Rebecca Priestley longs to be in Antarctica. But it is also the last place on Earth she wants to go.
In 2011 Priestley visits the wide white continent for the first time, on a trip that coincides with the centenary of Robert Falcon Scott’s fateful trek to the South Pole. For Priestley, 2011 is the fulfilment of a dream that took root in a childhood full of books, art and science and grew stronger during her time as a geology student in the 1980s. She is to travel south twice more, spending time with Antarctic scientists – including paleo-climatologists, biologists, geologists, glaciologists – exploring the landscape, marvelling at wildlife from orca to tardigrades, and occasionally getting very cold.
A constant companion for Priestley is her anxiety – both the kind that is brought on by flying to the bottom of the world in a military aeroplane; and the kind that clouds our thoughts of how our world will be for our children. Writing against the backdrop of Trump’s America, extreme weather events, and scientists’ projections for Earth’s climate, she grapples with the truths we need to tell ourselves as we stand on a tightrope between hope for the planet, and catastrophic change.
Fifteen Million Years in Antarctica offers a deeply personal tour of a place in which a person can feel like an outsider in more ways than one. With generosity and candour, Priestley reflects on what Antarctica can tell us about Earth’s future and asks: do people even belong in this fragile, otherworldly place?