By Mohammed Shafeeq
He aims to cross Antarctica, not merely to become the first Indian to traverse both the poles -- North and South -- in under one year, but for a larger cause: Raising awareness about climate change.
Raja Karthikeya, a United Nations civilian peacekeeper, is all set to embark on an expedition to Antarctica next month as part of a team led by Sir Robert Swan, an internationally renowned explorer.
After a three-week voyage, he aims to come back with data and experience which he will use to conduct workshops and talk about climate change in schools and colleges.
The 36-year-old from Andhra Pradesh also plans to work with engineers to come up with solutions to address the social, economic and environmental impact of climate change in India.
He will join expedition members from 25 countries at the port of Ushuaia, on the southern tip of Argentina. They will sail from there across the Drake Passage around the South Shetland islands to the Antarctic Peninsula where the two largest glaciers in the world are located.
"Studying the impact of climate change on the landscape and the wildlife of Antarctica, we'll stop at a polar research station before crossing the Antarctic circle. We have some leading climatologists sailing with us to help connect science with evidence," Raja told IANS from New York.
In July last year, Raja crossed the Arctic circle off Svalbard island in Norway, to study polar glaciers first-hand.
The expedition to Antarctica will provide him an unprecedented opportunity to compare climate change at the two ends of the earth within one year.
"This is an opportunity to push my horizons; to discover the world's last wilderness; and to use the experience of a lifetime towards a lifetime of fighting the good fight. So that we are prepared, well adapted and hopefully able to slow down climate change," he said.
Raja, who served as UN peacekeeper for six years, including in Afghanistan and Iraq, received overwhelming response to his crowdfunding campaign on Fueladream.com. He received Rs 9.36 lakh against the target of Rs 7 lakh. He required Rs 15 lakh for the expedition and has already been promised Rs 5 lakh sponsorship.
Ranaganathan Thota, Founder, Fueladream, feels Raja is one of those people who can be a tremendous influencer in climate change and related solutions.
Raja, who was born in Visakhapatnam and grew up in Hyderabad, is an honorary member of Swiss Army's Rescue Regiment. A licensed scuba diver and wireless radio operator, he served as rescue volunteer in Andaman & Nicobar islands after the 2004 tsunami.
"I was at IIM, Ahmedabad, for a college festival when the Bhuj earthquake happened. I met the Swiss Army rescue regiment and volunteered to be their interpreter. The Swiss government gave me an honorary commission in the Swiss army for my services. This experience changed me and I started questioning how I could give back to society and how I wanted to impact society," recalled Raja, who has a management degree from the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade in New Delhi.
He started his career with IFlex solutions in Bengaluru. When the tsunami struck Andaman & Nicobar island, he flew in an Air Force plane to Car Nicobar and worked there for two weeks.
In 2007, he moved to the US to do a Masters. In 2011, he got selected by the UN and moved to Afghanistan, where he was "part of the peace process" for four years. He also served in Iraq for two years.
"I found that political conflicts were being worsened by climate change. Growing salinity in the soil, change in rain patterns, low snowfall -- in fact, many countries were paying the price of climate change despite not having contributed to it," he said.
"It struck me that India, a microcosm of the world, risked facing many such crises -- social, economic and security -- if climate change was not addressed. This thought motivated me first to cross the Arctic circle," he added.