Parker Liautaud - teenage campaigner & polar adventurer

Meet Parker Liautaud. Explorer, climate change campaigner and a 17-year-old schoolboy.

He’s already undertaken three missions to the North Pole. His aims are:

  • Influencing research – collecting data from his expeditions.
  • Engaging with the public – particularly his generation.
  • Shaping global policy – influencing governments and big businesses.

This December he’ll trek unsupported to the South Pole. If successful, he’ll be the youngest person to do so.

People forget that Parker is still only a teenager. You may not agree with his views on consumerism. But you have to admire his dedication to inspire change.

North Pole adventurer at just 15?
I wanted to reconnect my generation to the issue [of climate change] and came up with the idea to trek to the North Pole.

Big trek to the South Pole coming up. How’s the training going?
I'm a little behind. Truth be told, I really don't enjoy the tire-dragging, heavy weights, or long sessions on the cross-trainer. I enjoy knowing that I’m developing discipline that allows me to do what I need to, when I need to, regardless of whether or not I want to do it.

Do you listen to music out on the ice? What's on your MP3 player?
I've never listened to music on the ice. It's too dangerous as I could lose focus. I tend to listen to music that motivates me. In fact, I'm pretty sure my entire iTunes library has only about 120 songs.

Have the expeditions changed you?
I've developed a much stronger mentality and I'd like to think a little bit of courage too. I was scared out of my mind when I stepped onto the ice for the first time when I was 15. I've also developed important skills like networking and knowing how to raise money.

You delivered a million-strong petition to 10 Downing Street calling for an end fossil fuel subsidies. Why?
I’m working on this issue with One Young World right now. The G20 committed to phasing out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies, but little has been done. Since 2009, global fossil fuel subsidies have more than doubled.

You weren’t born when the first climate summit happened. World leaders have had 20 years to tackle climate change.
Like many, I recognise that progress has been very slow. Too slow. As a world, we haven't been ready or willing to make the necessary commitments. Unfortunately, my generation will pay the price for this.

Why did you set up The Last Degree?
I felt like I couldn't just sit in my room reading articles about climate change. I launched TLD through my first expedition to the North Pole. The main goals are to maintain scientific data as the primary basis for climate policy, engage young leaders to spearhead the transformation to a sustainable economy, and maintain a global perspective in climate negotiations.

Do the political elite listen to younger generations?
My generation has more influence than any previous one. Our ability to use social media to achieve ambitious goals is unprecedented. You just need a computer with a basic internet connection. The political world is increasingly concerned with the opinions of younger people.

Some people think we can buy our way out of this problem…
People shouldn't have a problem with flying or consuming - the world has never accepted a limit on, or decrease in, development. The change needs to take place at the core - how the energy is produced to fuel this travel, how corporations take responsibility for impacts of the products they create, etc.

What's the most difficult thing about having so much responsibility at a young age?
Anything I say can be analysed, publicised and held against me. I haven't had decades of media training. People have even lied to try to take me down. Anthony Watts falsified climate data to disprove something I said on CNN, and put it on his widely read climate sceptic blog. I wish people could get a little perspective and realise that I'm still just 17.

Most teenagers are thinking about… exams (ahem). Are you single?
I don't have time for a relationship right now. It's a shame, but some social sacrifices have to be made!

Leave Parker a message of support on his Facebook page.

Interview by Phil Byrne, Editorial Assistant.