Around 9 months ago, as Mike Horn became the first solo explorer to completely trek across Antarctica (6,800km in 57 days), he encountered an unexpected problem. His ship, the 110-foot Pangaea, had an electrical issue and could not arrive in Antarctica to retrieve him. Stranded, with summer fading, he journeyed to a French research facility, the Dumont d’Urville, where he got on a resupply vessel to Australia and met his ship. You can watch his interview with us above.
What Mike Horn Discovered on Pole2Pole
The Pangaea is back on its feet and now making its way across Asia. Horn has been communicating about his experience crossing the two Poles. One important tool that enabled him to survive was his watch. One of his sponsors is Swiss watchmaker Officine Panerai. It worked with Horn to develop a special version of the Pole2Pole watch meant to survive temperatures as cold as -50∘C and would keep precise time in order to double as a compass and navigation as well. “Magnetic compasses don’t work at the Poles. So my watch had to act as way to tell the direction as well.” But his focus is on climate change and the scientific research he conducted as they traversed the world.
His accounts of climate devastation are worrying. Some clear evidence he saw included the migration routes of whales, which are changing. This is due to the lack of food (plankton) at certain depths of the oceans. “The plankton are no longer rising as high to absorb carbon dioxide that they need,” he explained. “So the whales can’t find the plankton they consume and they need to go deeper.” Another was grizzly bears moving into the habitats of polar bears. “I saw polar bears and grizzlies killing each other,” he recalled. “We’ve never seen that before.”
But the most serious evidence of Mankind’s damage to the environment are the plastic dead zones in the ocean. Plastic dead zones are spots where ocean currents meet, and essentially push the plastic garbage dumped into the oceans into one area (gyre). There are six gyres in the world today. Because gyres are an area where algae blooms occur, it’s a low-oxygen area where nothing lives. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which Horn passed, is now twice the size of the continental US.
“It’s a problem because it all congeals and you can pick it up, it’s like slush or jelly,” he explains. “And birds and fish, they think it’s squid or jellyfish and they eat it. The thing is, plastics don’t break down. It lasts for 200 years. So one fish eats the plastic, a small piece of polystyrene, and eventually it dies. But that plastic will still stay in the water and another fish eats it. And another. This tiny piece of polystyrene can poison 100 fish.” Often, that plastic ends up in our own bodies, when we eat seafood.
Banning Single-Use Plastics
He strongly advocates a ban on single-use plastics around the world, not only in Singapore where we’ve been debating the issue but in huge cities like Shanghai. “It’s easy for a country like Singapore or Switzerland to do it.” He hopes we will in fact ban single-use plastics, though the government has yet to initiate such a move. Last year, Dr Amy Khor, then Senior Minister of State for the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources, said: “We need to engage the stakeholders, which we are doing. And we are also looking at the experiences of other countries, as well as a life cycle assessment study that we are conducting, which will look at the cost and environmental impact of the different types of bags used. This will help us to formulate policies, including on the use of plastic bags… we will share the results of the study, and the decision on whether to implement a charge on plastic bags.” Results will be published in the first quarter of 2018.
Here’s hoping we’ll see stronger actions, such as the enforcement of bioplastic bags or paper packaging instead of plastic. Have bottled water like this. Use bamboo disposable utensils or even better, Bakeys (you can eat the spoon you used to eat your lunch). After all, if Kenya, Rwanda and Bali can enforce a plastic bag ban, surely Singapore can do it.