Teenager’s Quest for the North Pole

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By becoming the youngest person* one of the youngest people to ski to the North Pole, 15-year-old Parker Liautaud hopes to build a digital network of environmentally aware young people. He departed on April 2nd, and hopes others will follow his quest on facebook, twitter, and youtube. Teens logging in to his sites will be asked to share their ideas on how to improve the environment. The best thoughts and videos submitted will be turned over to the delegates at the next United Nations environment conference scheduled for May 2010 in Germany. We checked in with the teen adventurer before he left.

1) What was the “aha” moment that inspired this specific expedition?

I became passionate about the Polar region last March, when I participated in an expedition through Antarctica with Robert Swan OBE, a world famous Polar explorer and the first person to walk to both the North and South Poles. I learned about the significant changes in ice conditions and wildlife that are taking place there today and decided that I wanted to do something about it. The polar region is a barometer of global environmental health, and the changes that are taking place there today create a real impact on our planet.

After the trip I decided I wanted to do something to change the situation, which is how I came up with the idea of skiing to the North Pole and engaging my peers in a social media campaign that would help them learn about the issues facing the Arctic and provide them with the tools to make their voices heard. This is something we can help solve if we make the right changes today, and I believe that young people are willing—and capable—to work together and build a sustainable future.

2) What have you been doing physically to prepare?

I’ve been training daily for months to prepare myself physically. I go to the gym for about 1-2 hours every day and pull tires 3-4 days a week around my school yard.  I’ve also been drinking 2-3 protein shakes daily to build fat in addition to muscle as I’ll burn approximately 8,5000 calories a day during the trip but only take in 5,000. I’ve been blogging about my experience training for this on my blog, Daily Mile.

3) What gear are you bringing?

I will be traveling alone with Doug Stoup of Ice Axe Expeditions, a guide who been to the North and South Poles many times. GE has agreed to fund the expedition and has helped provide a variety of equipment we’ll need.  Naturally we will be bringing food and shelter equipment. We will also be bringing bear safety equipment and wearing many layers of special fabric clothing to stay warm. The video below includes a run-through of Parker's Gear.

4) What are the biggest risks that you face?

Well, I’m lucky to be traveling with a guide who’s done this several times before  but potential obstacles include having to swim part of the journey because of ice melt, the possibility of a polar bear attack, and of course extreme weather.

5) You've mentioned you are doing this to raise awareness of climate change among young people. What specific actions do you hope your quest inspires?

I hope to inspire, inform and engage other young people in a real dialogue on urgent environmental issues and what we can do today to solve them.  I’m calling on young people around the world to join my Facebook Fan page and take one of the actions available to them there. As part of “The Last Degree” Facebook fan page they can sign the virtual petition, donate their Facebook status or submit video pledges on how they’re reducing their own carbon footprint and how they want the world’s governments to do the same. Our global leaders need to know that building a sustainable future is critical and that they need to come back to the table on a binding, global agreement on emissions.

6) What sort of comments do you get about your age?

So far all the comments have been positive and supportive. My guide, Doug Stoup, has been to the North and South Pole many times, so my parents know I’ll be safe. Some of my friends even want to do it themselves next year! At first people were shocked that I’d want to do this but once they know the reasons why, the response is always, “How can I help?” It’s really shown me how interested my peers are in the issues facing the Arctic and that they’re looking for ways to make a change. 

7) Who or what has been your biggest motivation as you undertake this quest?

The trip I took last March to Antarctica was my biggest motivation. I’ve had the great privilege and opportunity to travel and see the devastating effects of environmental degradation first hand and as a result I feel it’s also my responsibility to do something about it. I truly believe that young people are willing to — and capable of — working together and build a sustainable future.

8) Is there anything else you would like to add?

The goal of this mission is to help bring the youth together and help make our voices heard, using online tools we all use every day. If you go to my Facebook Fan Page, “The Last Degree,” you can sign a petition for environmental awareness, track my progress on Google Earth and submit video pledges. I know this expedition will be a trip of a lifetime, but the real goal is to enact change for the Arctic region.

*Parker will not be the youngest. The original press release stated he would be the youngest. This was incorrect. Thank you for the correction in the comments.

–Joe Spring

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