Robert Swan: Inspiring Inspiration


How do you “inspire inspiration?” That’s the goal of Robert Swan, the first person to walk to both the north and south poles.  He brought his message to The George Washington University’s campus, speaking to a small breakfast audience brought together by the School of Media and Public Affairs’ Planet Forward project. 

The audience was a group of thought leaders in sustainability and digital media, as well as administrators and students from GWU,  Yale University and Elon University. The breakfast was convened by Planet Forward so that Swan could bring his message to those who can help engage today’s youth on the issues of climate, energy and sustainability.   Swan’s message was summed up when he answered a question about the efficacy of global climate summits. “They don’t work, though they should,” he said. “What we need to do is to inspire inspiration.”

An adventurer turned environmentalist, Swan’s stories, such as when the sun’s strength changed the color of his eyes—permanently—during one of his polar voyages, allow him to talk about climate change from personal experience. Now, Swan travels around the world to warn different audiences about what could happen in 2041—the year when the current international peace treaty protecting Antarctica expires. His book, Antarctica 2041, “details his journey to awareness, and his firm belief that humans can reverse the harm done to the planet thus far, and secure its future for generations to come”.

On a mission to protect Antarctica from being owned by any governmental entity, Swan takes youth with him to his “Education Station” in Antarctica to show the disaster that climate change wreaked on the frozen continent. According to him, whereas policy is important, the voices of the youth can be heard even louder. Their first-hand stories of what they have witnessed and what they will accomplish on small scale tasks can show the government, the people, what the future wants and needs. His message: “There are too many words in this world. One must engage.”

In order to deliver his message, Swan emphasizes the importance of ensuring that the story of climate change is relatable. For example, as he speaks to an audience in Africa, he draws parallels between the destructive effects of climate change and the AIDS epidemic. A speaker at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Swan tells the world to “think global act local”. Today, Swan seeks to empower the voices of ordinary citizens and inspire them to do what they can in their communities to combat climate change. He summarizes: “I do not believe that ‘integrity’ can be put on your business card.”

How do you move the Planet Forward? Tweet us @planet_forward or contribute to the conversation with your own story.