Friday, 24 August 2012

Q&A: Parker Liautaud

Not your average ski trip - a previous North Pole expendition
Parker Liautaud is one busy chap. Celebrated as a climate change campaigner, global policy leader, public speaker, environmental journalist and polar adventurer...yet he's still only 17 years old. Having recently delivered a million strong petition to Prime Minister David Cameron, he is committed to stimulating public debate on the importance of the environmental plight that he firmly believes is threatening the planet. He's certainly not afraid to lead from the front, acting as a spokesperson for his generation and showing admirable commitment and drive.


As he prepares to embark upon Polar Orbiter, an 890km Antarctic expedition, which will make him the youngest person to trek unsupported to the South Pole, he shares some thoughts with us:

Where did your interest in environmental issues come from?When I was 14, I met an explorer called Robert Swan, the first person to walk to both the North and South poles. After months of conversation about potential projects, I joined his 2009 Antarctic expedition. It was only when I came back that I realised that the reality of the changes happening there today were being masked by the striking environment of the Antarctic. I became very interested in what was happening and the implications of these changes for people all over the world - it's a real threat to human development.

Who are your heroes?
There are many leaders in the climate change issue that I admire greatly. I think that Kofi Annan really understands that position that the different demographics and cultures are in, and because of that I am very inspired by the way he talks about the issue.

The people I admire the most are the people that I work with, regardless of their fame or fortune, or even their area of leadership. These people are the ones that really inspire and motivate me. They make me think that if, by the time I reach their age, I could be half as accomplished as they are, I would be the luckiest person in the world: Doug Stoup (my mentor and team-mate on all three of my expeditions to the North Pole, the man who has been to the North and South poles more than any person on the planet) - his attitude and his discipline, especially in some of the most difficult situations imaginable, are nothing short of astonishing. 

Others are David Jones, the Global CEO of Havas, and Kate Robertson, the UK Group Chair of EuroRSCG, who both co-founded One Young World, the global forum for young leaders. 

What simple steps can one do to help make a difference to our environment?
Personally, I don't believe that actions like reducing your personal consumption of electricity or travelling a little less will have much of an impact, even collectively. You may choose to fly less, but there are hundreds of millions in the developing world that are slowly reaching a level of economic development where they can afford to fly. However there are definitely actions that individuals can take to make a significant impact:

- VOTE: You may doubt politicians, but we are in an age when if the people don't like what a party or leader stands for, they can take it/him/her down (look at the Arab Spring). If collectively, individuals demand a concrete plan for progress in working towards a sustainable future from their politicians, they will respond. We have the privilege of democracy and the power of a vote - we should use it.

- CONSIDER YOUR CHOICES: Market forces have immense power. Individuals have the ability to reward companies that demonstrate their commitment to the future, and publicly hold accountable those who don't. If a company is not taking responsibility for its actions and its community, then it doesn't deserve our support. Making smart choices also proves to politicians the support there is for this.

- LEARN: The severity of the issue has been poorly communicated in the past. The perception that people have is one of the most important aspects of the problem - it can be an obstacle to progress and a catalyst for it. Take time and make an effort to learn the real facts behind the problem with an open mind, whether you are an alarmist, a hard-core skeptic or even if you just aren't sure. Your knowledge is powerful.


What message do you want to get through to your peers?
The first Rio Earth Summit took place 2 years before I was born. The Kyoto Protocol was first ratified when I was a toddler. Our progress has been very slow and has quite frankly not been good enough. This issue is not going away, and regardless of what we do today, it will be a big, big problem in the future (it's already problematic today). That's a scary thought. Our generation is the one that will primarily be living with the consequences of decisions that have already been made, but we will also be the generation that holds the most power. I hope that we are collectively up for the challenge of leading a swift change in how we approach this issue. The people of this world will depend on it.

Despite making me feel a bit aged and not nearly active enough, Parker gets our full support and lots of luck and best wishes!  Visit www.parkerliautaud.com/

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