Following on from my last blog post, I am continuing the series of offcuts from my forthcoming book, “Stop Drifting, Start Rowing: One Woman’s Search for Happiness and Meaning Alone on the Pacific”, due to be published on October 15th this year. Please drop me a message if you would like an email reminder when the book becomes available.
Part 2 coming right up…..
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.
However, even though it is simple, it may not be easy. We have been arrogant, and we will be humbled. We have been greedy, and we must learn generosity. We have been selfish, and we must learn compassion. We have been afraid, and we must learn fearlessness.
It has been fear of our own mortality that has led us to stockpile food and eradicate our natural competitors. It is fear of uncertainty that leads us to build our houses, fortunes, and empires, imagining that these fragile things will protect us and give us security. Yet nothing is secure. Nothing is certain. Only when we learn to ride the waves of change do we have any hope of facing the future with optimism and hope.
Paradoxically, change is necessary if we want the world to stay as it is. We have drifted onto a dangerous course, where dramatic changes to our ecosphere have become an inevitable corollary of our addiction to growth. Things are already changing, and not for the better. We just have difficulty seeing this, because although the changes have been rapid in historical terms, they appear slow from the perspective of a single human life.
Generally, human beings are change-averse. Self-preserving ego doesn’t like sudden change – keeping things the same is what has kept us alive so far, so carry on doing the same. But speaking as someone who has made dramatic changes in her life, going from office worker to ocean rower, and from materialist to environmentalist, take it from me that change is possible, and that when I look back from the far side at the changes I have made in my life, I wonder why it took me so long. Before the changes, I was afraid. Since the changes, I am calm.
Hopefully by now I have convinced you that we do not have to continue with business as usual. Just because we have done things this way for the last couple of hundred years, i.e. longer than anybody currently living can remember, that doesn’t make it right. When you look at graphs showing current trends of carbon dioxide levels, average temperatures, species extinction, deglaciation, sea level rise, and world population, and all those lines are curving exponentially upwards, it becomes clear that these trends cannot continue indefinitely.
The good news is that because we are the authors of our own destruction, we can choose whether or not we are going to continue down that path. Some tipping points have already been passed – the evidence suggests that no matter what we do, the world’s average annual temperature is already committed to a rise of 2 degrees centigrade – but we still have the option to limit the damage. A rise of 2 degrees will have significant and far-reaching results, but will be nowhere near as bad as the catastrophic effects of a 6 degree rise, which would result in massive human migrations, rising oceans, growing deserts, drying up of glacial water sources, and increasingly frequent major weather events. Ask yourself if this is the legacy that you want to leave.
If you’re still reading by this time, I will assume that you have decided that this is not the kind of legacy that would make you proud, and that you want to work with me to find a better way forwards. Our present challenges, once we stop being afraid of them and start engaging with them, are exciting. The responsibility lies with our generation to reverse the current trend, to turn things around, and re-set our course for a cleaner, greener future. We have an incredible opportunity to leave a truly important legacy. I have a few ideas that I would like to share with you, and let’s see what we can do to get ourselves out of this mess.
In my next blog, I will take a look at the first of those ideas: the Earth is not as big as we might think it is.
I will be speaking at the Daily Telegraph Adventure Travel Show at Olympia in London at 12.15pm on Sunday 27th January. Other speakers that day that I plan to see are Ben Fogle and James Cracknell (both veterans of the 2005 Atlantic Rowing Race, the same one I was in) and Tom Allen, who with his wife Tenny created this wonderful website you see before you now. It should be a great day to come and listen to some fascinating talks, get inspired, and maybe even splash out on a trip of a lifetime from one of the many adventure travel companies that will be selling their wares. More details on the Adventure Travel Show website.