Robert Swan

Polar Explorer, Environmental Activist, and First Man to Reach both Poles

Robert Swan

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Robert Swan, OBE is the world’s first person to walk to both the North and South Poles. He earned his place alongside the greatest explorers in history by accomplishing this feat by age 33. His 900-mile journey to the South Pole, ‘In the Footsteps of Scott,’ stands as the longest unassisted walk ever made on earth.

During Swan's Antarctic expeditions, his team survived near-death encounters as the oceanic ice melted prematurely due to climate change. His eyes also permanently changed color due to prolonged UV exposure under the hole in the ozone layer.

These experiences helped shape Swan's life goal: to ensure the preservation of Antarctica, the Earth’s last great wilderness. He founded the 2041 Foundation, an organization dedicated to this goal. Key initiatives include partnership since the early 1990s with the United Nations World Summit for Sustainable Development, and a wide range of global and local environmental missions which have inspired youth around the world to become sustainable leaders and promote the use of renewable energy.

Since 2003, Swan has led annual expeditions to Antarctica with students and business executives to heighten awareness of the Antarctic and build advocacy to ensure its survival as a wilderness. His teams have also helped design and build the world’s first Antarctic renewable energy education station.

Swan has served as Special Envoy to the UNESCO Director General and as a UN Goodwill Ambassador for Youth. In recognition of his work, Her Majesty the Queen awarded him the high distinction of OBE, Officer of the Order of the British Empire and the Polar Medal.  

Robert Swan has earned his place in history alongside the great explorers and adventurers who have tested their physical and mental strength to the limit in the planet's most hostile environments. By the age of 33, he had become the first person to walk to both the North and South Poles. His 900-mile journey 'In the Footsteps of Scott' across the treacherous Antarctic ice cap to the South Pole stands as the longest unassisted walk ever made.

The successful completion of his North and South Pole expeditions marked the beginning of a new phase in his life. On both expeditions, he experienced, firsthand, the effects of environmental damage on the Polar icecaps. In Antarctica, his eyes were affected and the skin peeled from his face after walking for weeks under the hole in the ozone layer. In the Arctic, the team almost drowned due to melting ice, caused by global warming.

These experiences shaped Swan's lifetime goal -- to work for the preservation of the Antarctic as the last great wilderness on earth. He is now based in the USA, where he is preparing for his next two voyages. Earlier in 2006, he led a team of teachers, students and corporate personnel on the ‘International Antarctic Expedition 4’ — for the delivery of the first Education Base (E-Base) in Antarctica.

Later next year, he will demonstrate both the effects of climate change, and what can be accomplished with renewable and recycled materials, when he circumnavigates the Americas via the Northwest Passage. He will chart the same course through the passage that took Roald Amundsen three years to complete in 1903. This time it is estimated to take only three months due to the accelerated thawing of the Arctic ice.

Between adventures, Swan shares his experiences, bringing his abilities to lead, inspire, motivate, persuade and educate to audiences through his presentations and lectures.

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Speaker Video

Leadership on the edge: Robert Swan at TEDxUNPlaza