During the 2016 Students On Ice Arctic Expedition, a spark was created. The breathtaking landscapes, the powerful stories, the heartbreaking issues, all came together to change the perspectives of a few young expeditioners. It ignited a need for change. Together, they founded Our Poles Our Planet (OPOP). OPOP is a national youth organization dedicated to raising awareness and action for the world’s polar regions and their peoples. In the spring of 2017, they created a polar campaign, with events in five cities spanning across the country. Here are their stories.
“Our Poles Our Planet has been an opportunity for me to both share my experiences from my expeditions to Antarctica and the Arctic and also bring forward a discussion about climate change in the polar regions. It’s important to talk about the polar regions, especially when it comes to the changing climate, although the poles may seem like faraway regions, they are directly impacted by our choices. OPOP is an opportunity to bridge that knowledge gap, advocate for the protection of the poles and learn more about the role that we all play. The OPOP Halifax conference reached out to youth in both high school and Universities, and focussed on a wide range of topics, such as youth leadership, birds of the north and the politics of climate change.”
– Jasveen Brar, OPOP Co-Founder, Director of Halifax, 2014 Antarctic & 2016 SOI Alumna
“In the icy cold of the Arctic and Antarctic, the brightest sparks passion are ignited. Returning from the 2014 Students on Ice Antarctic Expedition, I was set ablaze with a mission. I was determined to share my transformative experiences with as many people as possible and inspire them, as I had been inspired, with a passion to protect our planet and its transcendent polar regions.
To accomplish this goal I reached out to as many youth as possible, speaking at conferences, schools and media outlets across the Greater Toronto Area. After each of these events, I was amazed by the flame of passion which came alive in my audience’s eyes and words. How could my experiences, spanning just two short weeks, be powerful enough to ignite such response? More importantly, imagine what might be possible if we could connect these individuals with resources that could enable them to develop a fuller understanding of the Arctic & Antarctic and develop collaborations for channeling their new passion into concrete change? I’ve always believed in the power of youth to change the world. Why not create a movement which enables us to do so?
With these insights, I founded the first ever Our Poles Our Planet Conference in Toronto in 2016, which reached hundreds of students across the city. The energy created when these engaged youth were brought together with a network of polar experts and change-making resources was truly incredible. The dialogue shared between participants and presenters regarding the Arctic and Antarctic’s importance led to incredible insights and a shared understanding: an understanding which empowered each participant with the knowledge, motivation and networks to lead concrete, positive change for our poles and our planet in their local communities.
The 2016 conference remained with me during my experience on the 2016 SOI Arctic Expedition where, while sharing stories of its success, I saw the same passion light up the eyes of expeditioners from across the world. In that moment the spark was lit again: why not develop the conferences into a movement, spanning coast to coast to coast, uniting Canadian youth from across the nation together as one voice for the polar regions? Within a few hours of intense discussion, Our Poles Our Planet was born as a national youth organization. We’ve managed to achieve great impact in the past year, and look forward to continuing our work into the future to raise awareness and respect for our poles, and our planet.”
– Robert Adragna, OPOP Founder and CEO, 2014 Antarctic & 2016 Arctic Alumnus
“During a moment of silence at the Ilulissat Icefjord, Greenland, I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed by the immensity of the glacier. Before us were only the icebergs that had calved from it, and they alone dotted the landscape for as far as the eye could see.
It was beautiful.
I felt so small in that moment, so insignificant. Then a cracking sound, as sharp as a gunshot, rippled across the fjord. It stood as a stark reminder that despite my size, I still possessed the ability to harm this giant, to cause it to fracture and retreat. I couldn’t erase that moment from my mind. With days left on the expedition, I wanted nothing more than to ensure its impact wouldn’t end then.
That was when inspiration hit! A friend of mine, Robert Adragna, had organized a conference called “Our Poles Our Planet” based on his experience in Antarctica a year before. What if we could learn from that, to broaden and deepen our impact on a greater level? I envisioned a network of leaders spanning the country, divided by area but united in passion. I have always believed in young people, believed that we can change the world, believed that we will. A few hours of vigorous discussion later, Our Poles Our Planet was born.
The polar campaign was immensely successful, with hundreds of young people across the country engaged. At the conference in Vancouver, I was blown away by the quality of conversations that took place! There were debates between mental health, pollution and infrastructure, discussions on political commitments to climate change, and fascinating exchanges between PhD students and 13 year-olds. What a wonderful thing it is, to see youth inspiring youth. To see us standing together in solidarity, stating loud and clear that the poles matter to us, that we are not to be overlooked. Our work has just begun, and I can’t wait to continue growing our impact.”
– Denise Lee, OPOP Co-Founder, Director of Vancouver, 2016 SOI Arctic Alumna
“One experience that has truly altered my perspective on life, my ambitions and the impact I want to have in the world was my 2016 Students on Ice (SOI) Arctic Expedition. Experiencing the impact climate change is having on the ecology of the most vulnerable areas on earth was astounding. We learned from an esteemed group of world-class scientists, educators, business leaders, politicians, Indigenous Elders and like-minded international youth. Each day we participated in educational workshops and shore landings where we interacted with Indigenous Peoples in their communities and explored the changing landscapes of the North.
Having attended this past summer’s’ Arctic expedition provided an impetus to spread my experiences and expose youth to my knowledge and understanding of the issues regarding the poles. The poles will soon be in the hands of today’s youth, and it is imperative to educate them on the world’s foremost crisis that will unfold in our lifetime. While on the expedition I forged lifelong friendships with like-minded people that have the drive to educate youth congruous to mine. After returning home, I was invited to speak at a University of Toronto climate rally and now work with Our Poles Our Planet, a youth initiated national environmental Non-Profit Organization. We have now established a series of 5 nationwide conferences for high school and university students under the Our Poles. Our Planet umbrella. How today’s generation decides to treat the polar regions will have effects on many generations to come. Protect the poles, protect the planet.”
– Berkeley Wilson, OPOP Co-Founder, Co-Director of Toronto & 2016 SOI Arctic Alumna
“When I think of where Our Poles Our Planet really started for me, I think invariably of the plane ride home from Greenland near the end of our Students On Ice expedition. On that flight back to Ottawa it set in that the expedition was over. I realized that the incredible experiences of the past two weeks were coming to a close, and my thoughts turned single-mindedly to one question: What next? I already knew even then that the trip had changed me forever, but I was worried that if I returned home and fell back into the regularity of non-expedition life I might lose a bit of that indescribable feeling that builds inside of you through an experience like SOI. I couldn’t bear the thought of losing even a fraction of that feeling.
I came to the decision that I would throw myself into Our Poles Our Planet with everything I had, that I would keep myself focused on the poles, engaged with inspiring people, and learning constantly. Why Our Poles Our Planet? For the simple reason that my desire to hang onto to what the expedition created for me was and is matched only by my desire to create that type of experience for other young people, by my desire to try to inspire others the way I was inspired. My greatest hope for Our Poles Our Planet is that we will be able to work together with youth across the country in order to spark that same inspiration. As the ideas hastily sketched out in expedition notebooks amid rapid conversation onboard that flight to Ottawa become reality, I feel that hope beginning to come true.”
– Josh Thompson, OPOP Co-Founder, Co-Director of Ottawa, 2016 SOI Arctic Alumnus
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