“I’m currently sitting on the edge of the Gobi Desert,” says Daniel Price. “I have a couple of days to cross it to stay on schedule… 240km were covered today, so things are getting tough!”
An Antarctic researcher from West London, Daniel is a long way from home. But he’s not the only one – his friend and co-campaigner Erlend Moster Knudsen, a Norwegian climate dynamics engineer, is also on the road.
Frustrated by the lack of awareness regarding the imminent threat of climate change and “the lack of urgency from our leaders,” Dan, a PhD graduate from the University of Canterbury, and Erlend, a PhD graduate from the University of Bergen, decided to head to the opposite poles of the planet last year.
Dan (who during his PhD worked on improving satellites’ ability to measure the thickness of Antarctic sea ice) hopped on his bike in Antarctica and began a 17,000km ride to Paris. Four months later Erlend tied his laces in the Arctic Circle and began a 3000km run to the French capital. The pair’s goal was to walk and ride the combined 20,000km from the ends of the earth to France, in an effort to highlight the need for climate change action.
This month, Paris will host COP21 (the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change) amidst heightened security following November’s tragic terror attacks. World leaders will meet to – as dramatic as it sounds – resolve the fate of our planet by choosing new emissions goals and methods of reduction.
“It’s incredible how few people know about this conference. Yet it is so important. What is decided will influence the lives of billions,” says Dan. “This is our last chance. We have no time left to start the transition that is required to fix this problem – every day of inaction translates to more severe consequences.
“Once you understand how the consequences of our actions can play out, it is simply impossible to get it out of your mind. I just had to do something to contribute to getting this message across,” Dan explains. “It will take time to switch the global economy and industry to carbon neutral sources… we must begin now or we’ll be too late.”
Frustrated with academia after being told by his project leader that he was spending too much time presenting at schools and for the public, Dan couldn’t quite reconcile his beliefs.
“I felt this was fundamentally wrong. As climate researchers, I feel that we’re obliged to speak about our research, both because we’re paid by society and because our research has significant implications for our society.”
So when he approached Erlend with his rather ambitious plan, there was no hesitation.
“I had been thinking about the same things for a long time,” says Erlend, “and so I immediately said yes to run from Tromsø to Paris.”
In April 2015, after little foreplanning, Dan hopped on his bike and, in August, Erlend tied his laces. The former’s 17,000km bike ride from Antarctica to Paris and the Erlend’s 3000km run from the Arctic Pole to the French capital were no longer just ideas. Two men were on a journey across the planet, championing its salvation.
Speaking during their journeys from Mongolia and Norway respectively, the boys offer up their end goal.
“Simply put: a binding and sufficiently ambitious agreement in Paris,” says Erlend. “We must raise the consciousness of society on this issue… the only way to do this is to inform them and hope they become part of a voice that is calling for strong commitment to solving this problem,” adds Dan.
Erlend ventured into territory that even locals warned against. In a bid to treat his body to softer mountain paths, not even the threat of poor weather and low temperatures could stop him.
“I nearly froze to death, but managed to stay somewhat warm by pushing extremely hard physically and mentally,” he says.
For Dan, bureaucratic border control almost meant the end: “The Russian visa was a big downer; I could only secure a transit visa which meant minimal cycling in Russia.”
Not to dismiss the iconic cities, lost valleys and countless borders through which they passed, the duo’s challenge was punctuated with ageless memories. Their daily ‘commute’ featured backdrops including small forgotten communities in China and deserted European mountain tops.
“While I run mostly alone, I know that people are following me online or in other ways. I owe them to make it to Paris,” says Erlend.
So why this path?
“The polar regions are the parts of the planet changing most rapidly under climate change, where the impacts are more visual, where the alarm bells are ringing first,” explains Dan.
“After spending time in developing countries and working with our partner UNDP, it has become very clear to me just how vulnerable millions of people are. After visiting vulnerable coastal communities it hit home very hard that these people really have nowhere to go. If sea levels rise by the predicted amount over the coming century, given our current action on climate change, 20 million could be displaced in Bangladesh.”
“If we act now,” adds Erlend, “we can limit these destructions. We can pave out a more sustainable path – a healthier, greener and brighter future. That’s the future I want to be part of.”
“We’re already seeing livelihoods being destroyed and people being forced to move because of climate change,” says Erlend, adding that developing nations see climate change as tomorrow’s problem. “It doesn’t influence their daily lives. Most people aren’t climate denialists; they just have a lot of questions.”
Remaining resolutely optimistic, Erlend calls on COP21 for an agreement that avoids “catastrophic” climate change and moves towards a future of renewable energy sources and more liveable cities.
“We need a global voice. Only by uniting our voices [will] our politicians understand that their voters want a long-term profit of a sustainable planet and not the short-term profit of environmental destruction. The time for that common voice demanding climate action is now,” says Erlend.