Book Excerpts Part 1: The Environmental Imperative

Note: ooops! Somehow I managed to publish Part 2 of this series before Part 1, which is not the traditional way of doing things. Here is Part 1. Apologies!!

 

We are doing the final edits on my Pacific book pending my Feb 1st deadline, and as the writers’ saying goes, I am having to kill some of my darlings – those sections that I was particularly fond of, but for whatever reason don’t fit with the narrative arc of the book.

This hurts me. Rather than see my poor darlings lying dead on the cutting room floor, I would prefer to see them reincarnated as blog posts, where they can at least live on in the ether. So over the next few weeks I’ll be publishing some excerpts from the forthcoming book, “Stop Drifting, Start Rowing: One Woman’s Search for Happiness and Meaning Alone on the Pacific”, to be published on October 15th this year by Hay House. If you’d like to make sure you are notified as soon as the book is available for pre-order, please send me an email via the contact form on this website and I will add you to a mailing list.

Here we go with Part 1….

 

Although I have spent cumulatively nearly a year of my life alone at sea, taken around three and a half million oarstrokes, and rowed over eleven thousand miles, rowing across oceans has not conferred on me any mystical revelations regarding the human condition. So what gives me the right to deliver my opinions on how to save the world?

Albert Einstein

Good question, and of course you are free to heed or ignore what I have to say. I am not a scientist, or an economist, or a politician, nor any kind of expert or guru. My only source of authority is that during all that time at sea, I have had more time than most to contemplate our predicament and ponder what we can do about it. I have had a number of moments of insight, and believe that some of them are relevant to our environmental challenges. As Albert Einstein said, “It’s not that I’m so smart. It’s just that I stay with problems longer.”

Concern over our future is what got me into ocean rowing in the first place, and remains my driving motivation. I am a passionately concerned individual who wants to do what she can to issue a loud and clear wake-up call to anybody who does not realize how high the stakes are, or, if they do recognize it, imagines that there is nothing they can do about it. We can all do something about it. In fact, we have to.

Anybody who has ears to hear and eyes to see, a mind that thinks and a heart that feels – and maybe a television or an internet connection – knows that we are facing unprecedented challenges. We need no more than the evidence of our own senses to see that our current way of life is unsustainable, and the testimony of our own hearts to know that we, all of us, need to take responsibility for our future.

The way I see it, we are privileged to live at this exciting stage in human history. Many different possible versions of our future lie before us. At one end of the spectrum we have a sustainable future living in harmony with our planet, while at the other end we have a slash-and-burn future in which we gorge ourselves on earth’s natural resources until they are all used up – and, of course, a huge range of options in between. In the slash-and-burn version of our future, not only will the Earth’s resources be exhausted, but the rate at which we have consumed them will have inflicted long-term damage on the fragile ecosphere on which we depend for life. If the scientists are right, this damage could be so severe that our continued existence may be at best uncomfortable, and at worst impossible. We are faced with the very real possibility of extinction at our own hands.

Overpopulated planet

For me personally – and I take the state of the planet very personally – I fully expect to see significant changes within my lifetime. I already have. I was born just before the end of 1967. In that year we had 322 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere. There were 3.5 billion people on the planet. As I write this, at the age of 45 in 2013, we have close to 390 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere, and there are nearly 7 billion people on the planet. By the time I am nearing the end of my life, aged 82 in 2050, who knows? 43 years ago scientists would not have predicted our current situation. From where we are now, we cannot accurately predict what we will face in 2050. We can only hope that our present rate of exponential growth does not continue. That would mean the kind of world that I would not be happy to live in. Overcrowded, hot, with intense competition for increasingly scarce resources.

There have been times when I have despaired, when I have felt that human beings are a plague upon the earth, and the sooner we make ourselves extinct and allow Mother Nature to heal herself, the better. But I cannot maintain that position for long. I love humanity. We have so much to offer. As far as we know we are unique, and although very fallible, I firmly believe that we have the potential to rise to be our better selves, and to do the right thing.

But we have to wake up and become conscious of what we are doing. The first step in ensuring our survival is to recognize that we are threatened. Like an alcoholic, we need to acknowledge our problem if we are to seek help and overcome our addiction. We need to accept the facts and confront the truth of our situation before we can start to take positive steps towards a better future.

We have a choice to make. We can recognize the seriousness of our situation, accept responsibility for our past mistakes, and take the tough, even humiliating, but essential decisions needed to ensure our continued existence. Or we can continue to be distracted by the very same man-made artifices that got us into this mess in the first place – the all-conquering supremacy of high finance, rampant consumerism, and the myth of infinite economic growth – until we have dithered and procrastinated so long that we end up doing too little, too late. It is time we became our better selves; the mature, wise, evolved beings who understand it is worth sacrificing immediate gain for long-term survival.


Next blog post: Release the Fear – It’s Killing Us

  • Kathryn Duchene

    Thank you for posting part 1! I look forward to reading your thoughts and observations in future cutting room excerpts.

  • Stan M

    Being a few years older than you, I do
    remember that in 1967, there was an understanding among scientists that
    something was going on. The rapid increase in atmospheric CO2, then, as now,
    considered a probable result of burning fossil fuels, had been well documented.
    A discussion I had with a chemistry professor considered the question of the
    impact of CO2 on the oceans. We wondered whether the increased CO2 in the
    atmosphere would increase the rate at which CO2 was removed by dissolving in
    the oceans thus offsetting the effect of fossil fuel burning. We did not
    consider the problem of ocean acidification because we didn’t have adequate
    info on the ocean’s ability to “buffer” the potential increase in
    acidity. We now know that it doesn’t buffer that well.

