‘How do you think we can save the planet?’ – A question posed to Anturus’ expedition leader Huw James by his American Counterpart and founder of Untamed Science, Rob Nelson.
‘You’re asking the wrong question,’ was Huw’s considered response – ‘The planet will be just fine without us. I think the point is how can we save humanity?’
The powerhouse adventure educator behind the Anturus brand makes a fantastic point. Planet earth, according to the current popular science belief, has been around for some 4.5 Billion years. To put this into perspective, Humanity as we know it is said to have evolved around 200,000 years ago. I intentionally use the word evolved here – as many of my friends and readers will know, I’m not shy of articulating my Christian beliefs – yet I have found room within this belief system to recognise the active process of evolution that I’ve witnessed in the world’s many biomes. Anyway, that’s another BLOG POST.
Graphic Curtosey of the Smithsonian Institution
Back to the small topic of the history of our planet, according to the Smithsonian Institution the first tangible link to humanity started around six million years ago with a primate group called Ardipithecus. Skipping forward a few Genus’ to the rise of the Homo species, our own brand of Homo sapiens began to take hold with bigger brains, tool making abilities, and exponentially increasing ‘intelligence’ around approximately 198,000BC.
In the last 200,000 years Homo Sapians have reproduced and relocated to permanently reside on 6 out of the worlds 7 continents, and have grown to over 7 Billion individuals. No small feat of success. Yet in this time, in stark contrast to our spatio-biological achievements, the effect we’ve had on our planet cannot be understated. We can, given time, resources, and education, survive in every environment on the planet. Yet sadly, and through no fault of it’s own, it seems the environment is not so versatile as to survive with us. Every year we destroy forests and habitats, drive species into extinction, kill each other, and push the planet to the brink of being absolutely fed up of us (notice I emit the word destroy here, as it’s my firm belief that if one of us is to go, it won’t be the planet).
So having established that for the past 4.5 Billion years, the planet seems to have coped fairly well, we come full circle back to the question at hand. How can we save humanity? The grassroots movement 350.org posited in 2007 that 350 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere was a ‘safe’ upper limit to the threshold tipping point of irreversible climate change. Fast forward to may 2013 and it was apparent to another intrepid team of adventuring scientists that this key figure had long been exceeded. From the summit of Mauna Loa in Hawaii, two separate and unrelated teams recorded in excess of 400ppm CO2. It’s becoming increasingly clear to the growing amount of supporters of the 350 movement that something needs to change in our basic attitude towards the planet we call home; and I make no excuse for the use of the word ‘our’ in it’s broadest sense, as even the most ecological amongst us must accept some blame. So, what’s the solution to such an apparently insurmountable problem?
…Education, according to Anturus. Nothing new there, you might say. For decades since becoming aware of increasing change to our climate, a few politicians, a larger amount of academics, and an even bigger quantity of non-profits and charities have sought to find the answer to the problem of climate change through better education. Yet Anturus do things differently, and the clue is in the name.
True to the groups roots, the word Anturus is in fact a Welsh word, meaning ‘adventurous.’ – and this is the entire philosophy behind the exciting new educational concept. For years now, we have been numbing children brains in sterile classrooms with often dated educational approaches. Now I’m not trying to knock teachers, not least because a number of them are close friends of mine and will likely be reading this. I think our countries esteemed and under-applauded, over-worked educators do an unbelieavly fantastic and regularly thankless job of moulding the minds of an inquisitive generation of young individuals. Yet with limited resources and an ever imposing health and safety culture enacting it’s influence on the good field trips of yesteryear, there is only so much one can learn about the effects our SUV’s have on the carbon repositories of the Haute-Montanges and the incomprehensibly large lungs of the tropics, without actually ever having set foot on a flowing river of ice high in the mountains or walked curiously through a shrinking tropical rainforest – and that’s where Anturus comes in.
Made up of a small yet diverse group of professional STEM communicators, adventurers and scientists, Anturus’ particular brand of education seems to communicate one simple and yet profound message. STEM – that is to say science, technology, engineering and maths – is frickin’ cool! Huw and his team hold the potential key in ‘Anturus’ to unlock and inspire the minds of an entire generation not only to the need to change things, but also to the reality that science doesn’t necessarily mean white coats, test tubes, equations and spectacles, as the outdated and inappropriately derogatory popularist image would have you believe. The recent Expedition Alpine is a perfect example of real science in practice.
Myself and another member of the Anturus team – Neil Monteiro – filming next to a raging stream of surface meltwater
The past week saw Anturus collaborate with Microsoft on their latest expeditionary endeavour high in the french alps. Having previously run trips to the slopes of Mount Etna and the polluted waters of the River Severn, this was the fledgling educational groups first fully funded, full scale expedition to a potentially hostile location, with it’s own set of unique difficulties and obstacles to working such an environment. The 10 days spent in the mountains saw the Anturus team scale peaks up to 4000 metres to study the effects of altitude on human biology and performance, abseil deep into crevasses within one of europe’s longest glaciers to look at the formation of ice caves, and (with no small thanks to the insightful support of Microsoft) Skype live into classrooms almost a thousand kilometres away from the oxygen deprived slopes of Mont Blanc, Europe’s highest mountain, to be directly quizzed by the next generation of STEM potentials on the findings of their trip. All of this, whilst producing 4 hours worth of educational worksheets and video resources demonstrating adventure science in practice and available for schools across the UK to access on www.anturus.org
Huw assists Jay, Anturs’ resident water specialist, in taking samples from a surface meltwater stream.
Huw James skyping live into a UK Classroom from the lower reaches of Mont Blanc
The change witnessed during this expedition was, for many of the team, frightening. As once competent geographical academic turned creative media-type and a regular visitor to the french Alps over the past 8 years, I for one was shocked to see the scale of retreat and melting on Le Tour glacier, and I struggle to put the below pictures of the glaciars 2012 abalation zone turned 2015 glaical snout, both taken by me, down to seasonal variations.
The frightening change to the abalation zone of the Tour glacier
Yet during the final interviews high on the Italian side of the vallee blanche, the Anturus team remained hopeful. Huws passion and enthusiasm for what he belives to be the solution to one of our societies most significant problems since the 2006 Jaffa Cake shortage of Exeter is shared by the rest of his team, made up of Dr Melanie Windridge (Plasma Physicist), Jay Neale (Water Quality Specialist), Neil Monteiro (Physicist and Science communicator), Bonita Norris (Adventure and Exploration ambassador) and yours truly, Ryan Atkinson (Adventure and Wildlife Cameraman and part-time geography enthusiast). Despite soaring temperatures in the Chamonix valley, unstable and melting snow high in the mountains, and a significant lack of cheese, the team of educational adventurers are optimistic and excited about the potential to influence and energise the minds of the next generation to the exciting possibilities of real-life science.
The Anturus team are now hard at work wading through hours of footage to upload for schools to access and use in the classroom. They’re also looking forward to their next expedition with a whole host of meetings with potential sponsors and funds, in the hope that Anturus will continue to grow into one of the most influential and active ambassadors for change in not only how we approach STEM learning, but taking it one step further to give children the tools and more importantly the passion they need to save humanity.
You can join the adventure at www.anturus.org, on Facebook at /anturus or twitter @anturus.