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Lecture by Polar Explorer Jean-Louis Etienne

Publié le December 17, 2012
Introductory Remarks by Ambassador François Delattre.
Friday, December 14, 2012, Maison Française, Embassy of France.

See photos of this event on Flickr.

Cher Dr. Jean-Louis Etienne,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It’s a great pleasure for my team and for me to welcome you all tonight to the Maison française on this very special occasion, and I want to express my warmest thanks to our honored guest, Dr. Jean-Louis Etienne, both a remarkable man and one of the greatest explorers of our time.

I would also like to thank the Embassy office of Science and Technologie (Marc Magaud) and the Institut français for organising this event, and the Maison française (Catherine Albertini) for hosting us.

May I start by offering our American friends, on behalf of France as well as personally, our deepest sympathy after the tragic event in an elementary school in Connecticut this morning. President Hollande immediately sent his condolences to President Obama and the American people.

Beyond the deep admiration that I have for Jean-Louis Etienne, there are at least three reasons for which I am delighted to support his lecture series.

The first is that Jean-Louis Etienne is a wonderful Ambassador for innovation, and that innovation is France’s number 1, number 2 and number 3 priority.

We need innovation to drive the economic recovery. We also need innovation to solve some of our global problems.
Climate change, or as NY Times Columnist Tom Friedman calls it – “global weirding” – is paramount among these. It will take efforts from policy makers, solutions by scientists and engineers, and deep involvement by civil society and each and everyone of us to make the fix.

The second reason why I’m thrilled to support Jean-Louis Etienne’s lecture series is that France, just like the US, is a major maritime country. France has the world’s second largest Exclusive Economic Zone (second only to that of the United States) and oceans are therefore a key priority for us. Indeed, with territories in most of the world’s oceans, France has a vested interest in preserving the ocean’s health.

We also consider it a duty to be good stewards of the global commons, which requires a concerted effort by many different parties. In 2009, France held a vast multi-stakeholder consultation, called “Grenelle de la mer,” aimed at defining long-term policies for the seas. It resulted, among other decisions, in the setting of a 20% target for Protected Marine Areas by 2020, which we are on track to meet.

The third reason is that Jean-Louis has strived, from his very first expeditions, to bridge the gap between science and the public, especially the younger generations, by reaching out in many creative ways to raise awareness. He has been an unwavering promoter of scientific literacy by raising the profile in the media and by going “into” the classrooms, to help teachers and students better understand the scientific challenges we face.

In fact, just today he was at the French International School – the Lycée Rochambeau – to engage the students there. This makes his endeavors just as much educational as they are scientific, and I believe his approach is extremely effective.

Just a few words about our speaker, whom we all know: after completing medical school, Dr. Jean-Louis Etienne became the ship’s doctor and expedition physician for oceanic adventures around the globe and atop its high peaks. In 1986, he became the first person to reach the North Pole single-handedly.

He then began to organize polar expeditions for scientific and educational purposes. In 1989-90, with Will Steger, he co-led Trans-Antarctica, the longest-ever traverse of the Antarctic continent with sled dogs, lasting over 7 months and covering nearly 4,000 miles. He later went on to explore the Erebus volcano on Antarctica, wintered in Spitzberg, and completed the first traverse of the Arctic Ocean in a hot-air balloon.

I will let Jean-Louis describe his next adventure, aboard an unconventional vessel called the Polar Pod. I will say, however, that this project is a brilliant example of a new type of scientific approach to global problems. It brings down the cost of oceanographic science by a factor of at least 10, it is designed to be as low-carbon as can be and it is a truly international endeavor.

Polar Pod stands to be a fascinating human and scientific adventure, quite unlike any other, on one of the last frontiers of our planet. Alors Cher Jean-Louis, it’s an immense privilege to have you with us tonight.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Please join me in welcoming Dr. Jean-Louis Etienne.