These women met on Facebook and then went on an Arctic expedition to understand climate change

Neelima Mishra and Sukriti Kapur met on Facebook and went on a Climate Force Arctic Expedition, hosted by the 2041 Foundation, to understand climate change.

Mother Nature is not happy with us. The icecaps are melting, the Amazon rainforest is on fire, summers are getting warmer, winters are getting colder, animal habitats are vanishing - the effects of climate change are there for all to see.

Every day, we read at least one news that tells us how we’re one step closer to doomsday, thanks to over-utilisation of resources, use and abuse of nature, etc.

Sukriti Kapur and Neelima Mishra

To study and understand the effects of global warming and the vagaries of climate change, Neelima Mishra (33) from Odisha and Sukriti Kapur (25) from New Delhi joined the Climate Force Arctic Expedition, hosted by the 2041 Foundation this June.

Through the foundation’s “Leadership on the Edge” programme, the two women gained knowledge about issues of climate change, renewable energy, sustainability, and how it affects the present and the future, along with a better understanding of the region’s fragile ecosystem. The expedition was led by Sir Robert Swan, polar explorer, environmental leader, motivational speaker, and the first man in history to have walked to both the North and South Poles.

Neelima is consultant to the Odisha government, where she monitors and evaluates government schemes and programmes, and Sukriti is currently pursuing an integrated MPhil/PhD degree at the School of Environmental Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

The duo got in touch over Facebook when Sukriti had posted about the expedition. “We were in constant touch with each other since then, discussing fundraising and helping each other. We were pleased to know that we were roommates on this expedition,” Neelima tells HerStory.

The desire to do something

Sukriti Kapur

Both women were passionate about the preservation and conservation of the environment and working towards it. Neelima explains, “Odisha has been facing unseasonal climatic events in the form of heatwaves, frequent cyclones and floods in the recent years. Though I have experienced the wrath of these calamities firsthand, I sought to learn the intricacies of climate change directly from the experts. I wanted to get the requisite exposure to take a stronger stance on a relevant cause and emerge as a skilled communicator with the knowledge and tools to educate children, students, and youth to help do their bit.”

As a student of Environmental Science, Sukriti has been studying climate change up close, and the ill-effects humans have on the planet.

“However, I always felt my knowledge was not being put to use in the short-term, and I was not able to do enough to spread the message about collective environmental action. When I came across this expedition, I saw it as an opportunity to observe the effects of climate change firsthand and share my experiences with the world. After all, science should not just be restricted to laboratories and classrooms.”

Inspired by the man and his mission

The women were highly inspired by Sir Robert Swan – meeting him and learning from his experiences. The expedition involved offshore landings, wildlife observation trips, a polar plunge, and some long hikes.

The physical preparation, Neelima reveals, required moderate fitness, but the mental strength needed to undertake this challenge was tremendous.

“More than what inspired me, it was about who inspired me. While I was reading about the expedition, I read Robert Swan’s story, and how he had dedicated his life to the preservation of the polar regions.

I had to prepare myself physically for the long hikes, harsh weather, and hectic routines in the Arctic. Mentally, I had to face the fact that I should not take any rejection personally, and to learn from each step. Thus, this expedition not only taught me Arctic lessons but life lessons as well,” adds Sukriti.

All for awareness

Neelima and Sukriti embarked on a funding campaign before the expedition to raise funds and also spread awareness about climate change.

“I am glad that everyone appreciated the thought and were inspired by certain activities like refusing single-use plastics, composting, recycling, and being educated about climate change simply. Bureaucrats with whom I have worked in the past also recommended me to the requisite organisations for sponsorships. In fact, even the CM of Odisha Naveen Patnaik tweeted about this expedition, which was motivating too,” she says.

It took Neelima eight months to successfully raise the required Rs 13 lakh for the expedition. The funds were raised through crowdfunding and sponsorships from corporate organisations. It took Sukriti nine months and another 45 days of a crowdfunding campaign to reach her target amount.

Onto the Arctic

Neelima Mishra

The expedition ran for 10 days, including orientation and acclimatisation at Oslo. Both women agree that the experience was indeed life changing.

“The biggest milestone during the expedition for me would be reaching the coordinates of 80 N. Until then, the Arctic was only a memory from the Geography classes during school, but being there was a different feeling all together. With all the sea ice around, it seems like an unwelcome place. Yet the Arctic was actually thriving with life, from large mammals like walruses and polar bears to birds, fish, small plants, and even tiny ocean organisms called plankton, and we were glad to spot quite a many of these creatures,” says Neelima.

“I think the big moment came on the last day on the ship. It was a day of so many things, we touching 80 N in the Arctic, just 600 miles from the North Pole. I also got to interview Robert Swan the same day. We went out to get a glimpse of glaciers up close and were lucky to spot polar bears and the Arctic walrus nearby. The day ended on a perfect note, with us spotting some fin whales and humpback whales near our ship,” adds Sukriti.

Back from the expedition, Neelima shared her experiences with school children through talks, striving to partner with different organisations for effective waste management projects. Sukriti, on the other hand, plans to inspire and encourage people to take individual and community action against climate change.

(Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta)