Every couple of months, something bizarre happens at work that convinces me I must have one of the strangest jobs on the planet.
And these moments often come in the form of a question.
Questions like, “Did One Direction’s tweet just break our website?” (Sure did.); or, “Do you think you could ask Lucy Lawless if she minds dressing up as Lady Justice when she scales Shell’s Arctic oil rig?” (In the end she stuck to a t-shirt and her climbing harness, but not before she dug out all kinds of costumes from her tickle trunk and we made a day of it.); or just last week, “Do you reckon we can make it to the North Pole in time to meet the Arctic Council when we’re there?” (So far, it’s looking good.)
So when my boss came to us and asked, “How do we take three million Arctic defenders and plant them on the seabed below the North Pole?” well, we didn’t even flinch.
What she really meant was, how do we put nearly three million names into an indestructible, inert, non-toxic time capsule that can be taken by a team of international ambassadors to the geographic North Pole, to be lowered 4.3km below the sea ice and planted on the seabed until we remove it in 2050. You know, just another day at the office.
So, we got to work.
First, my colleague Adam — who did the bulk of the pod work and is now on his way to the North Pole with the team — had to find someone who could make it. Turns out the right people were from the Joris Laarman Lab and Artistproof — fortuitously just around the corner from Greenpeace International’s office in Amsterdam.
Then we had to dream up how to make this a physical manifestation of our growing movement: strong, graceful, and powerful enough to withstand the forces working against us.
Then we had to make sure that however we recorded these names, they would be readable in 2050 — so compatible with technology not invented yet. We ran through a number of ideas. One involved storing the information on crystal glass discs printed with platinum. Each disc would be just 1mm thick and could hold the equivalent of 10,000 A4 pages of information. Had we gone with this option, we would’ve included an instrument to allow whoever retrieved it to read the discs without having to go to a museum to find some long obsolete technology from 2013 to read them with. But this didn’t seem to reflect the simple message we were trying to convey.
So we played with a few more scenarios until we settled on the winner: micro-etching each and every name individually onto glass disks with a special high tech nanoform technology. Yup, we used lasers to sign each of your names. To the naked eye, each glass cassette appears to be decorated with fine, delicate designs. But under a microscope, individual names begin to appear. Sir Paul McCartney. Penelope Cruz. Thom Yorke. My mom’s. My dad’s. My sisters’ and brother’s. And of course — yours.
These 2.7 million names make up the content of the first two discs; both nestled inside their own “cassette.” The third is a laser-etched illustration of how much the sea ice has receeded between 1979 and the historic sea ice minimum of 2012. The fourth and fifth include the text of our political declaration of Arctic protection. The sixth holds the names of each of the 16 members of Team Aurora, who are right now trekking across the frozen Arctic Ocean to lower the pod. The seventh cassette holds a microscope to read the first two discs, and a USB stick with all the names written on 4500 PDFs, just for good measure. And finally, folded gently inside the eight, a satin flag for the future, the same design as the Titanium flag that sits atop the capsule; a flag symbolising peace, hope and global community, designed by a 13-year-old Malaysian girl.
The final touch around the graceful sphere was a titanium band, similar to one you would find around a globe. And on it, we chose to etch one of our favourite quotes, from one of our favourite authors, Arundhati Roy: “Another world is not only possible, she’s on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”
We asked Arundhati what she thought, and her response was the final blessing on our quest:
“Dear Renny, Kiera, Josefina, Ezra and all the other members of the expedition,
I am writing to send you my love. You walk for all of us. I wish I could have come with you. I hope you will send me some photographs of your journey and the pod. Go well ye wolves. Arundhati”
“You walk for all of us … Go well, ye wolves.” Together with your names, this mission statement, and the power of you all behind us, this pod embodies our movement, and symbolises our joint commitment to protect this beautiful place for all life on earth.
Right now, the pod and its keepers are on their journey North. By this time next week, it will have found its home deep beneath the fragile Arctic sea ice, nestled in the icy waters below the North Pole. And every day, we can all look North, and know that our names are there, etched carefully on delicate glass — strong, defiant, untouchable and undeterred by the pressure mounting against it; a declaration of our passion for life, our commitment to craft a different future for our children, our determination to tell a different story.
And there it will stay, until one day in a few decades, when my boss comes to us with yet another crazy question … “Now, how do we get that damn time capsule back …?!”
(Don’t worry … we have a plan. Find more details on the construction of the time capsule here.)
Jess Wilson is the communications manager for the Arctic campaign, working from Team Aurora Base Camp in London.