Norwegian polar explorer decries climate change, talks expeditions

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Norwegian polar explorer decries climate change, talks expeditions


Left: Ambassadors of Finland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark, Seoul city government officials and climate change experts and explorers at the third NORDtalks event held in Oil Tank Culture Park in western Seoul on June 27. Right: Borge Ousland, a polar explorer from Norway, discusses his exploration at Norway’s diplomatic residence in central Seoul on June 26. [EMBASSY OF DENMARK IN KOREA, PARK SANG-MOON]

There is nothing positive about the ice melting in the Arctic region and revealing the oil, gas and minerals under what was once perceived as a barren wasteland, according to Borge Ousland, the Norwegian explorer who has skied alone to both North and South poles.

“People talk about the huge mining resources being revealed, but there is absolutely nothing positive about the ice melting at all,” Ousland said in response to a question from the audience at NORDtalks, a series of discussions organized by a group of Nordic embassies in Korea, at the Oil Tank Culture Park in Mapo District, western Seoul, on June 27. “The sea level is rising and endangering most of the people living along the coastlines.”

Ousland, formerly a saturation diver in the North Sea, began his excursions to the wild in 1986, beginning with skiing across Greenland in the footsteps of Fridtjof Nansen, who was the first to cross inland Greenland. He then did the first unsupported trek from Canada to the North Pole in 1990 and crossed Antarctica solo from coast to coast from 1996 to 1997, covering a distance of 2,845 kilometers (1,767 miles) and pulling a sledge that weighed 187 kilograms (412 pounds) at the start of the journey.

Ousland, the father of three children, has never stopped exploring over the years, which opened his eyes not only to the different levels of emotions one can experience while completely alone in the white wilderness but also to the vivid changes in the Arctic and Antarctic regions over the years due to climate change.

“A few years back we would have been discussing if climate change is happening or not,” Ousland said during the panel discussion of NORDtalks, alongside the ambassadors of Norway and Finland, officials of the Seoul city government and Michael Joseph Deigaard Linden-Vornle, head of the Technical University of Denmark’s Space Drone Center. “But now the countries and individuals are acknowledging that this is actually happening and more people are seeing that this is more than a climate change - it is a climate crisis.”

Ambassadors present at the talk also stressed the importance of multilateral cooperation to combat climate change.

“A few years back, the government of Norway changed its policies and encouraged the use of electric vehicles,” said Frode Solberg, ambassador of Norway to Korea. “I would say that as many as half the cars in Norway are electric vehicles and hybrids, many of which are from Korea.”

“At this talk we are joined by Korea’s National Council on Climate and Air Quality and Seoul Metropolitan Government, who have offered an open invitation for cooperation in this area,” said Thomas Lehmann, ambassador of Denmark to Korea. “The Nordic countries have a lot to offer and we have a lot we can work on together.”

President Moon Jae-in visited Finland, Norway and Sweden last month to discuss cooperation on social welfare, innovation and medical services sectors, as well as climate change and environmental conservation.

“Norway is developing futuristic and environmentally friendly autonomous vessels, as well as next-generational clean-energy hydrogen economy,” Moon wrote on his Facebook account on June 14, as he was leaving Norway for Sweden. “Korea and Norway agreed to cooperate closely on environmental conservation and welfare management among other areas.”

“The question is often about the political will,” said Jakob Hallgren, ambassador of Sweden to Korea. “If there is political will then you can impose fees and subsidies to encourage good behavior [for environmental conservation]. In several Nordic countries we have begun to apply a congestion rate, which means it costs more to take your cars during heavy traffic hours.”

“The problem is not for the young people to solve - it is also for us and we have to do something now,” said Eero Suominen, ambassador of Finland to Korea. “Climate change is not the question just for the younger generation, it is a question for everybody.”

The NORDtalks are a series of discussions on various issues pertinent to both Korea and Nordic countries, including innovation, gender equality and climate change, hosted throughout the year to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the relations between some Nordic countries and Korea, including Norway, Sweden and Denmark.

Just a day before he partook in the discussion, Ousland spoke to the Korea JoongAng Daily about some of the drastic changes in both poles that he witnessed, as well as about what his exploration meant to him personally. The following are edited excerpts from the interview.

Q. Tell us about what you saw.

The polar regions are one of the first places where you can see changes happening here and now. The change in the temperature from minus 1 degree Celsius to 1 degree Celsius has huge implications in that part of the world. From when I first started these explorations a few decades back, the ice coverage in the polar ocean is 30 percent less.

The speed with which the ice is melting and raising the ocean level has implications all over the world, including to Korea and Norway, and especially to the billions of people living in coastal regions. It will have a huge effect on the economy.

My objective is to be the eyewitness and tell that story so that the world can understand what is going on and we can prevent this from happening. There is a project that I am doing now called IceLegacy, with Vincent Colliard, to ski across the world’s 20 largest glaciers, and tell the people what is happening on the ground through images and videos. We’ve done nine now.

What were some of the lowest points during these explorations?

I don’t know why journalists always ask that question. There have been life-threatening times like when I fell through the ice or when I was attacked by polar bears.

Does facing the possibility of death on these journeys change you for the better?

I think it changes me in a positive way. Being closer to death also makes me closer to life. That is what explorations are about, not just having a narrow path through what we call life but to broaden the possibilities and experiments within that. The risks are there but that is why you make these preparations, so that you understand something before it happens and when it happens you are trained for how to respond.

What is your top-10 packing list for these extreme explorations of yours?

First, a stove - without being able to turn snow into water, you will soon die of thirst. A tent is equally important. You also need good sleeping bags so you can keep warm at night and you need wool underwear - wool is so much warmer than synthetic.

I need my skis to be able to move forward because walking on foot requires so much more energy. I need my sled, which weighs about 150 kilograms. That’s six items, right. Seventh is a repair kit - there are a lot of things that can go wrong, so having the ability to fix things on the way is important.

Item eight is a camera, to document and tell stories from the ground. Next would be food: frozen and dried food and oil and butter. I usually have oatmeal for breakfast and a lot of chocolate for lunch and normally I just drink water until dinner.

And the last item would be fuel.

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