SwanÆs talk on the environment and leadership was liberally peppered with personal anecdotes and humour. ôI have learnt that at minus 70 degrees Celsius, it is quite cold, sweat turns to ice and I donÆt enjoy having ice in my underpantsö, he recounted of his first Antarctic expedition. He then went on to explain that one of his best decisions was not to have taken his friends on the trip because ôon a team, if everyoneÆs thinking the same, no-one is thinking; diversity is key to an effective teamö. He was unemotional when he spoke about walking 70 days to the South Pole under the hole in the ozone layer; when his eyes permanently changed colour and his face blistered painfully with sun exposure.
Swan brought a new perspective to oft-used words like integrity, trust and efficiency, placing them in the context of his gruelling trip to the South Pole. ôTo cross 6,000 crevasses we had a rule based on trust û whoever was leading chose the route and the others followed unconditionally, without question. Efficiency comes from trust,ö he said.
When he took eight people from seven different countries to the North Pole in 1989, he carried Japanese newspapers to ensure the sole Japanese would not be isolated û and thus demotivated û by his limited command of English. ôAs leaders never forget the little things in life,ö observed Swan.
The talk then turned to the Antarctic treaty which is due for re-negotiation in 2041. Swan said it was up to everyone to ensure that Antarctica continues to belong to no-one and everyone and thus remains the last great wilderness on earth.
He spoke of the Bellingshausen Station on King George Island which has been cleaned up as a result of his efforts and is now once again a favoured habitat for penguins which had abandoned the island due to the debris. He also talked about E-Base, the first dedicated educational base on Antarctica that he set up during a 2006 expedition. E-base went live in 2007 and is used to inspire and educate people around the world about climate change and for the rest of us to see the beauty of the southernmost land mass of the world.
ôAll of you are investors,ö said Swan. ôIt is important to invest in young people û inspire them, engage them.ö SwanÆs conviction that young people are the ones who will make a difference was a recurring theme and permeates his efforts to create awareness about the environment. He also reckons it is important to be optimistic and to talk about how much we have accomplished rather than only dwell upon what remains to be done.
Swan used some slides to illustrate his points, but mostly he relied on the power of his own experience and convictions to woo his listeners. At the end of his speech, he asked a question of his audience: ôHow many of you offset the flight you took to be here? How many of you are aware of your own carbon footprint?ö The audience was reminded that making a difference to the environment begins with each one of us.