Why am I going to Antarctica?

A year ago I joined the Homeward Bound program. The first post in this blog describes my motivation and what the program is about. It has been an intense year. Discussions, reading, reflections, work with coaches and mentors. But most of all – the projects I started inspired the program. For example, interactive workshops on climate change, implicit bias, and ally skills. Climathon – a climate-focused hackathon that just happened last weekend and will be a topic for a separate post. And now the time has come for the Antarctica journey.

Homeward Bound culminates in 3 weeks in Antarctica, on board a ship. We will visit 6 research stations (Esperanza, Palmer, Vernadsky, Gonzalez Videla, Frei, Great Wall), learn more about how climate change in Antarctica affects our planet, intensively collaborate on developing climate-focused interdisciplinary projects. The schedule is tight, it’s definitely not going to be a vacation.

But why exactly is it necessary? Why do participants of a climate change program have to travel to Antarctica and thus cause carbon emissions? To answer this question, let me come back to the objectives of the program.

The main goal of Homeward Bound is to create a network of 1000 women in STEMM that care about the future of our planet and are willing to step up and influence the academic community and human behaviour as well as policy and decision making with respect to climate change. To equip the participants with the necessary skills, the program offers a year of online training, master classes, reflection homework, sessions with coaches etc. However, knowledge and training might not be enough to empower participants to act as agents of change on a long-term basis.

In addition to the scientific collaborations and training, the Antarctica journey is meant to create an emotional experience. Polar regions are most affected by climate change and witnessing it first hand has a powerful and motivating effect. In Antarctica, one is surrounded by pristine breathtaking landscapes full of wildlife, while knowing that the biodiversity and life on our planet are under a serious threat. We humans can be infinitely creative and committed to a purpose, but only if there is a true motivation coming from inside. A logical understanding of an issue is important, but an emotional connection can strengthen the motivation and make it personal.

Sharing this experience in an isolated environment with almost no interaction with the default world creates a bond between the participants which goes far beyond collaboration or like-mindedness. I’m in the fourth cohort of the program and from the previous cohorts I learned that it was not the year of training but the 3 weeks in Antarctica that made a unique companionship with unconditional support possible. The current disastrous situation requires changes on all levels: global, national, organizations, personal. To enable these changes we need to act together. Having an interdisciplinary global network of scientists whom I trust, who shared the same powerful experience with me and are willing to work together towards a common goal, is not something easily found and can make a big difference.

But what about the carbon footprint of the Antarctica journey? Although the program offsets the travel-related emissions and follows strict environmental regulations and rules of travelling in the polar regions, it is still an issue of course.

From my point of view, even a bigger problem is that the trip to Antarctica makes participation in the program so expensive. The participants have to fundraise or pay by themselves more than 15.000 Euro, which is a huge amount of money for people like me and an impossible amount for many other people (if you want to support me, here is my fundraising page). While Homeward Bound provides a limited amount of scholarships for people from developing countries, it is definitely not enough to call the program truly accessible and inclusive.

These are the issues that seriously concern many participants including myself and there probably will be discussions about the future of the program on board of the ship. Initially, I joined Homeward Bound not because but rather despite the Antarctica trip. But over the past year I learned to trust in the process and now I’m looking forward to figuring out where our ship will bring me.

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