Plymouth endurance swimmer and climate change campaigner Lewis Pugh his latest swim is his ‘last stand’ – and has pleaded with world leaders to take action.
The environment advocate, 51, has swum in the Arctic, Antarctic and the English Channel in recent years and this time picked icy Greenland for his multi-day challenge.
Swimming in waters fed by the world’s fastest moving glacier, Lewis braved water temperatures between 0C and 3C (32F to 37.4F) and he became the first person to undertake a multi-day swim in the polar regions.
Lewis’ 4.8mile (7.8km) swim saw him traverse the waters in the stunning Ilulissat Icefjord, a fjord in western Greenland, in 14 sessions over 12 days.
But in a message posted on social media on Thursday, he said that he was delighted to have completed the challenge, it was his ‘last stand’, but he was worried by what he saw.
He said: “I am relieved it is over. I am exhausted. I am delighted that we have been able to do it safely. But I am also worried. I have never seen anything like the melting which is occurring here. It will impact all of us.
“This was my last stand. I have been doing this since 2005 and I don’t think my body can take anymore. It is really punishing. It was my last stand and my message to the world that we need to join the dots between the wildfires, the floods, the hurricanes, the melting of the Arctic and Antarctic and we cannot delay action anymore. It is the single most important thing on any world leader’s plate right now.”
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He added: “I just wish world leaders could have witnessed what I saw that day. I think if they had, they would realise can’t be making promises for 2050 and this year we need to make commitments and take action this year before we get complete runaway climate change.
“This is the defining issue of our generation and we have an opportunity to change the world and make it a better place and this opportunity comes as the climate change conference in Glasgow.”
Pugh had taken the icy plunge to highlight how human-driven global warming is melting the ice caps and glaciers, pushing up sea levels and threatening coastal communities, ahead of UN climate talks in November in Glasgow.
He is calling for 30 per cent of the world’s oceans to be protected by 2030, to help tackle the climate crisis and make the seas more resilient to global warming.
He said: “This was an extremely challenging swim. Not only because of the cold, and not just because I had to swim in freezing water day after day, without a chance to let my body recover, but because the conditions were also very treacherous.”
Lewis’ daring swim was made even more challenging by huge, grounded icebergs, which had been stemming the flow of ice into the mouth of the fjord, coming apart during the swim – causing tonnes of ice to rush through and out to sea, blocking Ilulissat harbour for several days.
With the polar regions experiencing faster changes to its climate than anywhere else on Earth, Lewis felt Greenland was the best place to embark on his challenge and raise further awareness of the impact of climate change.
“The reason why I did this swim is clear: we rely on ice for our survival. Ice keeps our planet cool enough for us to live. But we are losing it fast. No ice, no life,” he said. “We have seen so many natural disasters this year – from wildfires in Greece, to floods in Germany, extreme snowstorms in Texas, but I want also everyone to be aware of what is happening here in the Arctic.”
He said he was “deeply alarmed” by what he had seen in the Arctic.
“Last month was the first time in recorded history that it rained at the highest point on the Greenland ice sheet. The melt is accelerating,” he added.
“I watched water gushing off the ice sheet at a location that, only a few years ago, was covered in hundreds of metres of ice. I also witnessed shocking quantities of ice being pushed through my swim route and far out to sea.”