Daniel Price and Erlend Møster Knudsen were really, really fed up with the climate change conversation — specifically, how no one seemed to care about it.
The two friends had met in Svalbard while working on their doctorates — Erlend, a Norway native, was studying Arctic climate science, and Dan from London had a focus on the Antarctic.
"We both agreed that we were spending way too much time writing papers that would only be read by other academics," Erlend explained in an interview with Cafe Babel.
"I sat down at my desk one day finishing up my PhD and I realised that even my parents didn’t know about COP21, even my parents who I babble on, complaining about my PhD to ... . My closest friends weren’t even getting it," Dan told Desmog UK.
But what was the point of all their hard work if the rest of the world refused to pay attention?
They realized that if people didn't care about the science, then maybe the human struggle side could open their eyes.
"The main thing that’s missing in this entire problem is personal stories and making this relevant to people and getting the emotional side across," Dan explained in a Q&A at the Earth to Paris event during COP21.
"And I think that’s going to become far more apparent as we come into the next few decades. So finding a way to communicate those stories is going to be a key way to inspire action."
That's why Dan and Erlend created Pole to Paris, an environmental odyssey that would bring them across the world to raise awareness about climate change.
Starting from their quite polar opposite research positions in the Arctic and Antarctic, Dan and Erlend travelled by foot and bicycle (mostly) for a total combined distance of nearly 20,000 kilometers, ultimately reuniting in Paris just in time for COP21.
Along the way, they lectured at community events and spoke to the local people living on the front lines of our changing planet, bringing public awareness and personal stories to the center of the climate crisis. The original goal was to make the journey without relying on carbon emissions, but, of course, it's hard to bike or run across the ocean, so they did have to rely on a few boats and planes, however reluctantly.
Erlend took the northern route, running 3000 kilometers from the Arctic Circle in Norway all the way to Paris.
This part of the path was dubbed the "Northern Run," for obvious reasons. And while Erlend spent the first half of his trek mostly by himself, he was accompanied by some official Pole to Paris friends as he made his way through the United Kingdom and Belgium.
But Erlend's most remarkable memory from the trip was a meeting with the Saami, the indigenous people of Norway. Here's how he regaled the tale at Earth to Paris:
"Normally the winter out there will freeze the ground from maybe October to maybe April. And it will stay cold. Now things are changing. The Arctic is warming over twice as fast as the global average. So as it gets warmer, now they have this rainfall in the middle of winter, and when it rains it creates ice layers. The reindeer aren’t able to dig through these ice layers down to the food. The calves starve, and the people have to start buying food in the winter, which is very expensive, in order to keep this livelihood. [...] It’s not like me, I live in the city and I can just go to the supermarket to get food. These people see these changes first hand, because they actually live on the natural resources. They have stories to tell."
Meanwhile, Dan rode his bicycle a whopping 10,000 kilometers on an excursion that they called the "Southern Cycle."
His journey took him through more than 19 countries over the course of seven months, including New Zealand, Malaysia, Bangladesh, and Russia. While he didn't have any official accompaniment, Dan made plenty of friends along the way, despite a few language barriers. ("How do you communicate climate change in hand signals?!" he quipped during Earth to Paris.)
Dan was struck hardest by the people in Bangladesh, and with the help of a translator, he was able to communicate their struggles for us:
"One woman, she was a wonderful woman, told me that she was terrified of the ocean. She’s already had to move her home before. She has two young children, and now she's three meters from the shore, protected only by a wall. The danger there, these people have nowhere else to go. It’s horrendous really. The Bangladesh people are so wonderful, resilient incredible people. So kind, generous. And they’re on the front lines of this. It’s these people that we have to speak for."
While Dan and Erlend's cross-country travels have ended, their work is hardly done — and it's more important than ever that we all support the fight against climate change.
Here's what Erlend and Dan had to say after the (mediocre) conclusion of COP21:
"We have a deal. We are a long way from where we need to be, but today for the first time the world has said we will." — Posted by Pole to Paris on Dec. 12, 2015
Dan and Erlend will continue their hard scientific work from their respective polar positions. But if you want to help them in the battle against climate change, you can start by signing this petition to support America's Clean Power Plan and the EPA's efforts to protect the planet.