Gasps and exclamations of disgust rang out in the Leonardo da Vinci K-8 school’s auditorium as polar explorer Robert Swan described the effects of taking off your gloves in minus-82-degree weather to the assembled students: First, your fingers would turn gray, and then green.
More than 300 sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students at the magnet school in Sacramento’s Hollywood Park neighborhood sat riveted Friday to Swan’s stories of surviving the frigid temperatures, the sinking of his ship off the coast of Antarctica and biking around India. He used his tales to impart lessons on the values of teamwork, dedication to goals and the importance of fighting climate change.
“Guys and gals, it’s really important that you never be that person who sits in the back of the room and says, ‘Someone else will do something about it,’ ” Swan said. “Be the person who says, ‘I can do something about it.’ ”
Swan is best known for being the first man to walk to both the North and South Poles without GPS, food drops or radio contact, a goal he said he’d worked toward since he was 11 years old.
After observing changes in the icy environments he attributed to climate change, Swan became an advocate for the preservation of Antarctica and halting the progression of global warming through sustainability and renewable energy, founding an organization called 2041 in 1991 dedicated to those goals. He travels the world speaking on the subject.
“We need to listen to what our world is telling us,” Swan told the gathered students. “The ice in the Arctic is melting, and we need to listen to that.”
Swan said he thinks people are often too negative when they talk about protecting the planet, and the gloomy message doesn’t engage young people. He hoped his talk was able to inspire them.
“I’m trying to give them a positive message,” Swan said. “Looking after the world is important, but it’s not boring. I want them to know if they work together and have a dream, anything is possible.”
Sixth-grader Yahaira Romo-Gutierrez, 11, said she was excited to meet Swan. She said she found his talk inspirational and he made a better hero than singers like Lady Gaga or Beyoncé.
“They’re just famous for singing,” she said. “He’s famous for saving the world.”
Swan spoke at the school as a favor to sixth-grade science teacher Kim Williams, who won the chance to travel to Antarctica for two weeks in 2012 with Swan and 2041 through a teachers competiton. The annual expedition brought 73 leaders in sustainability from around the world to “the last great wilderness” to see for themselves what they are protecting. Williams said she often incorporates pictures from her trip into her lessons on protecting the environment.
“I think kids these days are becoming more and more removed from the environment,” Williams said. “They listen a lot more carefully when they see the pictures and hear my stories.”
Williams said she hoped her students took Swan’s message of following their dreams to heart.
“I think it’s good for the kids to have the opportunity to see someone who was the first person to do something,” she said. “He set this goal and did whatever he needed to do to become this person.”
For Isabella Schneider, 11, Swan certainly had this effect.
“It was really cool because when he started out, everyone thought he was crazy,” Schneider said. “And even though everyone doubted him, he just kept on doing what he thought was awesome.”
Williams said she and the other teachers at Leonardo da Vinci often incorporate the school garden into lessons and coordinate with UC Davis to bring engineering students into the classroom to talk about renewable energy.
More information on Robert Swan’s work can be found at www.2041.com.
Call The Bee’s Ellen Garrison at (916) 321-1006.