The American founder of the Global Glacier Initiative, author of 31 books, financial consultant, photographer & pilot is on a mission to capture as many glaciers as he can before they disappear, while leaning out of the single engine plane he inherited from his grand father.
One word that describes you?
What is your personal indulgence?
Transcendent isolation from civil society, whether listening to a stupendous opera at home, or a flight above the clouds in the mountains.
Global scientists tell us that 1.5°C (34.7°F) above pre-industrial level is the absolute ‘red line in the sand’ before we enter a one-way road to “irreversible destruction” … that Net Zero carbon emissions by 2050 is too late and we must put a brake on carbon this decade.
What are your most inspiring climate actions? Are you committing to Net Zero carbon emissions or better before 2030?
I am most inspired by recent successes in Iceland with carbon recapture. I think that is our only reasonable hope to maintain a modern society, continue to progress, and simultaneously not drive ourselves to misery or extinction.
Given that the current economic crisis was triggered by a public-health crisis, what changes should we expect from travellers and the tourism industry that should persist long into the future?
I think the travel experience was broken before COVID-19, and has been made to the point of insufferable due to pandemic measures. Mass travel needs a reboot from an experience perspective, much less an infrastructure capacity and carbon standpoint.
Quality over quantity would be a good place to begin.
From the last 25 years in the sustainability movement; where have we succeeded in creating real change and where have we failed? And what does that tell us about how we need to do things differently?
I find the “past vs future” perspectives quite interesting, as we tend to look to the future with a sense of urgency and fear, whereas whilst progress in the past may not have been fast enough, there is often room for appreciation. We have gotten many things right with sustainability from system-wide standpoint when it comes to resource consumption: fossil fuel automobile efficiency, LED lighting, the elimination of much of print media that killed many trees, CFCs, and even such small things that a soda can now uses only 20% of the
aluminum as the first generation. All of these things were made possible by efficiency, computerization, and science. At the same token, we are not slowing down carbon emissions, so there is much work to be done. I personally think our hope lies half a century from now, where we might be able to go carbon negative.
What are your thoughts on carbon offsetting? Do you offset your air and ground travel carbon emissions?
Certain methods of carbon offsetting do not inspire me, as they are part of a complex web of interactions that has other weak points. What I am very excited about is the prospect of a scalable carbon recapture scheme. As of now, I have not yet offset carbon emissions.
2022 is the Year to be Bold. What would you say to inspire transformative change?
It must be NOW that we get it done. If it cannot be via politics or international agreement or philanthropy or market forces, then science and technological innovation. Above all, do something.
A great reset is anticipated post Covid-19. What do you personally need to reset? What 3 changes must happen NOW to get people to change attitudes and behaviour?
There is no shortage of intense public emotion via media sources about carbon emissions and what we should be doing, however there is often too little that a person can control. For example, I recently attempted to purchase an electric car and cannot find one to buy. I have no control over the building I live in which chose to install wood pellet heating. Other than ticking the “renewable tariff” option on my electricity bill, many do not have influence over where their power is sourced. I believe that viable options for carbon zero living should be put into the hands of average individuals. If we cannot do that, then therein lies the challenge we need to overcome systemically.
The UK and EU have passed the Carbon Laws. Should governments make Net Zero carbon emissions mandatory before 2030 for individuals and companies? What should the incentives and penalties be?
Some caution is in order regarding poorly structured and overly strong mandates. If runaway costs and availability issues get too painful from a mandate, then the populace will recoil and change their mind. We saw that in a recent referendum in Switzerland. I do think that government should shoulder the burden of cost for infrastructure where incentives alone do not encourage action. For example, an oil furnace installed 10 years ago has 20 years of life left, which would make a homeowner unlikely to replace it early. Governments should step in and cover that incentive misalignment to encourage the
installation of green systems where the market does not. If viable carbon recapture is available on a mass scale, then a simple solution would be to
add a tax to all fossil fuel and carbon input fuel sources to cover the cost of recapture and remit that to the recapture entity. We could get to net zero without having to immediately overhaul most of society. The key is in the scalability of the technology.
What ‘cause’ are you involved in and what drives your passion? What are your bold actions that are driving change?
I have a personal love for glaciers that dates to childhood. Even if we went to carbon zero today, as much as 40% of existing glacier mass would still be lost in the future, as there is a delay built into the system. At the pace we are going as a society, I am not convinced we will get to carbon zero remotely close enough to make a difference, so I have decided that most of the glaciers we know will disappear. If history is an indication, they won’t be back for millennia. Thus, I have decided to fly to and document as many of them as possible before they melt or I die. I am thinking of generations not yet born while I do
While I am not optimistic about the capacity for present influence, I would love it if my images helped drive awareness and shape present behavior.
Who is your greatest influence? What legacy would you like to leave behind from your leadership?
My grandfather is my greatest influence. He told me when I was very young that I can do anything I set my mind to and not to let anyone tell me I can’t. Ironically, he made it clear before he died that he wished I wasn’t flying around glaciers in a small plane that he restored, but he saw there was little he could do to get in the way. I am hoping my images in future decades or centuries will have the impact that Ansel
Adams’ work does now.
Your best advice to young generations concerned about their future?
Call things by their right names and find a solution to the problem.