A Teenage Environmentalist
Anyone who knew Parker Liautaud – son of Bernard Liautaud, a Silicon Valley capitalist – was surprised that he took on a challenge as physically taxing as crossing the Antarctic Ocean. He was born to Bernard (of French descent) and an American mother on 12 August 1994, and has four siblings. Parker spent his teenage years in London after his father decided it would be a more ideal place for them to live. While in the United States of America, Parker spent his early years in California.
He attended Eton College from ages 13 to 18. As a college student, he’s back in his home country once more to pursue a degree in Geology and Geophysics at Yale University.
He was a normal, regular kid until he struck a friendship with Robert Swan, an environmentalist. They initially corresponded via email; as Parker showed interest in climate change, Robert helped him understand the seriousness of the issue. To show him firsthand the effects of our emissions and carbon footprints on the environment, he invited Parker to go with him to the North Pole. From then on, Parker was unstoppable, and the North Pole became an obsession to him. It’s quite strange for a 14-year-old to even take interest in issues as intimidating as climate change, let alone become actively involved in addressing them.
Being a teenager has its perks: Parker was excited and full of idealism. The potential dangers did little to dissuade him from going.
An Adventure with Doug Stoup
Parker knew that “now” was the time if he wanted to do something to save the planet. He could no longer wait to do his share until he became of legal age. He wrote proposals to different organizations and entities to ask for funding for his very own expedition; however, it’s not always easy to convince adults, especially when you are only 15 years old.
He wrote countless proposals, and every rejection was pushing him farther away from his goal. The worst he could remember was a 4-word reply he received for a two-page proposal: “Sorry, but no. Regards.” It made him ask himself if he was really so bad at writing proposals.
But Parker soon found a partner in General Electric, which agreed to spend 150,000 dollars on his Antarctic expedition with Doug Stoup, a veteran of algid environments. At first, Parker could not believe his expedition was finally going to happen. But, as he was not so athletic, he had to work out twice as hard to prepare and strengthen his muscles for the trek, which would include having to drag his supplies with him 12 hours a day:
"I worked with my trainer Sham Cortazzi to create a program that would work for me and fit my class and travel schedule. It involved up to two to three hours of training per day in a standard gym, with some rest days after a few much longer training sessions. We would focus on strength and endurance—dead lifts, pull-ups, push-ups, squats, shoulder press—but structured in increasingly tough ways as we approached the expedition. As for endurance, we focused on the rowing machine, bike, and treadmill—sometimes a combination of two or all three. I also used a weighted vest of up to 70 pounds, and on occasion a backpack full of rocks, for both strength and endurance exercises.
Sometimes, I would have to travel but couldn't just give up training, so Sham also created go-to full training sessions that I could do with no equipment. The most important factor in getting into shape was to be disciplined and do the training no matter what else was going on." (SOURCE: Vice)
The goal of the first expedition was to reignite talks about climate change. They also wanted to catch the attention of young people, who seem to care little about the plights of the world. Parker would be a good example to let the world know that, even as kids, they can do something to make this world safer for their adult years.
If there is anyone who should care more, it should be the teens of this generation. According to Parker:
"The reality is that climate change is a massively under-discussed topic. No one is talking about it. For people who work in this field, looking from the inside out, it seems like everyone is talking about it. But really no one is talking about it. That was basically what started it for me: No one in my generation had any idea what climate change was. And you know, my generation is filled with a lot of very smart people, but the reality is that no one really knew, no one really cared, no one really made that much of an effort. For an issue that was seemingly very important for the future, no one was involved in it. And that's what got me interested.
The expeditions were kind of a test at the beginning. I thought, what if we can reignite the dialogue through a story that people could follow and want to be involved in, and communicate from these places that are being hit the hardest in the world?" (SOURCE: Vice)
Conquering the North Pole, though, is not that easy. Difficult would even be an understatement. The temperature in the Antarctic can go as low as -50 degrees Celsius. This is incredible, considering that it takes only two minutes for boiling water to freeze in an environment of -20 degrees Celsius. Antarctica has the most hazardous climate in the world, so much that the area is simply uninhabitable. But the Antarctic has the world’s largest percentage of frozen water, and its melting affects the whole world by displacing marine life and causing sea levels to rise.
