When asked why he wanted to climb Mount Everest, George Leigh Mallory famously quipped, "Because it’s there.” For decades, that basic statement has guided exploration and adventure. Today, however, we are more likely to hear the opposite rational from an explorer: because it might not be there in the future.
My business card reads Polar Explorer. That's because, over my 20-year career in the Arctic and Antarctic environments, I have accrued an intimate knowledge of the world’s coldest places. I have completed more polar expeditions than any other American in history, including one in 2014, when my partner and I skied to the North Pole in what will most likely be the last ever land-to-pole expedition due to climate change.
Having camped and traveled on the Arctic Ocean for nearly a year of my life on various expeditions and adventures, I have a unique perspective and first-hand experience sea ice and the changes that have occurred due to climate change. I can say with certainty that we must take bold and ambitious action to preserve our special and wild places. Which is why I was overwhelmed with pride and gratitude when President Obama this week used his authority under Section 12a of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to permanently protect nearly the entire Arctic Ocean.
There’s no way to hide it: the Arctic is melting. In fact, it is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world. Since my first North Pole expedition in 2006, I have witnessed the dramatic changes in the character and nature of sea ice. Obama has experienced the picturesque beauty of the Arctic first-hand. He’s met the people of the region, seen the bluest waters, the spotless terrain, and the clear skies, and knows that we must preserve this region before the oil industry or climate change can destroy it. Had the President not taken such bold action to protect these areas, the threat of the ice melt would have been compounded with that from oil rigs and pipelines, likely destroying the Arctic Ocean as we know it.
The first step in exploration is the vision to see what’s beyond the routine and familiar. By permanently protecting the Arctic Ocean, Obama has once again proven himself to be a visionary, enabling future generations the opportunity to enjoy and explore its beauty. Each one of us is an explorer, and our job as such is not to conquer, but to protect. Thank you, President Obama for being this generation’s greatest explorer.