry of Environment, of WWF, of celebrities, anyone, but not themselves. Robert Swan says “The biggest threat to this planet is the belief that someone else will save it”. I want to change that belief.

And so, here I am, going from one to another company, school, attending public events, to talk about the small things every one can do every day, to reduce the impact on the environment.  The coming 10/10/10 will be a great opportunity for me to get people to take action. All in all, I don’t want my son and his children to have to live like the people in Kevin Costner’s Waterworld, as Vietnam is one of the five countries most affected by sea level rise. And I am doing my small bit to stop it from happen.

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