Speaking today at London's 350 event. Photo by Mary Kadzielski.
Speaking today at London's 350 event. Photo by Mary Kadzielski.

Two phrases you don’t hear every day:

“Can I film your breasts?”

“Are you, like, a coccyx?”

The first was from a guy holding a large video camera, and was prompted by the fact I was wearing a t-shirt with the numbers “350” emblazoned across the front in bold type. “I’m not a pervert or anything,” he went on to say, somewhat less than convincingly, as he aimed his lens at my chest.

The second was from a young woman with a big smile and black dreadlocks. After I’d stood on a chair and bellowed into a megaphone to address the crowd at the London Eye, she came over to say she’d loved my speech. “You had me rolling with laughter.” I think she was referring to my comment that, “If I can row 3,000 miles across an ocean for climate change, then you can remember to turn off the lights when you leave a room.” I’m not quite sure hilarity was the desired effect, but maybe the sustainability movement needs a little humor once in a while.

In turn she made me smile when she doubtfully regarded my petite frame and said, “So are you, like, a coccyx that yells at the other people in the boat to row harder?”

Well, coccyx or coxswain, I suppose I am indeed concerned with getting people to try harder…

350 underwater in the Maldives
350 underwater in the Maldives

And that was the feeling that I took away from today’s 350 event. I am not talking about the organizers trying harder – Abi Edgar and the heroes of the Campaign Against Climate Change could not humanly have given it any more than they did today. And today has on many levels been an amazing success. According to the 350 website, people in 181 countries have staged over 5200 events to express their concern over climate change. I am sure that by the end of these amazing 24 hours, many more people will be aware of the number 350 and what it means.

But as I sat on the train on the way home, I thought about the day and whether it had succeeded. There were a lot of people there – fantastic. But there were also a lot of people NOT there, people whose Saturdays were business as usual – shopping, drinking coffee, hanging out with friends. There are 8 million people in London – why weren’t they ALL here?!

Maybe I’m just in a cup-half-empty mood – the hectic days and short nights of the book tour have finally caught up with me and I spent most of today in bed apart from the couple of hours at the London Eye – but instead of celebrating the numbers that turned up at the rally, my mind was on the absentees. My perception is that there is still too much apathy, fear and denial amongst the general public.

Will today turn out to be just another masturbatory exhibition by those who are already environmentally aware, while most people continue in ignorance of our climate crisis? Climate change affects everybody – how can we get everybody to care?

350 in Sunderbans, India
350 in Sunderbans, India

We need a shared POSITIVE vision of our green future. We need to get away from the language of sacrifice and inconvenience, and towards the language of excitement, opportunity, and potential. I am currently reading “The Great Transition”, a report by the new economics foundation, which presents a powerfully attractive picture of a sustainable world. We need more of the same. At the moment we are still focusing on the problem (climate change) rather than the solution (sustainability). And the majority of people don’t need another problem – they have enough of their own already. The sooner we make this paradigm shift towards the positive, the better.

Other Stuff:

The other speaker today was Bianca Jagger. She arrived late and discombobulated, her driver having been confused by the closure of various nearby roads and bridges, while I smugly arrived by public transport, early and relaxed… The perils of being rich and famous, hey?

My speech (or at least, what I wish I’d said):

I row across oceans to inspire people to take action on climate change. Something the ocean has taught me is that any challenge, no matter how huge, can be tackled if you break it down into little steps. When I rowed across the Atlantic it took me about a million oarstrokes. One stroke doesn’t get me very far, but you take a million tiny actions and you string them all together and you get across 3000 miles of ocean. You can achieve almost anything, if you just take it one stroke at a time.

And it’s the same with climate change. On a day like today, when we feel part of a huge global community, it’s easy to believe we can change the world. But there will be other days when maybe we feel alone, and that anything we do as individuals won’t really make a difference – that it’s just a drop in the ocean.

But every action counts. We all have it in our power to make a difference. In fact, we’re already making a difference – it’s just up to us to decide if it’s a good one or a bad one. Every time we switch the lights off, or choose to walk instead of drive, or say no to a plastic bag, it matters.

So we’re leading the way. Thank you all for making a difference for the better. Keep up the good work, have a fantastic 350 day, and together we’ll keep changing the world, heading towards a greener future, one stroke at a time.

