Lewis Pugh‘s job is tougher than yours. He swims in very, very cold water – three years ago, he swam across the North Pole. The water is -1.5 degrees Celsius, and “if it all goes pear shaped, how long will it take my body to fall the four kilometers”. The swim – accompanied by music on an iPod – took a bit more than 18 minutes, and was enough to freeze his fingers into the shape of sausages.
His thought when he got out of the water: never again.
But last year, Pugh decided to highlight the problems of melting glaciers in the Himalayas. One out of three people in the world rely on that glacial meltwater for their drinking water – if that water is unavailable, we have some real problems. So Pugh walked up Mt. Everest so he could take a “symbolic swim”.
The challenge was to swim at 5300 meters, a height where people often get altitude sickness. But that wasn’t the real problem – the problem was that this was the year of the Everest cleanup operation, removing dozens of bodies from the peak. As Pugh and his team walked up, groups walked down with corpses.
The secret to his swims, Pugh tells us, in controlled aggression – he tried to attack the water. A hundred meters into the swim, Pugh found himself choking and vomiting, and nearly drowned. “People say drowning is the most peaceful form of death. I have never heard such utter bollocks.”
As he and his team debriefed, they gave him the hard news – everything you think you know about swimming, everything you learned about speed and agression serving in the British army, put it aside. Instead of swimming fast, swim as slowly as possible. “And never, ever swim with aggression – this is the time to swim with real humility.”
“Just because something has worked in the past so well doesn’t mean it’s going to work in the future. And now before I do anything, I ask myself what sort of mindset to I require to achieve a task.”
Climate change is the Mt. Everest of human challenges. He urges us to consider what radical, tactical shift we can each take on to tackle the problem.