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Amelia Earhart

Amelia Earhart was born in 1897, in Kansas, USA. Even as a child she didn't behave in a conventionally 'feminine' way. She climbed trees and hunted rats with her rifle - but she wasn't particularly interested in flying. She saw her first plane when she was 10, and wasn't impressed at all. But she was very interested in newspaper reports about women who were successful in male dominated professions, such as engineering, law and management. She cut them out and kept them.

During the First World War she worked as a nursing assistant in a military hospital, and later started to study medicine at university. Then, in 1920, Amelia's life changed. She went to an aviation fair with her father and had a 10-minute flight in a plane. That was it. As soon as the plane left the ground, Amelia knew that she had to fly. So Amelia found herself a female flying teacher and started to learn to fly. She took all sorts of odd jobs to pay for the lessons, and also saved and borrowed enough money to buy a second hand plane. It was bright yellow and she called it 'Canary'. In 1922 she took 'Canary' up to a height of 14,000 feet, breaking the women's altitude record.

In 1928, Amelia was working as a social worker in Boston when she received an amazing phone call inviting her to join pilot Wilmer Stultz on a flight across the Atlantic. The man who organized the flight was the American publisher, George Putnam. Amelia's official title was 'commander' but she herself said that she was just a passenger. But she was still the first woman passenger to fly across the Atlantic. She became famous, wrote a book about the crossing (called '20 Hours, 40 minutes') and travelled around the country giving lectures. George Putnam was like a manager to her, and she eventually married him in 1931.

Then, in 1932, Amelia flew solo across the Atlantic, something that only one person, Lindbergh, had ever done before. Because of bad weather, she was forced to land in the middle of a field in Ireland, frightening the cows. She broke several records with this flight: the first woman to make the solo crossing, the only person to make the crossing twice, the longest non-stop distance for a woman and the shortest time for the flight.

Now she was really famous. She was given the Distinguished Flying Cross (another first for a woman), wrote another book, and continued to lecture. She also designed a flying suit for women, and went on to design other clothes for women who led active lives. Amelia continued to break all sorts of aviation records over the next few years. But not everyone was comfortable with the idea of a woman living the kind of life that Amelia led. One newspaper article about her finished with the question "But can she bake a cake?"

When she was nearly 40, Amelia decided that she was ready for a final challenge - to be the first woman to fly around the world. Her first attempt was unsuccessful (the plane was damaged) but she tried again in June 1937, with her navigator, Fred Noonan. She had decided that this was going to be her last long distance 'record breaking' flight.

Everything went smoothly and they landed in New Guinea in July. The next stage was from New Guinea to Howland Island, a tiny spot of land in the Pacific Ocean. But in mid flight the plane, navigator and pilot simply disappeared in the bad weather A rescue search was started immediately but nothing was found. The United States government spent $4 million looking for Amelia, which makes it the most expensive air and sea search in history. A lighthouse was built on Howland Island in her memory. Amelia always knew that what she did was dangerous and that every flight could be her last. She left a letter for her husband saying that she knew the dangers, but she wanted to do what she did. People today are still speculating about what might have happened to Amelia and Fred Noonan. There are even theories that they might have landed on an unknown island and lived for many more years. Whatever happened, Amelia Earhart is remembered as a brave pioneer for both aviation and for women.


Have you ever looked out of the window of a passenger plane from 30,000 feet at the vast expanses of empty ocean and uninhabited land, and wondered how people can have any major effect on the Earth? I have. But it is now becoming pretty clear that we are causing a great deal of damage to the natural environment. And the planes which rush us in comfort to destinations around the globe, contribute to one of the biggest environmental problems that we face today - global warming. For those of us lucky enough to have money to spend, and the free time to spend it in, there are a huge number of fascinating places to explore. The cost of air transport has decreased rapidly over the years, and for many people, especially in rich countries, it is now possible to fly around the world for little more than the contents of our weekly pay packets. Unfortunately, planes produce far more carbon dioxide (CO2) than any other form of public transport, and CO2 is now known to be a greenhouse gas, a gas which traps the heat of the sun, causing the temperature of the Earth to rise.

Scientists predict that in the near future the climate in Britain will resemble that of the Mediterranean, ironically a popular destination for British holidaymakers flying off to seek the sun. If global warming continues, we may also find that many tourist destinations such as The Maldives have disappeared under water because of rising sea levels. As usual, people in the developing world are having to deal with problems created mainly by those of us in developed countries. Beatrice Schell, a spokeswoman for the European Federation for Transport and Environment says that, "One person flying in an airplane for one hour is responsible for the same greenhouse gas emissions as a typical Bangladeshi in a whole year." And every year jet aircraft generate almost as much carbon dioxide as the entire African continent produces. When you are waiting impatiently in a crowded departure lounge for a delayed flight or trying to find luggage which has gone astray, plane fares may seem unreasonably high, but in reality we are not paying enough for air travel. Under the "polluter pays principle", where users pay for the bad effects they cause, the damage caused by planes is not being paid for. Aircraft fuel is not taxed on international flights and planes, unlike cars, are not inspected for CO2 emissions. Also, the Kyoto agreement does not cover greenhouse gases produced by planes, leaving governments to decide for themselves who is responsible.

