Shifting the Dial: Adventure, Crisis & Change Inspired by Nature
The Adventure Community Working Toward a World Free of Plastic Pollution
Taking Action: Sustainability and Empowerment in Everyday Life
Social Impact and Change through Responsible Adventure
Making adventures with a social impact happen – the practical steps to build an adventure with a purpose.
Out of the Water A Lotus Rises – Outdoor Swimming A Gateway to Positive Change.
Adventurers for Conservation: Protecting our Pristine Environments through Creative Awareness and Action
Back to Basics
Sustainable Ocean Governance through Deep Water Exploration
In an era where the prognosis for the planet looks ever bleaker and fresh revelations about the damage we are inflicting on our natural world are a daily occurrence, such sentiments can seem in short supply.
Yet it was words such as these that defined the first Adventure Uncovered Live event in London last week. Billed as a night of “adventure storytelling that matters”, the evening was a timely reminder of humankind’s critical need to reconnect with the wonders of the world around us and the power of adventure as a medium to make that happen.
The night’s keynote speaker, Andy Middleton, the founder director of adventure social enterprise TYF Group, summed up the mood for the event and its purpose: “This is not about some great peak that’s not been climbed before by the direct route on a Thursday afternoon. This isn’t about an ocean that hasn’t been kayaked with green paddles. Or about any kind of trivial pursuit that’s really irrelevant in the kind of world we’re living in today. I want to put to you that our greatest adventure is understanding how to find our place on this little precious planet of ours.”
That discovery could indeed be mankind’s biggest adventure yet, and reminders of just what a metaphorical mountain must be climbed to achieve it were never far from the debate: 12 million tonnes of plastic cast into the sea each year; half of the earth’s wildlife lost in less than two generations; alarming levels of de-oxygenation, acidification and heating in the world’s oceans… The litany of woes was long and gloomy.
But rather than dwell on the depressing facts, the speakers instead focused on the many examples of how adventure can offer a positive riposte to the notion that we are necessarily doomed. For a start there was the simple logic highlighted by campaigning filmmaker Ellie Mackay: that adventurers are in many ways on the front line of the global effort to turn the tide on planetary destruction. “We are where man meets nature,” she said. “We see it first hand. We’re visiting local communities. We can make change happen from the ground up.”
Not only that, but as Mackay said the adventure community genuinely cares about the state of the planet. “We are the last people who want to see the world turned into a giant garbage dump, and we have a vested interest, which means this is not a publicity stunt; there is authenticity behind what we’re saying.
“So my call to action would be for the adventure community firstly to make sure we’re all incorporating sustainable methods within our own travel. But also to act as authentic role models for positive change by promoting this issue at every opportunity so that we can be a louder, more cohesive voice for responsible travel.”
Photos: Alison Clarke
Middleton described the possibilities offered by adventure as an act of love: “We could kill people with pessimism about what’s wrong, and it’s really important we understand the risks, but we must also recognise what we can do by taking people into wild places, to create that sense of wonder and awe, so that we re-fall in love with nature again so deeply that it changes the way people live.”
He challenged the audience and wider adventure community to embrace what he described as a form of “First Aid for nature. “Let’s teach the equivalent of First Aid: not for accidents that have happened; let’s teach it for the future instead and work out how best to communicate the information around physical health and wellbeing, about the relationships between time in nature and our mental wellbeing. About the consumption of our resources – how do we de-materialise the outdoors? How do we make sure our surf beaches aren’t littered with cheap, crappy boards that break after 10 minutes? And how do we learn to reconnect the lives we lead with nature? We have an opportunity to create in effect a First Aid course for nature that gives people the keys to a thriving, different future.”
There were plenty of examples on offer of adventurers making a difference. Hugo Tagholm, chief executive of Surfers Against Sewage (SAS), described how the group’s steady, determined campaigning over many years had helped drive huge improvements in the cleanliness of Britain’s beaches. The organisation is now turning its attentions to the mounting plastic problem; don’t bet against SAS playing a pivotal role in helping combat this latest crisis.
Meanwhile, Oliver Steeds, founder and director of Oxford-based ocean research foundation Nekton reminded us how little we still we know about our planet and how exploration’s capacity to improve our understanding of the world can itself help drive change. Nekton operates a fleet of deep-sea submersibles and is about to embark on an ambitious programme to explore the Bathyal Zone, the 1,000-3,000m-deep tranche of ocean that is thought to harbour the greatest concentration of marine biodiversity yet is also its least explored.
“We now have technology available to us to discover more of our planet in next 10 years than we have in last 1,000,” Steeds said. “We have better maps of the Moon and Mars than we do of our own seabed. We are at this profound moment where we can drive a whole new era of exploration. That’s why I’m optimistic, because if we look back through history of exploration and what it’s achieved for us, it has driven our progression: journeys we’ve taken into the unknown have pushed back our frontiers of knowledge and enabled us to progress. We have this opportunity to explore this unknown frontier and transform our relationship to ourselves and our planet.”
The transformative power of adventure was highlighted in a very different but no less impressive way by passionate outdoor swimmers Alice Gartland, Becky Horsbrugh and Emma Watson. The three outlined some of the different ways in which swimming can be used to effect social change, whether through building self-esteem and confidence, bridging social and cultural divides or even as a tool in international diplomacy. Gartland, whose organisation A Lotus Rises works to empower women through the medium of swimming, evoked the spirit of open-water swimmer Lynne Cox, whose historic swim between the US and Soviet Union across the Bering Strait in 1987 was credited with easing tensions between the two Cold War superpowers.
“I often think that if Kim [Jong-un], [Vladimir] Putin, [Donald] Trump, Xi [Jinping], [Theresa] May and all the others chilled out and went for a swim together the world would be a very different place,” Gartland joked. She raised some inevitable laughs, but the point was deadly serious.
In the closing presentations, adventurer and wilderness guide Ian Finch recounted tales from his recent expedition, an epic 2,000-mile descent of the Yukon River. Along the way, Finch went out of his way to visit and learn from indigenous North American Indian communities, whose lives are intimately and spiritually bound to the lands they inhabit.
Finch said what he discovered were millennia-old ways of life coming under increasing threat from environmental destruction wrought by a warming climate and other anthropogenic activities such as mining.
Discussing these problems with Finch, one community elder imparted to him a piece of wisdom she said had been handed down to her through generations of ancestors, and which she urged him to pass on to others:
“Once you have respect you care, when you care you share, and once you share you teach.”
As a message for all adventurers to unite behind and take with them on their travels, this pretty much said it all.
Written by: Ben Willis