There’s greenery in Antarctica.
Moss, hair grass and lichen-like sprigs sprout from the rocks on King George Island, the largest of the islands on the squiggly tip of the continent that reaches for South America.
Abdulla AlMisnad, the Qatari native and Shell Oil engineer who logged his 15-day journey to Antarctica for Petroleum News’ sister publication Greening of Oil, posted photographs of this vegetation on March 23, after his return to Doha, Qatar.
Summer is just wrapping up in the southern hemisphere, which includes Antarctica. In Qatar, temperatures top 80 degrees, but summer won’t begin for several more months.
Now, though, AlMisnad is shifting his focus, taking the experiences from his trip to the most remote place on earth and writing post expedition logs for people in the least remote places.
“It’s surprising how rich and vibrant the place is,” AlMisnad told Petroleum News on March 29, safe and sound back in Doha. “That’s what you don’t expect just because you kind of get used to living very detached from nature. Another thing that really surprised me is the diverse backgrounds of the people that were with us on the trip, in terms of both their nationalities and professions. This went to show me that sustainable development really is a global issue that is being approached from so many different angles. We had hedge fund managers investing in green tech, singers singing about new responsibilities, actuaries trying to calculate the increased risks associated with global warming.”
In his log, AlMisnad wrote that Antarctica becomes a symbol to all who visit, from a personal challenge, to a global challenge, to a source of beauty and inspiration. Thinking back, AlMisnad said Antarctica came to symbolize “undeveloped places; it’s a symbol of the fact that we don’t understand the real value of what we get from nature. I mean even in terms of resources like water, air, food and minerals, we’ve kind of built our world assuming that these things will remain cheap for the long run. The challenge is really to rethink this assumption and see how it affects our industrial system.”
The adventuresBefore the lessons, though, come the adventures.
Paradoxically, King George Island brought not only grass, but also civilization. AlMisnad described it as “basically a collection of research bases from all over the world” where Russians, Chinese, Chileans, Argentineans, Uruguayans, Koreans, Brazilians and researchers from other countries work, where two churches sit on either side of a valley, where the Chinese and the Russians operate nearby bases in two different time zones.
On March 15, day 11 of his trip, AlMisnad wrote about how it was “strange to see all of the metal against the Antarctic background. A few people don’t like this, I’m not sure I mind too much.” His reason? Sustainable development, which he defines as “figuring out how to make humans interact with the environment in a way that makes sense for both.”
That philosophy includes the trip itself, which AlMisnad described as a form of development, where humans left a mark, however small, on untouched wilderness.
“The issue did come up and in fact 2041 calculated the total carbon footprint of the trip and recommend ways to offset that CO2,” AlMisnad wrote to Petroleum News. “I don’t really see any contradiction though. The challenge of the future is more to figure out how to coexist with nature, how to make the most of it while thinking about the future.”
Like an ancient explorationThat’s the attitude AlMisnad brought with him to Doha where he continues to post occasional entries in a post expedition blog on Greening of Oil. He’s home, but he’s not done exploring.
He compares research into sustainable development to the great explorations of old.
“Columbus did it for gold. Shackleton did it for glory. The Vikings did it for fish. We do it for the environment and our future,” he wrote in his final log for the expedition. “Sustainable development is something of a blank spot on our maps. We still don’t fully understand the ways in which our actions affect the environment and how the environment in turn affects us and will affect our children. What we do realize is that we are not developing in a way that makes the most sense given how important the environment is.”
AlMisnad interviewed Bill Spence, a Shell Oil expert on carbon dioxide who also went on the expedition to Antarctica, who described his own environmental epiphany.
A few years after graduating, Spence found himself deep enough into his career to be have some extra money and free time, and a place of his own, when a colleague from Nigeria asked him, “When you go home to your flat and you are sitting there in the little box, how can you tell when your neighbor needs you? My head spun. What I had spent 20 odd years of my life working towards, I realized, was a small pebble at the base of a mountain. There’s much more to my world than I had ever imagined: Community.”
AlMisnad believes his job with Shell helps this cause.
“Shell does a lot of things related to carbon management, basically trying to reduce the CO2 emitted from Shell’s operations and products. They do everything from improving the energy efficiency of their operations to developing new fuels to advocacy,” he wrote. “What we do here in Qatar is try to develop carbon capture and sequestration projects to capture CO2 made in Qatar and store it underground.”
Ideas for further learningIn his recent, post expedition, logs, AlMisnad offers tools to help people learn more about sustainability.
In one, he offers more than a dozen links for readers to measure and track their environmental footprint, as well as for Web sites devoted to sustainable research and development and to showcasing tips for creating a more energy efficient household.
That feeds into the “Coolest Curriculum,” a lesson plan on Antarctica created by 2041, the organization responsible for the expedition AlMisnad and Spence joined.
AlMisnad believes these tools can help people understand their responsibilities. “It takes activists and politicians to make new laws. It takes engineers and bankers to make better plants. It takes homeowners and office workers to turn off the lights and it takes students and teachers to keep the lights on,” he wrote. “We all have responsibilities to see how we can help fill in those gaps in the map and to explore the value of unspoiled places.
Greening of Oil has posted links to 2041’s Coolest Curriculum on the Antarctica expedition Web page at http://www.greeningofoil.com/antarctica.aspx, as well as highlighted portions of Abdulla’s daily expedition logs as discussion points for educators of children 8-12 years of age.