So what can be done to solve the problem? Well, although aircraft engine manufacturers are making more efficient engines and researching alternative fuels such as hydrogen, it will be decades before air travel is not damaging to the environment. Governments don't seem to be taking the problem seriously, so it is up to individual travellers to do what they can to help. The most obvious way of dealing with the problem is to not travel by plane at all. Environmental groups like Friends of the Earth encourage people to travel by train and plan holidays nearer home. However with prices of flights at an all time low, and exotic destinations more popular than ever, it is hard to persuade British tourists to choose Blackpool instead of Bangkok, or Skegness over Singapore.

Friends of the Earth also advise using teleconferencing for international business meetings, but most businesspeople still prefer to meet face-to-face. However there is a way of offsetting the carbon dioxide we produce when we travel by plane. A company called Future Forests, whose supporters include Coldplay and Pink Floyd, offers a service which can relieve the guilty consciences of air travellers. The Future Forest website calculates the amount of CO2 you are responsible for producing on your flight, and for a small fee will plant the number of trees which will absorb this CO2. Another company, co2.org, offers a similar service, but invests your money in energy saving projects such as providing efficient light bulbs to villagers in Mauritius. Yesterday I returned to Japan from England, and was happy to pay Future Forests 25 pounds to plant the 3 trees which balance my share of the CO2 produced by my return flight. Now the only thing making me lose sleep is jet lag.Today's amazing newspaper headline!

First family of four to walk to the South Pole wearing Mickey Mouse ears and clown's shoes.

No, not really. It isn't true. I invented it. But I wouldn't be surprised to see it one day soon. It seems that every week someone becomes 'the first' or 'the youngest' or 'the oldest' or even 'the first married couple' to do something that doesn't seem to be very useful to the rest of humanity.

This year I've seen headlines saying 'The youngest person to sail the Atlantic alone', 'The youngest Briton to climb Mount Everest', 'The first person to cross the Pacific Ocean on a windsurfing board', and 'The first people to fly around the world in a hot air balloon'. Why do they do it? Don't they have better things to do with their time and money? And why should I be interested anyway?

Human beings have already climbed the highest mountains, sailed across the oceans and flown around the world. People have already reached the most remote parts of our planet. Many of these things were done a long, long time ago. There just isn't anything left to explore nowadays. I suppose there's still a lot of the universe left, and the bottom of the oceans is still a bit of a mystery, but you need a lot of technology to explore areas like that. So, those people who feel the need for adventure can only do things that have been done before. So they have to try and do it in a new way, or be 'the fastest' or 'the youngest' or 'the oldest' to do something that isn't really new at all. Or they can start new combinations of achievements. 'The first woman to walk to both the North and South Poles and skateboard down Mount Everest'. (I invented that one too, but I think you get the idea.).

What is so great about climbing Mount Everest these days anyway? It's become a popular tourist trip. People pay thousands of dollars to be taken up the mountain by the local Sherpas, who lead the way and carry the bags. At any one time there are about a thousand people either climbing up or on their way back down. As a result, Everest is covered with rubbish and the Sherpas have to make special trips up the mountain to pick it up. The climbers are often inexperienced and when they get into trouble other people have to risk their lives to bring them down to safety. Helicopter crews have been killed trying to reach people who were stuck on the mountain.
In May this year, a British man became the first person to walk alone from Canada to the geographic North Pole. Personally, if I wanted to visit the Arctic, I'd rather go as a tourist on a cruise ship, with a helicopter trip to the North Pole included in the price. But OK, this man decided that he wanted to walk. Fair enough. And I'm sure it was a difficult thing to do. The problem was that he went in the spring, when the ice begins to melt and break up. So he got stuck on an isolated piece of ice and a plane had to be sent in to rescue him. It's very difficult to land a plane on breaking ice and the people who risked their lives to do it weren't very happy. They called the timing of the expedition 'a bit stupid'.

In January 2003 a helicopter carrying two British men crashed into the sea near Antarctica. I'm not quite sure what they were trying to be 'the first' or 'the youngest' to do. The Chilean navy picked them up after a nine-hour rescue mission that cost tens of thousands of pounds. All paid for by the Chilean and British taxpayers. Talking of taxpayers, many Australians are getting a bit fed up with record breakers. A lot of people trying to break sailing or rowing records get into trouble in the seas around Australia, so the Australian navy has to send ships to save them. There have been a lot of difficult, time-consuming rescue missions in recent years costing the Australian government millions of dollars. I suppose we can't just leave them to drown, but personally, I think we should give the bill to the people who are rescued.

Perhaps they would think twice about doing it if they had to pay for expensive insurance premiums. Then I wouldn't have to read about them in the newspapers either.
What do you think? Are these explorers heroes or a danger to other people? Examples of courage and determination which should inspire the rest of us? Or a waste of time, energy and money?

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