Parker endured one hell of an expedition. He lost considerable weight because he had to depend on frozen foods, and they had been burning more calories than they were consuming. Parker nearly drowned after stepping on thin ice; with his partner 100 yards away, he had to rely on his own training to save himself. It was scary for the youngster, but it taught him to always be careful with every step he takes.
And then, when they were only 15 miles from their destination, Parker was told they wouldn’t be able to make it; there was long body of melted ice which they would not be able to cross. Parker’s world crashed before him. He dreaded having to face all those sponsors who put their trust in him; his family back home, who had been so supportive; his friends who knew what he endured just to be fit enough to take the trip in the first place. He saw every challenge through, only to be told that they wouldn’t be able to make it. Parker wanted to hide in his tent and curl into a ball.
The “Last Degree” Expedition with Doug Stoup
The failed expedition was not a complete failure, because Parker learned very much about himself, his cause and the Antarctic. His second attempt was successful: they were able to complete the trek in 2011 when Parker was 16 years old. He became the youngest person to ever complete a Last Degree expedition to the Geographic North Pole.
They were also able to collect samples to help further research on the melting of the North Pole, which is essential to tailoring policies concerning environmental preservation. With his trek to the North Pole creating a buzz, they hoped that the public would grow more concerned and continue to push their governments to lessen their carbon-emissions.
Call him idealistic, but that’s what Parker is really after: recognition of the issue of climate change.
ICE TALKS North Pole and “The Willis Resilience Expedition” with Doug Stoup
In 2012, Parker again conquered the North Pole with his ever-reliable partner and mentor, Doug Stoup. The main goal of this expedition was to collect samples for research on isotopes. It was followed by another trek, called “The Willis Resilience Expedition,” in 2013. Both were successful and broke world records.
Parker is clearly not in it for recognition; he is adamant about doing something for the environment, and has earned many admirers and critics along the way. But he will keep going – it’s far better than doing nothing at all.
Organizations and Programmes Supported
- One Young World
- Willis Resilience Expedition
- The Last Degree
- International Atomic Energy Agency
- University of Alberta
Awards and Achievements
- 2011: Became the youngest person to complete a Last Degree expedition to the Geographic North Pole
- 2013: Completed the “Willis Resilience Expedition” with Doug Stoup and addressed the “Social Good Summit” with Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore
- The youngest man ever to ski to the South Pole
- Ambassador for “One Young World”
- Shared the same stage as Kofi Annan and Sir Bob Geldof
- Addressed over 1,200 delegates from 190 countries
- Profiled by “Vanity Fair,” the “Independent” and the “New York Times”
- Interviewed for television by CNN and BBC
- Named by Time magazine as one of the “30 People Under 30 Changing the World”
Wikipedia (Parker Liautaud)
The Washington Post (What it’s like to trek to the South Pole, as told by a 19-year-old)
Ice Axe Expedition (Douglas Stoup)
Willis Resilience (Parker Liautaud is a 19-year-old Polar Explorer and Climate Change Campaigner, and the Leader of the Willis Resilience Expedition)
Willis Resilience (Antarctica)
Willis Resilience (World Record Attempt)
The Independent (19-year-old Parker Liautaud becomes youngest man to ski to the South Pole)
Daily Mail (Now that's a Christmas present! Teenage explorer, 19, becomes the fastest person ever to reach the South Pole in just 18 days)
Mirror (Teenager, 19, skiis from coast of Antarctica to South Pole in just 18 days)
National Geographic (Q&A: Youngest Man to Ski to South Pole Is Also Fastest)
The Telegraph (Teenager to make South Pole trek)
The Independent (One cool dude: How Parker Liautaud aims to save the world, one polar expedition at a time)
ABC News (19-Year-Old Parker Liautaud Expected to Set World Record in Antarctica)
Time (These Are the 30 People Under 30 Changing the World: Parker Liautaud)
The Wall Street Journal (Into the Record Books: Parker Liautaud Reaches The South Pole On Christmas Eve Becoming The Youngest Man To Ski To The South Pole)
Eco Watch (Climate Change Activist Parker Liautaud 100 Miles From World Record)
Mashable (Teen Attempting Record Trek to South Pole for Climate Change)
Vice (A 19-Year-Old Adventurer Is Trekking to the South Pole to Study Climate Change)