Robert Swan is speaking from 14,830km away but can be heard loud and clear on his solar-powered mobile phone. The call is all the more remarkable because there is no sun on the morning he rings from King George Island, Antarctica. The first man to walk unaided to the North and South poles, Swan recently spent two weeks in Antarctica relying entirely on renewable energy in a project that shows its viability in the remotest places. The British polar explorer is preparing for the Voyage for Cleaner Energy that starts in San Francisco next week - a four-year journey around the world aimed at linking upcoming university leaders with corporate bosses to develop solutions for global warming. But today he'll be in Hong Kong to deliver the keynote address at an investment conference organised by Credit Suisse, where he plans to challenge local captains of industry to take the lead on environmental issues. He will also speak tomorrow at the Asia Society lunch at the J.W. Marriott Hotel (see The Planner, C8). 'I'll be asking them how they're living their lives - but in a positive way that challenges and inspires them,' says Swan, 52, over the phone from Antarctica. 'The most important thing is telling them an inspiring story about what's possible by working together.' Swan, an ancient history graduate from Durham University, initially visited the South Pole as a member of the British Antarctic Survey in the early 80s. Since trekking to the South Pole in 1986 and to the North Pole three years later, he's been a leader in raising awareness about the fragility of the planet's ecosystem, and leads a group of teachers, students and representatives from corporate sponsors to Antarctica each year. He's dedicated his life to ensuring that the polar regions remain pristine; in 1995, he was awarded an OBE for his efforts. His organisation, 2041, is named for the year the Environmental Protocol of the Antarctic Treaty, which bans mining and drilling for oil on the continent, will be reviewed. Swan admits he has his work cut out, but he's as optimistic as he is ambitious - an attribute that has made him a popular motivational speaker. He says he's 'well past the gloom and doom way' of getting people's attention. 'I don't think it works. What people really want to know is, 'What can I do at home? What can I do in my life that will make a difference?'' Swan's profile has risen with the increasing awareness of climate change. 'I waited 20 years for [Hurricane] Katrina and Al Gore's documentary [An Inconvenient Truth],' he says. 'I waited 20 years for something to wake people up.' Now people must come to understand how their daily habits use vital resources and damage the environment, he says. Swan teaches by example. Last year his 2041 group constructed out of recycled materials an 'E-Base' in Antarctica, and his seven-man team returned this year to test wind and solar energy technologies and publish their efforts on the internet. He says he's found the ideal spot for reports on global warming. 'It's a very good match to be testing renewable energy in a place that is telling us to be using renewable energy,' Swan says. Videos on the E-Base website (ebase.2041.com) show the results: the 2041 solar thermal generator heated the camp's water to 83 degrees Celsius. Its wind turbine and solar cells - the latest panels from G24 Innovations that don't require direct sunlight - generated enough electricity to charge battery-powered equipment and power a hotplate, microwave, kettle, several light fixtures, heaters and even music players for two buildings. One video shows Swan hopping on a bicycle-powered generator to compare its power production against wind turbines and solar cells. He generates 3.8 watts of electricity - about one-twelfth of the power needed to light a single 40-watt incandescent bulb. The team's efforts drew visitors from neighbouring research stations. When a Chilean base commander called to learn more about E-Base's power-generation system, Swan considered it a victory - even if the commander's agenda differed from his own. 'They're interested not because we're doing the right thing but because they could save a lot of money from not shipping in fuel,' Swan says. 'It's completely insane that these Antarctic stations don't use renewable energy because there's a massive amount of wind and plenty of sunshine.' Swan was guilty of the same thing when his crew shipped 15 tonnes of coal from Cardiff for his first, year-long expedition to Antarctica two decades ago. When their supply ship, Southern Quest, was crushed by pack ice and sank, polar scientists criticised the expedition's folly and bemoaned the loss of time and resources required to rescue the team off the ice. Swan returned the following year to remove traces of his expedition's base, rubbish and remaining supplies. In 2002 he removed 1,500 tonnes of junk steel from Russia's Bellingshausen Research Station to return its beach to near-pristine condition. For his efforts, the Russian government lent him the land on which his E-Base now sits. Swan doesn't sit anywhere very long. He says he's relishing the opportunity to address audiences in Hong Kong, on the doorstep to the country he sees as most important in the fight to stop global warming. 'It actually doesn't matter what the hell else we do on Earth,' he says. 'If China makes the same mistakes [western countries] have made, then the planet has a serious problem.' Hong Kong can be a powerful motivator, provided the city's up to the task, he says. His worry is how much more it will take to stir Hong Kong people into action. 'No one is particularly challenged in Hong Kong,' Swan says. 'Sure, the sky is hazy and you can't really see across the harbour. But if all the electricity in Hong Kong were knocked out by something like Hurricane Katrina, people might sit up and say, 'S***, something really is happening here'.' Measures such as changing to energy-saving light bulbs, using public transport and rationing water don't go far to stave off future catastrophes, Swan says. But there will be no change without sacrifice. 'At the present rate, it doesn't matter what Al Gore has said or what Hurricane Katrina did or how many people are talking about [global warming] - people aren't engaging. Not really. And that is terribly depressing, but I'm going to allow it to be depressing because no one is inspired by negative.' In discussing his plans for the next few years, Swan reveals something of the stamina that has carried him to both poles: The Voyage for Cleaner Energy on board their yacht, also named 2041, will leave the US around the time of the nation's presidential elections in November and sail to Europe, the Middle East and Asia, including India, China and Japan. At each stop, he'll address university students and identify ideas for future E-Base expeditions. Swan hopes to have taken 300 or 400 students to the Antarctic, to create an 'alumni of the next generation of seriously engaged environmental leaders', before he reports to the UN's next World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2012. 'Frankly, that's as much as I can possibly do,' he says. 'I'm just a kind of Indiana Jones trying my best.'