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A TEDx with an icy view: TEDx takes Antarctica

Posted by: Kate Torgovnick May

The Great White Continent. The Frozen Desert. The Real Land Down Under. Antarctica might not be the easiest of places to travel to but, in the past year, there have been two TEDx events staged on the continent.

Darren McGann organized TEDxAntarcticPeninsula, which took place on March 6. After watching TEDx talks online for years, he decided to hold his own event while on the International Antarctic Expedition (a multi-week trip designed to show global leaders the beauty and history of the Antarctic wilderness, as well as its fragility to climate change) in 2011.

“During the expedition, the thought kept coming back to me that if I ever get back to Antarctica this would be the perfect setting for a TEDx event,” McGann tells the TED Blog.

His TEDx event, themed “Renewable Reality,” brought together 80 leaders from 23 countries. They were shielded from the elements by two banks of snow. And the event was powered completely by solar energy.

“I am really proud that we were able to demonstrate that you can run a solar powered TEDx in the harshest environment on the planet,” says McGann. “If it can be done in Antarctica, it can be done everywhere.”

McGann also feels proud that nature became a part of his TEDx.

“Having a penguin walk up on stage was certainly a highlight! The speaker couldn’t see it, but the gentoo penguin came waddling up behind her. We had a good laugh about it,” says McGann. “During the talks we also had whales blowing and a glacier birthing. There was a lot going on that day.”

(See photos of the event on Flickr and watch the talks on YouTube.)

But this wasn’t the first TEDx event held on the continent.

That honor goes to TEDxYouth@AntarcticPeninsula, which was organized by Selin Jessa and took place on January 5. Amazingly, Jessa — a TEDxKids@BC volunteer — organized the event in two weeks flat.

“As soon as I found out I would be travelling to Antarctica with Students on Ice, I started racking my brains to figure out what I could do to help spread the word about our experience when we returned home,” Jessa explains. “I was hooked up with the TEDx licensee Google Group and learned that other TEDx organizers had been tossing around the idea of hosting an event on the seventh continent for a few months. I wondered briefly whether the idea was too crazy. Then dove right into preparations and planning — exactly a week before boarding my first flight.”

TEDxYouth@AntarcticPeninsula took place at Palmer Research Station on Anvers Island in Antarctica, in front of the Marr Ice Piedmont. It focused on making climate change personal.

“The highlight for me was the chance to see the students and staff I was travelling with tell their stories to the world. It was amazing to hear Zach talk about what rising sea level means to his home, to hear Jacob explore why reducing climate change demands collective effort, to hear Leah ask what we can do to ensure Antarctica remains the stunning, pristine environment it is now — and realize the answer is falling in love. By the end of her talk a few of us were bawling behind our sunglasses,” says Jessa. “The trick, as it happened, was embracing the ‘local’ spirit that makes the TEDx program the powerful platform that it is. The folks at TED totally embraced our experiment, and our friends, family and expedition staff were so supportive in ensuring we had the equipment we needed to pull it off.”

(Read a TEDx Blog post about the event, and check out the talks on YouTube)

Stay tuned to the TED Blog all this week for a celebration of TEDx or, if you’re curious, check out the TEDx blog.