Keep Antarctica as It Is

It was far better to ski toward the South Pole than to reach it.

When I started out my journey in November 1992, everything was white all the way out to the horizon. As the weeks passed, I began to see more colors: variations of white, a bit of blue, green and yellow. By the time the strange-looking buildings of the Amundsen-Scott base appeared on the horizon 50 days later, I felt relief but also disappointment, and thought about skiing past it, back into the white nothingness.

The South Pole was considered the last place on earth when a fellow Norwegian, Roald Amundsen, arrived with four companions, a few dozen dogs and four sledges 100 years ago today. He beat his famous rival, the British explorer Robert Falcon Scott, by a little more than a month. Scott never returned.

The world had been watching. Norway had just gained its independence. Britain was still a superpower but its empire was fading. Amundsen’s expedition changed the way we thought about the world. As The New York Times put it on March 8, 1912, after learning of Amundsen’s feat: “The whole world has now been discovered.”

We should use this anniversary to think about the future of this continent, the coldest, driest, windiest place on earth, where the ice is up to two miles thick in places. What Scott saw as a forsaken landscape — “Great God! This is an awful place,” he wrote in his diary — Amundsen found enthralling. “The country lay before us in the brilliant light,” Amundsen wrote on Nov. 13, 1911. “Shining white, bright blue, utterly black illuminated by sunlight, the country looks like a fairy tale. Precipices, peaks on peaks, so cragged and so wild, it lies unseen and virgin-like.”

The terrain Amundsen saw was totally different from anything that he or anyone else had ever seen: an entire continent covered by ice and snow. Comparisons failed him. In his diary, he began by likening the landscape to Hardangervidda, the spare, treeless mountain range in western Norway where he had trained for his Antarctic expedition. But he realized that Antarctica’s vastness resembles only itself.

I ventured into that vastness 81 years after Amundsen, skiing Nordic-style nearly 840 miles from the ocean ice to the South Pole. I was alone, without even a radio. For me, as for Amundsen, Antarctica was a land of dreams. It was an imagined land long before anyone had seen the continent. The Greek philosophers wrote of a terra australis incognita, the unknown land of the south.

Since the Age of Enlightenment, nature has been regarded first and foremost for its potential for exploitation. We Norwegians are petroholics, for instance, and our oil has made us prosperous in a world of economic uncertainty. But the world should leave Antarctica as it is. I became convinced, as I wrote in my journal, “that the Polar Regions will have its greatest worth for mankind, not by being regulated and exploited, but by being left nearly untouched by man.”

With all the challenges the world faces, we don’t need to civilize another continent. In a world where people are living closer and closer and facing more rules and expectations, we still need a vast white nothingness — “something,” as I wrote in my journey, “which is not fully explored and made ordinary... A continent which may be a state of mind.”

The land Amundsen explored and told the world about is still frozen in time. I hope this anniversary can be a reminder that Antarctica’s value cannot be measured only in money and power, but also in emotion. There should exist in the world a place that is left almost untouched.

By Erling Kagge, a publisher, polar explorer and philosopher.

Deja una respuesta

Tu dirección de correo electrónico no será publicada. Los campos obligatorios están marcados con *