Monday, June 17Royal Holloway's offical student publication, est. 1986

‘Pole to Paris’: the 15,000km journey for climate change

Meet ‘Pole to Paris’: the team running and cycling 15,000km to talk about climate change.

‘Pole to Paris’ is a public awareness campaign that revolves around the travels of a group of environmental scientists from the Polar Regions to Paris; together they will cover 15,000km either running or by bike. Along the way the team stop in various locations to give talks about global warming and the scientific research that has been carried out to analyse the Earth’s increasing temperature, all to increase understanding of the ways in which our planet is currently being affected, ahead of COP21 (the conference scheduled in Paris regarding climate change).

They make the science easy and accessible to those with no previous knowledge on the subject, removing the at times rather alienating gap between science and society because they engage with the public and share their research with us. These are not a group of scientists who protest with long and complex reports that are difficult to follow; the group campaign in a new and innovative way by actively including and engaging a wide range of people, urging us not to ignore this serious issue, but instead to all voice our concerns, which in turn will force politicians to sit up and pay more attention to the cause, rather than ignore the scale of the threat that global warming is becoming.
I had a chance to interview Oria Jamar de Bolsée, the EU co-ordinator for the campaign at a recent talk hosted by ‘Pole to Paris’. She had just completed a week of running in Norway, covering 20km, and was scheduled next to complete a route from Cambridge to London. Oria graduated from Royal Holloway 4 years ago with a Geography degree, shortly after completing a Master’s degree in Conservation leadership at Colorado State University and El Colegio De La Frontera Sur in Mexico. She is one of the founding members of ‘Pole to Paris’ which began in February, and has had a strong interest in the planet’s state and environmental condition from a young age.

What made you decide to start the campaign?
The campaign is our way of responding to the desperate need for climate and environmental action. We do not believe that the government is doing enough to tackle high emission rates, perhaps because they do not understand the risks to our planet, or because they are underestimating their need to act now. Short-term economic thinking is a real problem here. Throughout our travels, we give talks that highlight the positive aspects of cutting emissions such as how there would be cleaner air and a healthier sustainable environment.
Our view is that if people are made more aware of the increasing rate of climate change and thus care more about these issues, then politicians will have increased pressure to reduce emissions and turn to sustainable energy.
It’s a new way of raising public awareness: We use social media, biking, and running, to share the science and make these facts regarding climate change more accessible and less alienating to people. Our aim is to raise understanding ahead of COP21 which is meeting to negotiate a ‘climate deal’ regarding the very issue of emissions use.
We also collect the stories of the people we meet along our journey who are already being affected by global warming, for example people living in the northern parts of Norway, who have commented on the loss of snow over the years due to warmer temperatures. Perhaps the biggest example would be Bangladesh, though: It is one of the most endangered countries as a result of global warming, and we have made a documentary on the rising sea-levels there to show how this is already affecting the everyday lives of many living there. We are bringing the stories of all these people to Paris, a common voice from an international community, that all agree the time to act on protecting our climate is now.

How many hours do you run per day?
We run around 30km per day, and usually start at 8:30 or 9am, finishing at 2/3pm. It does also depend on our schedules though, and whether or not we have any events or presentations that day. In-between running, we give talks on the current state of climate change, as well as informing people of the science behind the entire process. On average though, we are usually on the road for about 5hrs per day.

Do you think that the marathon is an effective way of campaigning?
Running allows us to be close and accessible to a wider range of people. Our route takes us not just to large cities and towns, but also to villages and rural areas where we can put our outreach programmes into practice, even in places where these kinds of events don’t occur as much.
The fact that we choose to run such long distances tends to be the most captivating part of our story. Many people often wonder: ‘why are they undertaking such a challenging endeavour? What makes them so willing to endure the physical strain of running such long distances?’
When people see how committed and passionate we are about our task, they are far keener to listen to us and understand the cause behind our campaign. That’s when the conversation about ‘Pole to Paris’ really begins.

Has it been a positive experience so far?
Apart from the fact that it can be painful running for so long, yes. It’s been very rewarding, especially at moments when we realise how awareness has grown about who we are and what we’re campaigning for. This occurs, for example, when people recognise us from the news, or through one of our events. Receiving their compliments and enthusiasm for pursuing our goal and doing what we do is highly encouraging, because it shows that people are taking notice and support us. We are even offered free food and overnight shelter if we need it from the locals that we meet.
We can see people beginning to realise that change is urgently needed to combat global warming, and that many are becoming increasingly aware of the rate that climate change is occurring. This is the form of awareness that our campaign aims to achieve, so changes in people’s attitudes are very significant.

What have your biggest challenges been so far?
Not everyone is supportive of our cause, and some people just aren’t willing to accept the rate at which global warming is already affecting our planet. For some, it’s a strong case of the mind-set: If it’s not affecting me or the area I live in, then it’s not my concern.
However, now that the signs of climate change are becoming more pronounced through the notable change in weather patterns, people’s perceptions are beginning to change and they take more notice than before. Hurricanes are becoming stronger, the Californian draught has been going on for 4 years now, and sea levels are expected to rise 1.3 metres in the next 20 years. Many areas will inevitably become flooded and highly affected if we do not act soon to prevent this process from occurring. Whether or not people want to hear it, this is the reality.

Have you had any other challenges to face?
Finding sponsors can sometimes be quite challenging, as although many people and businesses have expressed an interest in ‘Pole to Paris’, they are not as keen when it comes to actually negotiating sponsorships.
We do have around 15 sponsors, however, and our various events attract different financial benefactors, so it has being going well.

What are your plans for when you reach Paris?
We did have many events and side events planned with some of our partners, but due to the current state of emergency in France we have had to cancel those events. We are currently working on alternative ways of getting the points of our campaign across.

How do you think COP21 will go?
I do believe that the conference is a step in the right direction, as it shows an awareness that actions need to be taken to protect our environment. As for the conference itself, however, I do not think that much will be achieved in this one meeting. It is nothing near to what we need as a response, but it is nonetheless a step in the right direction. COP21 is just the beginning, and the most important steps are yet to come.