The Royal Geographic Society is one of my favourite places in Britain. It motivated me to try to cycle round the world, has introduced me to many good new friends, and I was really honoured when I was asked to lecture there last summer.
So I felt that I should reprint this leader from today’s Times which highlights the Beagle Campaign, a group of RGS Fellows determined that the RGS should not lose sight of its original objectives.
What is the Royal Geographical Society for – education or exploration? The red-brick world temple in Kensington Gore is split by a hot argument about its existential question.
Founded as a gentlemen’s dining club in 1830, the RGS inspired and funded the heroic age of exploration. It backed Burton and Speke, Livingstone and Scott, Shackleton and Darwin. Explorers from Kensington discovered the round Earth’s imagin’d corners.
But it has not sent out a “field research project” for more than ten years. Instead it has supported other men’s projects, and staged lectures in academic geography. A hundred Fellows have now summoned an emergency general meeting to recall the RGS to the society’s royal charter of 1859: to carry out “at its own expense, various important Expeditions in every quarter of the Globe”. In two words: to explore.
The heroic age of exploration may be over. Everest has been climbed, and the source of the Nile discovered. But field work of global importance remains to be done: on climate change, growing urban populations, poor water supply, forced migrations and other unknowns about our planet. There may be fifty million new species within the largely unexplored oceans, and up to ten million new species of insects, many in the world’s endangered tropical rainforests.
This emergency resolution is not a call for a reversion to pith helmets, cleft sticks, Phileas Fogg and porters carrying evening dress, but a recognition that the unexplored geography of the planet is of vital importance, not just to academics. There is more urgent need than ever for RGS explorers to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.