Hubert Burda Media

The Cape-less Crusader

He gives public talks, directs environmental initiatives, is an advocate for sustainable development, writes books and physically retraces historic polar expeditions. But as Farah Liyana soon discovers, all TIM JARVIS needs to save the world is his iron will contained in his six-foot build

When someone says he doesn’t want an easy life, one automatically wonders what his perception of “hard” is defined by. In Tim Jarvis’s case, “hard” is going on an unsupported, re-enacted expedition to honour the world’s greatest explorers. In town recently for the Global Social Innovators Forum (GSIF), the 46-year-old British-Australian environmental scientist-cum-adventurer was a guest speaker in a forum that hosted dialogues centred on “walking the talk”.
Since 2007, Jarvis has taken a bold unprecedented leap to generate awareness about the world’s biodiversity loss. He traced the Douglas Mawson Antarctic Expedition of 1912 by reconstructing an exact replica of the boat used, accompanied by the technology, food and equipment the team had with them then. This month, Jarvis will embark on the Shackleton Epic to retrace the steps of Sir Ernest Shackleton in his history-making 1916 Antarctic voyage. Jarvis and his six-man team will set sail from the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula, cross the southern ocean to South Georgia, and then scale its mountain peak.
You’ve tackled Antarctica four times. Does it get easier with each expedition?
No. The bigger the profile you build for yourself, the more experience you’ll have in doing things, the easier it is to raise funds for doing the next one. But you also pick bigger challenges so you’re always operating at the edge of your technical ability.
How do you feel about leading this expedition in honour of Sir Ernest Shackleton?
Very positive. His goal, above all others, was to get a group of men to pull together in the same direction to achieve this impossible journey. I think Shackleton’s journey is a metaphor for the way the world is today. We have very big challenges facing us — climate change, financial crisis, rising extremism — but you can’t tackle these things in a piecemeal way. It has to be a collective effort to overcome them.
What made you want to replicate this journey?
To honour him really. I think you’ve got to do it the same way as he did, otherwise there isn’t enough of a challenge. It is also a great way to highlight the amount of change that has happened in the hundred years since he was there. I often say that Shackleton’s goal was to save his men from the Antarctic. My goal is to save Antarctica from men.
So you are really going to re-enact the entire trip, boat, technology and all?
Yes. We’ve rebuilt the boat completely, from the one in the museum. It cost us several hundred thousand dollars to rebuild it and has been filmed for the Discovery Channel.
What’s at the core to the success of the voyage?
Team work. If you don’t have the right team, you won’t be able to accomplish it. But people’s reasons for doing it are different. You have to understand what an individual’s motivation is for wanting to risk his life doing the trip. You have to appeal to those reasons to make them all pull in the same direction. Not everybody wants to save the world for the same reason. Some want to look good in the eyes of their consumers, some want to do it to save money by reducing energy and waste, and others want to do it because they’re philanthropic.
Who are you accompanied by in the voyage?
I’m leading the team with two Volvo round-the-world ocean sailors, the head of the Royal Marines, a guy from the Royal Navy, and a photographer-cum-cameraman who’s been up Everest twice.
What sort of preparation goes behind readying you and your team?
It’s really a lot of physical preparation. You try to put on weight before you leave, because you lose a lot of it in the extreme cold combined with the work load. But more than that, it’s really about the mental preparation — understanding how you’re going to motivate yourself when there’s nobody around to reinforce your reasoning. It has to come from within.
What sort of challenges do you anticipate you’re going to be faced with?
There will be a lot of personal issues between the people. Imagine six men in a 6.9m boat in one of the roughest oceans in the world. The boat has no keel so it might capsize. There are three things that I’m fearful of: One is the ocean and the storms that we’ll inevitably meet; two is trying to land on an island that’s just a rocky outcrop; three, it is climbing through the mountains, which are all glaciers that, because of climate change, have less ice than there used to be so the chances of falling will be higher.
What’s it like returning back home after an expedition like this?
I find it very difficult to get back to everyday life. I think that the issues that people regard as important, when you get back to everyday life, are sometimes not really very important. It has a lot to do with how you’re perceived by others. I find a lot of societal values, such as the constant acquisition of materials, is really a proxy for wanting to achieve other things in life — I find that really difficult to understand after spending so much time out there just trying to survive.