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  • Roz, your words do make a difference and the one stroke at a time theme is a good one. At Nat Geo you mentioned just 3 things to do, take a reuseable water container with you, same for coffee and make sure the lights are out. Its hard, But I did turn off the AC in August, haven’t turned on the heat, unplug appliances and esp my giant flat screen TV and saved over $ 100 on my electric bill last month. Maybe if we can reinforce that doing the right things can save the planet AND save you money at the same time. People vote with their wallets.Keep up the good work!
    PS I can’t believe Bianca arrived in a car. I hope it was a smart car at least!

  • You sound all in and a bit down. Please don’t feel bad. I know that preaching to the choir is not the most gratifying part of a revolution. Besides if you lose your ubiquity as a global good scout, whom, may I ask, will I be about with my half witted jesting?

  • “Shopping, drinking coffee, hanging out with friends.” Oh, I wish! Today I was studying for a licensure exam, and talked with a friend on the phone about my own discouragement and challenges. AND I was aware that these events were taking place. And I do make significant efforts to do the small things every day. When I was a little girl my parents used to say “Who leaves lights on all over the place?!” and I knew, as an only child, to whom they were referring. As an adult, I’m really good at turning out lights–in fact, I’m often the last one out at work, and so I do it quite literally before setting the alarm! My biggest recent confusion is about something I just saw on television concerning the size of carbon footprint resulting from locavore thinking and the proposal that we may be wrong in believing that eating locally, and small farming is more sustainable and less expensive than large farming operations and moving food great distances around the globe. So while I may hardly have left my couch and computer today, I believe that I, and others, are concerned and doing what we can locally, while being aware of the global picture–even if we don’t turn out to a public event.

    All this is not simply to talk about me, but to encourage you by speaking for those of us who weren’t out there rallying. I think they are the “tip of the iceberg” and there are many more thinking and doing what they can–and educating their friends and communities.

    You are being heard, Roz, and what you do does make a difference–a significant one! Don’t ever doubt it!

  • Roz,

    I recycle at least 75% of my garbage, use my Windcheetah ClubSport recumbent trike (made in England) in place of my pickup as much as possible, and am vigilant in saving energy (lights, etc). I’m disabled (C3-4 incomplete quadriplegia) and though I’m self-motivated and became conscious before I’d heard of you, I look to you as a motivator to keep going and as a fellow traveler in the journey to reduce the vengeance of the planet from the harm we’ve caused. So please keep going. I will. Peace!

  • There are a lot of us out here (maybe the “silent majority”?) that are behind you. Hang in there! We love you, and wish you well. Maybe it is the feeling that you had very high hopes for the day – and high hopes for a long long time! – and now it is over. You probably will need to decompress for a while. All the best. On to the preparation for the next adventure in your life!

  • Thanks for the comments – and it’s always very nice to hear reassuring words from people who are doing the right things.

    But without wanting to sound too pious, this is NOT about me! I had no particular expectations of yesterday – I wasn’t involved in the organization – all I had to do was turn up and say a few words – so it was no skin off my nose whether there were 3 million people there or only 3. It makes no difference to me. In theory.

    But in practice of course I do care whether the message is getting across. I’m very aware that for the last 20 or 30 years the sustainability movement has largely failed in communicating the urgency of the situation to the general public. So this was a genuine question – how DO we get people to care?

    But on the other hand, it was also a largely rhetorical question. I’ve spoken with many, many people on this same topic, and although nobody has any easy answers, I think I’m working towards a promising potential approach. I’ll probably say more on this subject in my next book – too early yet to go public, as it’s still very much under development.

    And John, I know you meant the day when you said “it’s over” – but everything is far from over. If anything, yesterday was a start. Copenhagen will be another step. And there will be many more steps to take. This will be a long, but exciting and challenging, journey!

  • Well done Roz, I liked what you had to say at the rally. I really think you are on to something when you say “At the moment we are still focusing on the problem (climate change) rather than the solution (sustainability).” The question is how do we turn the cart in a positive direction. Some how it has to become fashionable. Here on Whidbey Island where I live I see more and more people using their own cloth bags for groceries instead of paper or plastic. You see TV ads with shoppers carrying cloth bags, it’s become “fashionable”!

    Now the big question is “how do we make all that is required ‘fashionable’?” You’re on the right track by focusing on the positive; I support your efforts and will continue to do my part.

  • Roz, I think the power of yesterday was unity around the world in the statements to our business and government leaders. Check these NYTimes photos: http://is.gd/4AQSD … Leaders read the NYTimes.

