Arabs in Antarctica

Emirati Taryam Al Subaihi has just returned from an Antarctic mission

Interview, Area Guides
Interview, Area Guides

For those living in the desert, global warming might not seem like a problem worth prioritising. We’ve already got oppressive temperatures to cope with at the height of summer, so it’s unlikely we’d even notice the added burden of an extra degree of two. But the true effects of climate change are altogether more alarming in places such as the Antarctic, where the glacial landscape is being eroded at a worryingly rapid rate. The 2041 Project, set up by English explorer and environmentalist Robert Swan, organises regular trips to the icy continent, so that representatives of major corporations can get a tangible sense of the true threat to our planet. Taryam Al Subaihi, corporate communications manager for Etihad Airways, and his colleague Ali Al Shamsi, have just returned from the project’s latest jaunt to the South Pole.

Why did you go on the trip?
When I heard Robert Swan was offering people from Etihad places on the trip, I jumped at the chance, because it was the opportunity of a lifetime to see the Antarctic. Plus it’s a place most people in the world would never get to visit, so I was really keen to go there.

Coming from a desert climate, how did you cope with the extreme cold?
Despite having loads of layers on, we still felt the cold a lot more than some of the other guys who came from places such as Canada, so they were used to the cold. But we did a lot of activities, such as hiking and climbing as soon as we got off the boat, which warmed us up a bit. It was freezing, but our pride wouldn’t make us admit it was too cold for us, so we didn’t moan about it.

How did you find the Antarctic?
It’s an experience that you can’t retell through any type of media because it’s like something your eyes can’t really comprehend. It’s completely untouched, with no sign of civilisation. In many ways, the Antarctic reminded me of the deserts in the Empty Quarter, with snow instead of sand. It’s unbelievably beautiful, a bit like being on an alien planet. If we weren’t so busy with lectures and meetings, I could have spent my entire time sitting on the deck of the boat watching the scenery.

Did you have any encounters with the wildlife?
We saw loads of kinds of seals, penguins and whales. These were very close to us and because they’ve not sensed any danger from humans, they interact with you. You can walk right through a huge colony of penguins with no fear from them.

What evidence did you see of global warming?
There was one morning when we were woken up at 6.30am and asked to go to the roof of the deck. We looked around, and we were surrounded by these huge tabular icebergs that were the size of three-storey buildings. They were beautiful at first, but we were told these were the direct results of climate change, because an ice shelf that had melted in 2002 had unplugged a whole passage where all these icebergs were falling from. Anyone who doesn’t believe in climate change should come and see this, because it’s worrying. It’s like a graveyard for icebergs.

Now you’ve returned to the UAE, what changes are you going to make in your life?
Our airline is taking environmental issues seriously already, but my position now is to help educate the staff about the state of the environment and what each person can do about it. Also, I’ve been to my children’s school where I told the students about the activities they could do to reduce their carbon footprint. You know, I’m not a tree-hugging hippie, but I’ve become an environmentalist convert because there are huge financial benefits to becoming environmentally friendly. We save the world and we save money – so it’s a win win situation.

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