At that time the
    temperature change was not well documented, so there wasn’t a clear call to
    action. Some think that the particulates in the atmosphere from numerous
    pollution sources increased the earth’s albedo enough to offset the greenhouse
    effect until we adopted stricter air quality rules in the 1970’s. By the time
    temperature change was a front page issue we had gone for at least a decade
    without seriously looking at the problem. 

All the while we were becoming more
    and more affluent; we started to think that by reusing materials (recycling) we
    could in fact have “sustainable growth.” Energy only entered the
    picture as a natural security issue. We were going to solve that through some
    combination of increased domestic production and conservation. While
    conservation and improved efficiency has reduced the per capita use of
    electricity, and increased the number of miles we get out of a gallon of
    transportation fuel (in the US – improved standards of living in underdeveloped
    nations has increased their per capita use), increased population has erased
    any benefit we could have gained.

I will end this brain dump with two
    comments: 1) we have known about the CO2 problem a lot longer than most people
    recognize and 2) “sustainable growth” i an oxymoron if for no other
    reason than population growth will wipe out any benefits from reduced per
    capita consumption.

  • OutsideJay

    We’re in a giant car heading towards a brick wall and everyone’s arguing over where they’re going to sit. ~ David Suzuki

    If you are thinking 1 year ahead, sow seeds.
    If you are thinking 10 years ahead, plant a tree.
    If you are thinking 100 years ahead, educate the people.
    ~Kuan Tzu (circa 500 B.C.)

    Row Roz Row!

  • UncaDoug

    I had the good fortune to visits a cousin in a suburb of St. Paul this summer. She is a mother of three grown children and therefore concerned about all things “life”. She is very well read, being a librarian of her local parochial school, a master gardener, and genuinely interested just about everything in the news and family matters, in general. She understands exactly what you have described here, Roz, including “… we have the potential to rise to be our better selves, and to do the right thing” and “start to take positive steps towards a better future.”

    But, she asked me one simple question: “What can I do?’

    She understands that simply changing lightbulbs, driving slower, recycling, using cold water to wash clothes, taking shorter showers, using low flow shower heads, turning down the thermostat in winter and up in summer, turning off lights, consuming less stuff — all those thing they way to do to consume less electricity and natural gas — will simply not turn this ship around. “What can I do that is significant?”

    I told her what I tell everybody I engage with that I believe working locally in our communities, in our towns, on our blocks, with our mayors and city councils … local actions of any kind are the most effective ways to change the direction. Whether it is changing policy on grocery bags, takeout plastic containers, single use plastic of any sort, cleaning up litter, eradicating graffiti, collecting rainwater, getting neighbors to use drought-tolerant shrubs and trees in landscaping to use less water, distributed solar thermal and solar electric panels to heat, cool and power our homes, encourage the installation of insulation in homes and buildings — anything that makes widespread use of new technology to consume less coal, oil and gas is important.

    Demonstrating our desire to shift away from fossil fuels to carbon-free energy technology will send a strong message to state and federal government leaders (Congress and the President) and business leaders who can make investment decisions and change course on a very widespread basis. Getting the mayor and city council to adopt programs like PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy) to finance the installation of rooftop energy panels and efficiency products is one thing everybody can do. Just go talk to them and ask why your town does not yet have such a program.

    I show a little video of Olivia a bright 11-year-old (http://bit.ly/OliviaBirds) who says, “You don’t have to do what I do, but whatever you do for the planet counts.” I tell people to do what they have a passion for — what makes their heart sing — to let others know what they know, how they feel, their concern, their ideas about making change … and to do it every day. Do something every day to influence others.

    A young girl in Detroit said on a radio talk show to the kids in the audience, “Find an adult to work for you. If you have a good idea like putting solar panels on your school’s roof or creating a community garden, or planting a million trees, ask an adult to help you.” If you want to see what kids are doing around the world to take action, go to Lynne Cherry’s website http://YoungVoicesForThePlanet.com

    Thank you, Roz. Excellent blog. We are running out of time. We have to start now making significant, effective and meaningful changes across the board. Srsly!

  • rozsavage

    I love that David Suzuki quote!! That is such a perfect way of putting it. I’ve only met David Suzuki once, but he is involved in the UN working party for the New Development Paradigm (i.e. Gross National Happiness) so I am hoping that our paths will cross again.

  • rozsavage

    Hi Doug – I’ve just taken time out from writing to watch the video of 11-year-old Olivia. What in inspiration! I highly recommend that everybody watches this short video, which shows how we can all do something to make a difference, by using our unique talents, doing what we love.

  • rozsavage

    Thanks, Stan, for this perspective. Fascinating to find that we have known this for so long. I was born in 1967, yet grew up ignorant of our looming environmental crisis until I was in my thirties. It is distressing to think that we could have got going on meeting the challenge so much sooner. And in fact, we’re not even really taking it seriously enough now.
    I’ll mention yet again a book called The Great Disruption by Australian academic Paul Gilding. He takes a look at the IPAT equation. Impact (environmental) = Population x Affluence x Technology. He reckons that technology can’t improve fast enough to keep pace with population and affluence. We either need to reduce our numbers, or reduce our per capita impact (affluence). I’m going to be focusing on the latter – and I really do believe that we can reduce affluence while still improving quality of life.
    Watch this space…..

  • Pingback: Row together #Blogg100 | The Spring is my Love()