Polar Swim Puts Focus on Climate Change

British explorer Lewis Gordon Pugh is the first person to take a swim in the icy waters of the geographic North Pole. Pugh took the plunge last weekend to raise awareness about global warming.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Last weekend British endurance swimmer Lewis Gordon Pugh became the first person to swim in the frigid waters of the North Pole. At least the first we know of who did it and lived to talk about it.

Mr. Pugh dove into a crack between ice floes, wearing nothing but a Speedo. And he swam about two-thirds of a mile. He says he took the plunge to raise awareness of global warming. He wanted to prove that climate change has made it possible to swim at the North Pole. He's making his way back to the U.K. on a Russian icebreaker.

Mr. Pugh, thanks very for being with us.

Mr. LEWIS GORDON PUGH (Endurance Swimmer): Hello.

SIMON: Let me ask you. How long were you in the water?

Mr. PUGH: I was in the water for 18 minutes and 50 seconds, and it's extremely (unintelligible) cold water.

SIMON: How cold was it?

Mr. PUGH: The water ranged between zero degrees and minus 1.8. It was absolutely freezing. I did a swim down in the Antarctica in 2005...

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. PUGH: ...where the water was zero degrees and that felt positively mild compared to the water at the North Pole. I was so thankful, you cannot believe it. The first feeling was I just could hardly breathe, and then a burning sensation on my hands and on my feet, and I was just gasping for air for the first three, four, five minutes.

SIMON: But then you went on to swim for 19?

Mr. PUGH: Yes. I just had to keep on going. I wanted to swim a whole kilometer, which is the minimum distance, to complete a long distance. And I wanted to become the first person to do a long distance swim at the eco-geographic North Pole. And I (unintelligible), according to English channel, swimming (unintelligible) rules, which only allowed me to swim in a Speedo or a cap and goggle.

SIMON: And how are you feeling now?

Mr. PUGH: Very relieved that it's all over. Really happy, my whole team and I are ecstatic that we made it.

SIMON: Have you had a good - hot shower?

Mr. PUGH: Straight after the swim, I went into a hot shower. And I was in there for 45 minutes.

SIMON: So Mr. Pugh, with absolute respect for what you achieved, what do you think you proved by swimming in the waters of the North Pole?

Mr. PUGH: I did this so as to try raise awareness about the effect of climate change around the world, and specifically about the effect of climate change on the Arctic. The Arctic is an area of just incredible beauty, and this is an area where in recent years, we've seen a vast decrease in the amount and extent of sea ice.

And so I hope people will look at this swim and say, gosh, the Arctic really is a place, which should be protected and need to be protected, and that's my hope.

SIMON: But I must ask, if - I think most people will be impressed by how cold it was, not how rapidly it's warming in the Arctic.

Mr. PUGH: Well, I think people will think about this swim in (unintelligible) ways. They'll think, gosh, that really is a cold long distance swim and secondly, I think people will be concerned about what is happening in the Arctic because the Arctic is such a beautiful, beautiful area. And unless we do protect it, animals such as the polar bear and the bowhead whale and walruses, et cetera, really will become endangered.

SIMON: Well, Mr. Pugh, have a cup of hot cocoa, you've earned it.

Mr. PUGH: Thank you very, very much.

SIMON: British explorer and cold-water swimming specialist Lewis Gordon Pugh. He's now on a Russian icebreaker, coming home after taking a swim at the North Pole.

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