    Global Events Mark Magic Number on Climate Change was also posted last night … and earlier in the day Andy Revkin posted Campaign Against Emissions Picks Number. These cannot be ignored by our leaders.

    I believe many already “get it” and as a result of yesterday, many more will “get it” and do the right thing. Yesterday was a “kick start” for an accelerated movement. Now that we’ve got their attention, let’s step it up and demand the positive solutions. Great article, Roz!

    We are all insired every day by the energy, effort,
    love you give to our AMAZING EARTH! and, you help
    us all to do better, be better, try harder, do more
    for our people, our places… We all appreciate your
    book tour efforts, the book, it was great seeing you
    in Portland! and, 350 and your breasts!~ great story
    and great efforts on all parts! look forward to seeing
    the pics! lets all move forward in a more positive
    mode and be there for the EARTH… for the people…
    and, good job on taking the train!!!!! ALOHA from OREGON…

  • Hey Roz,
    Every bit helps ! My wife and I recycle wherever we can and are pleasantly surprised that a lot of what we used to feel was garbage is actually recyclable. We do this every week. This is assisted by our local city government, that give us the opportunity, and means (containers) to accomplish re-cycling awareness. We are also very aware of our household use of energy and transportation needs/ways. It is just thinking a small bit beyond our thought process to remember how we use or if we really need to use this energy. It is a win win for everyone ( environmentally and economically ) .

  • Small efforts often lead to more efforts and sometimes greater efforts. And pretty soon, each of us is a part of the solution in our own way. And best of all, most of the time it’s fun.

    In the course of planning this climate action I have experienced the power of taking action – like a pebble falling in water, the ripples never stop reaching out.

  • I don’t believe that we can skip the step of getting people to understand the problem.

    Belief must necessarily precede making something a priority.

    According to the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, 18% of Republicans believe in human-caused global warming, and 16% believe that Congress and the President should make dealing with it a top priority.

    Meanwhile, 50% of Democrats believe in human-caused global warming, and 45% believe that Congress and the President should make dealing with it a top priority.



    According to the second study, Americans placed global warming dead last of 20 issues in the survey.

    Given the ratios above, we need at least 72% of Americans to believe in human-caused global warming for it to move from 20th place to 4th place in priorities. That’s an important position, because that’s above the priorities that soak up nearly all of our disposable income.

    It was great for my son and me to meet you in San Francisco at Books Inc.!

  • This morning on NPR they interviewed someone from the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, and he suggested that the falling belief in human-caused global warming they reported is probably a rationalization mechanism employed because people want to do other things with higher priorities, but don’t want to feel guilty about it. Or words to that effect, if I understood him correctly.

    This supports my comment of a few weeks ago that people have to make global warming a higher priority than national healthcare reform, federalization of education, etc., or the job won’t get done.

  • Funny, you put out into the environment over 20 metric tons of CO2 to promote your book in America. You clearly lack ethics, integrity, and honesty, and now your bashing Americans after acting like one when it suited your needs. A leopard can’t change its spots….

  • Here is but one comment from more than 100 from San Francisco Chronicle: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2009/10/19/DDA71A5453.DTL

    Can they all be fools? What about putting 22 tons of CO2 into the environment to fly your group out to Tarawa just to take your picture? You flew out of Tarawa quickly to go to a premiere in NY of the “stupid movie” when you could have stayed and done some good for the people of Tarawa, but instead you just gave them your trash. oh and the carbon offsets company you gave the link to does not even exist any more anyway and almost of them are scams anyway.

    “It seems to me that the people with no problems SEEM to have the most. The keyword is SEEM. This woman has it all, and has to “find” herself, because she has had no real hardship. As a 24 year old who has been to hell and back, I am just greatful to be alive and can see this without having to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in a boat trip to convince myself that I’m actually “living life to its fullest”.
    Get a real life lady. You are still trying to “make it big” in this world by attracting all of this attention. You haven’t learned anything, and it’s really sad to me that you are trying create problems for yourself, and resolve them through some existential boat trip connecting yourself with the earth – because you’ve never truly experienced any hardship.
    Now you’re writing books and making more heaps of money because your heart never was and never will be in the right spot. It’s still wrapped around money.
    Good luck with all of that.”

    That’s one quote of hundresds that responded, you’re not fooling anyone.

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