Travel provides opportunities to see new sights and visit distant places, but often it is the people you meet that leave the most lasting impressions. This proved true for many who joined the 2018 ClimateForce Expedition with The Explorer’s Passage in March 2018. I joined the expedition and traveled to Antarctica with some 90 people from 20 different nations. The frozen continent is the frontline of climate change—a place where the impact is felt most immediately, and the need for action most urgent. Three people I met on the trip are responding to this need, and providing examples of different ways to approach the challenges around climate change. Avani Awasthee, Vijay Varada, and Barney Swan are searching for solutions, and inspiring others to follow their leads.
Avani is a 20-year-old university student in Pune, India. At the age of 14 she heard about a recycling competition initiated by The Energy and Resource Institute. Participants were asked to address two challenges: Make recycling fun and figure out ways that individuals living in India could help save Antarctica. Avani’s response was to start the Recycling Army in her neighborhood in Pune. The recruits in this army cycle through neighborhoods creating awareness for recycling and advising households on how to manage waste and recycle more. Her efforts over the last six years have been so successful she has launched other campaigns where she has seen a need, such as ones for “waterless Holi” and “crackerless Diwali,” encouraging new, less resource-intensive and polluting ways to celebrate important Hindu festivals.
Avani’s work for the environment has earned her national media coverage in India, along with invitations to speak in India, Sweden, and to travel twice with Sir Robert Swan, a polar explorer campaigning for solutions to climate change.
Vijay Varada Vijay brings technological expertise to the fields of sustainability, art, and design in remarkable and ingenious ways. Now 25, Vijay, a graduate of the Manipal Institute of Technology, has led Fraktal Works since 2013. The company produces 3D printers that are used in product development and manufacturing processes in a range of fields from medicine (where they’re used to support surgery planning) to automotive parts. Vijay’s goal is to use 3D printers to make production systems efficient, reducing the cost of production and changing the way supply chains operate with local manufacturing and digital inventories.
He hopes over the next couple of years to build a large-scale 3D printer that could be used to mold wind turbine blades. On the 2018 ClimateForce Expedition he brought with him, to the bottom of the world, a small wind machine he used to generate energy to charge his cell phone—a demonstration in the field of its application.
The last time I saw him, he was dragging his suitcase into a hostel in the port town of Ushuaia, Argentina, talking about ideas for how to embed Fraktal more deeply in the global campaign for renewable energy—I know we’ll be hearing more from him in the years to come.
Born in England though later raised in the rural Australian town of Rocky Point, Queensland, Barney says he was teased when he was a child by tougher kids for his English accent and small stature. In the years since then Barney, now age 25, has found his confidence and his calling in the form of climate change activism; his willingness to take on grand schemes and not shy away from incredible odds is inspiring. Late last year he embarked on a bold scheme called the ClimateForce Challenge, a project conceived with his father in which the pair would walk to the South Pole, supported by renewable energy innovations that included NASA-designed solar powered ice melters for water and cooking, and biofuels produced by Shell engineers in India.
Both in the planning and the execution of the expedition, Barney rose to the challenge repeatedly, whether it was finding the confidence to speak to hundreds of corporate executives in the search for sponsorship funding or in the physically and mentally daunting task of walking to the South Pole, man-hauling all his supplies across 600 miles of icy emptiness.
A gentle man with a penchant for journaling, music, and art, Barney says, “Leadership is about following through with things. Through both his [Robert Swan’s] leadership and mine I hope we inspire people to do something different in the way we treat our planet. If we can make renewable energy work in the coldest, windiest place on Earth, we should be able to make this work anywhere.”