Interview with an Environmental Activist

Interview with an Environmental Activist
Interview with an Environmental Activist

In September, we were privileged to welcome Dr Ghazala Ahmad-Mear, mountaineer, surgeon and environmental activist, to our school, where she brought her adventurous spirit, inspiring students, teachers, parents and all members of our community.

In January 2018, Ghazala is going to carry the Tanglin flag through the icy 'last degree' to stand on the South Pole with Robert Swan. The South Pole Energy Challenge (SPEC) will use only renewable energy and human effort to power the expedition.

If humans can survive a journey across Antarctica using only clean energy, we can all do this anywhere else on the planet.

Here Ghazala tells us about her 'Step-by-Step' campaign, her passion for sustainability and her visit to Tanglin.

Where did your passion for climbing come from?

I grew up in London, but always loved the outdoors. I would climb trees as a child and found as I got older my interest in rock-climbing and mountaineering grew. I now live in the Peak District where I'm lucky to have these sports on my doorstep.

During my visit to Tanglin, I was delighted to open the new Infant climbing wall. It was wonderful to see the children use their whole body to search their way up the wall without any fear.

Why is the year '2041' so important?

2041 is when the Antarctic Treaty, which currently protects Antarctica, ends. Antarctica is not owned, instead all nations have shared responsibility to ensure that our 'last great wilderness' is not exploited. The mission of 2041 is to inspire, stimulate and develop personal leadership skills amongst people in order to create a sustainable clean energy future.

What is the impact of ice melting in Antarctica?

Antarctica holds 90% of the world's ice and 70% of the world's fresh water. 1°C of global warming is roughly the equivalent of a one metre increase in sea level. If we do nothing, the projected rise of temperature over the next 30 years is 8-9°C! This will ultimately lead to a reduction in land area, an increase in competition to grow food and a decrease in our population. We have to listen to what Antarctica is already telling us.

Tell us a bit about your 'Step-by-Step' campaign.

Step by Step is my campaign to raise awareness of what we can all do to reduce our carbon footprint and however small, collectively makes a big impact.

'Step-by-Step' is a term my husband, Roger Mear, used a lot during the first unsupported walk to the South Pole with the expedition 'In the Footsteps of Scott'. The term has also become symbolic when raising funds for my trip, for example, children in my local community did a 222,000 step sponsored walk (the number of steps I will be walking to the South Pole).

Step-by-step everyone can make a difference.

How will you travel without leaving a carbon footprint?

We will be using biofuels for air travel within Antarctica. Solar electric energy will be used to melt ice, heat our tents and charge batteries. We will also use wind energy, and NASA has designed our solar sledges.

What is a wee-bag meal?

The wee-bag meal is a flattened paper bag (a bit like an aeroplane sick bag) which filters urine. The heat of the treated urine is used to reconstitute a dehydrated meal.

How have you prepared for the trip?

I feel pretty well prepared. As a surgeon, I have been trained to lead a team and to get the best from them – I can delegate, support, empower and train. I also feel that I'm naturally a caring and calm person.

However, I have needed to develop physically. For the last year I've been swimming, biking, rock-climbing and mimicking pulling a sledge by tyre hauling. My son has also created my own personal bootcamp!

Sleep and nutrition are also vital in keeping healthy.

What luxury item will you take on the expedition?

The solar powered heaters for our tents will be brilliant. I'm also grateful to have the ability to communicate with the outside world in order to share our journey and to keep in touch with my family.

What is your biggest anxiety about the trip?

I feel methodically prepared, but I haven't experienced -30°C before, so it's vital that we work as a team and look out for vulnerabilities in each other.

I'm also a bit anxious about losing a small toy penguin which my son has asked me to take to the South Pole!

What impact has your passion for sustainability had on your career?

I work as a surgeon in the NHS in Sheffield and an Associate Postgraduate Dean for Health Education England, working across Yorkshire and the Humber.

As guests of Robert Swan, on the International Antarctic Expedition 2016, the effects of climate change were clearly visible. It changed my focus and inspired me to introduce sustainability into our NHS consultant training programmes, as I had noticed a lot of single use consumable waste in our surgery and catering practices. I have led the first ever provision of a mandatory module of Sustainability Training for our Core Trainees from entry this year, so our workforce can make more informed choices.

How do you feel the trip will change you as a person?

It will give me a huge sense of achievement, satisfaction and confidence. I will feel that I have the ability to make a dream come true and most importantly, I will be able to look my children in the eye and say that I have done all I can to make a difference to preserve the world they will live in.

Have you got any practical tips for our community on how we can make a difference?

Everyone can make immediate changes. Try reducing your consumption of meat each week. Engage in renewable energy initiatives – the more people do it, the cheaper it will become. Be ambassadors and a role model for others.

What is your key message to our students?

Listening to your heart leads to magic.

What have you enjoyed most about your three day visit to Tanglin?

The response and support of students in my talks and workshops has been most inspiring. I'm in awe of the level of engagement from 3 year olds excited by photos of the wildlife and landscape to the Sixth Form students planning sustainability projects across the school.

If you would like to find out more about Ghazala's Step-by-Step campaign, watch her video here.