You have led quite a number of exhibitions to the Arctic since 1979. In your lectures you stress how much the region has changed in the last few years, and put this down to climate change. Many scientists say this is not a credible position -- dont they have a point?
Fuchs: No. The information we are collecting agrees with what all the climate models and satellite data are showing. The Arctic is warming up quickly and the ice is melting incredibly fast. In previous expeditions, there were three occasions in a row when the Northeast Passage was so frozen over that it prevented us from getting through. But then in 2002 we had no problems sailing from the North Pole along the Siberian coast all the way to Alaska.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: And you believe that is without doubt a consequence of global warming?
Fuchs: In 2002 experts said the thawing of the Northeast Passage was simply the result of a natural extreme in weather conditions. Today we know that this wasn't an exception. Everywhere on our travels, we have seen melting permafrost. It is a terrible feeling to see how fast the Arctic is changing.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: A lot of scientists are reluctant to connect individual observations in climate change with global warming. Do you work together with scientists?
Fuchs: We have been out in the field with oceanographers to measure deep-sea temperatures for the BSH, the German government's organization for shipping. In other cases the main point is to gather and store data. That is a service I always offer because it makes sense to use our resources that way. But some scientists are scared of being involved.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: How do they make these feelings known?
Fuchs: I am often described as an adventurer and so a lot of scientists view me as not competent enough. But that is not always the case. Young scientists in particular are generally not so arrogant.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: What are you able to do that high-tech research ships can't?
Fuchs: Research ships, such as the "Polarstern" are very expensive and have to complete a tight program on their missions as quickly as possible. For us that is not the case at all. We are based in the Arctic and can do things differently there. We can observe developments over a longer time period. That's why I do think that we have a meaningful contribution to make. But scientific research is not the only aim of our expeditions.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: What drives you to repeatedly head out into the ice?
Fuchs: I have always been very inquisitive and have always had fun living out in the wilds. We also want to document what is happening. By doing this we can give a human dimension to the changes taking place in the Arctic. We don't only show columns of figures, although they are important too. This way allows us to tell people about the effects of climate change.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: You say that you didn't like Roland Emmerich's Hollywood film "The Day After Tomorrow," because it was too lurid for your tastes. By emotionalizing the topic of climate change, aren't you guilty of doing the same thing?
Fuchs: I wouldnt say so. We simply document what is happening. We are not making feature films. We don't make up scenes or build something which doesn't exist in the natural world. We try to reflect fairly the complexity of the topic -- of course you also have to make the issue universally intelligible.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Many industrialized countries, first and foremost the USA, aren't doing enough to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Other countries, with huge populations, have yet to really address CO2 emissions. Do you think that climate change can actually be stopped before the catastrophe hits us?
Fuchs: I am very pessimistic. Many scientists have finally readjusted their predictions -- towards more threatening scenarios. It is simply sickening that the USA, which has 5 percent of the global population, emits 25 percent of the world's CO2. And I don't think a change in mentality will happen quickly in the USA -- especially not with the present administration in charge.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: In 1989 you were the first German to reach the North Pole on foot. In a few years people will probably need boats instead of boots to get there. Are you glad that you weren't born 30 years later?
Fuchs: Very often I am asked the opposite question -- whether I didn't wish I lived at the beginning of the 20th century, at the same time as the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, when there was still new land to be discovered. I think that we are now living in an amazingly exciting time. But at the same time you are right: the North Pole expeditions that I have made will probably not be possible in a few years time.
Interview conducted by Markus Becker