Adventurer, artist, advocate, explorer: Sebastian Copeland has molded a bundle of disciplines into one gargantuan, larger-than-life career centering on climate change. But his most meaningful role in the world today, amid its roiling environmental debates and turbulent political landscape, may be as witness.
At 52, Copeland has traversed the world, battling unimaginable conditions with eyes wide open, in a head-spinning roster of adventures, all to highlight the environment and help people, as he says, “fall in love with their world.” He has crossed the Arctic Sea on foot to reach the North Pole where he saw the polar ice cap melting; spent two weeks on a crab boat in the frigid Bering Sea; kite-skied across the Greenland ice sheet; and, in a 2,500-mile trek that took 82 days, made the first east-west transcontinental crossing of Antarctica via the South Pole and the Pole of Inaccessibility. In total, he has, so far, logged 5,000 miles on his skis. And this is just the tip of the iceberg that the Los Angeles resident has seen.
Hearing the word “witness” to embody his work, Copeland pauses. “If it were a job title, I would probably be that,” he says. “Bearing witness is what I do most. The nature of my work is being on the front lines of climate change, witnessing events happening remotely, reporting them, and drawing the line of what’s happening there to the consequences in our daily lives; that is the center of my work.”
Copeland will talk about his adventures, his work, and his advocacy for the environment as a Master Speaker at this year’s Greenbuild International Conference and Expo to be held in Los Angeles on Oct. 5-7, 2016.
Copeland, a British and French national who holds a U.S. passport, spoke from Munich over the phone in July, while training for his next reality-busting adventure and a “world first:” a crossing of the Madigan Line in Australia’s Simpson Desert. He will make the trek through the continent’s driest region with Aussie Mark George. It is the first leg of a two-part adventure that the men are undertaking, called the Last Great March. One big clincher: The treks are unsupported, meaning they will carry everything they need.
The Last Great March, dubbed “Fire+Ice: The Simpson Desert and the North Pole,” will take the men on two remarkable adventures, which are expected to have them cover 900 miles. It is a carbon-neutral undertaking, so any greenhouse-gas emissions will be offset through a project organized by ClimatePartner, which devises solutions for voluntary climate protection in the business world. The Simpson Desert has the longest parallel sand dunes in the world, held by vegetation, which run north to south. It is that vegetation, Copeland says, that makes crossing the east to west Madigan Line so challenging. It has never been accomplished before on foot.
Copeland and George expect the Simpson Desert trip, scheduled this past August, to prepare them for the second half of the Last Great March, an unassisted journey to the North Pole by land from Canada, considered to be the most rigorous adventure in the world. The adventure to the North Pole, due to begin February 2017, has a special significance for Copeland, since he believes that melting ice may prohibit any future explorations on foot.