In 1986, when Robert Swan first reached the South Pole after a 70-day, 900-mile walk—leading the first team to do so—his irises bleached by ultraviolet radiation passing through the newly opened hole in the ozone, he reported having had two thoughts: “We’re not dead,” and “Now what?”

The question of why loomed ever-present. Recently, Swan discussed with me how his mission evolved over fifty years. “When a lad, I read about Ernest Shackleton and other polar explorers. I thought, ‘I want to do that!’ To accomplish something dramatically dramatic. It also seemed like a good opening line with women. I learned later how ridiculously hard this would be. It couldn’t just be a cheeky lark. Fortunately, I also discovered how inspiring insanity could be… for humans in need of saving the planet.”

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