Barney Swan is coming into his own when it comes to saving the planet

The world is in a climate emergency, and the voices of the younger generation are ringing louder than ever, led by Swedish teen Greta Thunberg pressuring governments to take action. Like Thunberg, Barney Swan is on a mission to combat climate change, but the British-born 25-year-old environmentalist has taken a solutions-based approach.

Swan founded global non-profit ClimateForce in 2018 with a seven-year mission to reduce 360 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions before 2025 by making sustainable development solutions accessible, relevant and engaging. “Our planet is struggling to sustain 7.5 billion people. I feel a responsibility to inspire people to do more, not just to have awareness but to drive action. There’s a lot of talk about sustainability, but how do we convert that awareness into tangible things?” Swan tells us on the sidelines of The Conscious Festival by Green is the New Black in November last year.

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This passion runs deep as Swan is also a polar adventurer, just like his father Robert Swan, who is the first person to walk both the North and South Poles in the 1980s, and has dedicated his life to the preservation of Antarctica through his 2041 Foundation. Every year, the Swans lead three to four expeditions, which bring together individuals, corporations and even industries, to discuss the environment and polar regions, as well as promote the use of renewable energy and sustainable practices.

In November 2017, the father-son duo, along with two other explorers, embarked on a first-ever expedition to the South Pole powered only by renewable energy sources. While the rest completed the 1,000km trek over eight weeks, Robert had to return to base camp at the halfway point as he was unable to continue. The younger Swan tells us about these polar adventures and how, as individuals, we can save the earth for future generations.

How did your father inspire you to become an environmental advocate?
Barney Swan My dad has only ever opened doors for me, but never kicked me through them. It was only when I went to do some work with him in Antarctica at age 17 that I really understood what he has been doing all these years and grasped the potential for me to also be a part of helping people. His dedication has obviously inspired me to follow in his footsteps, but I’m really coming in and doing something a little bit more specific to the solutions, bringing it back to the central goal of reducing CO2 emissions—that’s where my non-profit ClimateForce comes in.

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You have seen the impact of climate change first-hand. Why is climate action more urgent than ever?
It’s a lot more obvious in the Arctic as sea ice doesn’t form as it had 20 or 30 years ago. Permafrost is a big issue, and the polar bears and reindeers are suffering. Antarctica is more subtle, but a lot more powerful in what it’s showing us. About 90 per cent of the world’s freshwater is locked within the ice sheet. We’re taking, taking, taking from our planet, so we need to make an effort to give back tangibly, whether it’s planting trees, supporting clean-up projects or investing in technology to help accelerate and drive the change that’s needed.

What was it like trekking to the South Pole using only renewable energy sources?
We had built-in Nasa-designed solar ice melting systems on our sleds and these solar panels were connected to little boxes that melted 8L of ice in six hours. We also had these passive solar flasks that would melt ice into slush, which we put into the solar ice melter. We then used biofuels made from solid waste to boil water for tea or rehydrate our food. Separately, our technological equipment, including GPS, were charged using solar lithium batteries.

We also planted 2,000 trees to offset the impact of travelling—in planes and cars beforehand—to make sure that the whole expedition was carbon-positive. We wanted to prove that if we were crazy enough to carry an extra 20kg—and every gram counts—then we can make the effort to power more sustainably using clean energy in our daily lives. It doesn’t matter who, what, where or which sector you are from. You can make the effort to find solutions that reduce and offset your impact.

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How can one help reduce or offset CO2 emissions?
BS Three things: one, shift to a more plant-based diet. That doesn’t mean that you cut meat out entirely, but look at plant-based alternatives or something as simple as going vegetarian one day a week. Make it fun with incentives: a company can tell their employees that they will pay for lunch if it’s vegetarian or vegan. Two, consume responsibly. Take a moment before you buy something and ask yourself, ‘Do I really need this?’ and if there is a better alternative. We need to slow down consumption. Three, offset effectively. The next time you travel, or drive your car for more than 30,000km a year, plant some trees. I don’t really like the word “offset”, I prefer the words “clean up”. We need to clean up after ourselves, and clean up trash when we see it, especially when outdoors or near a water source.

What do you say to the non-believers of climate change who are ignoring the urgency of the situation?
Despite the facts and the overwhelming reality that this is happening, if they still don’t believe it, you need to tell them that  it’s a good business case and they can make money out of it. They can make their brand look better by presenting solutions and incentives that care about the planet. If they are not on the bandwagon, their brand is not going to make as much money and they are not going to be seen as caring—that won’t be good for business.

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