There is now just a week before I launch Stage 2 of my Pacific row, from Hawaii down into the South Pacific. I’ll set out on Sunday May 24, and there is a lot to do – much of which I will report via my Twitter updates as the week goes on. For now, I’d just like to share with you the afterglow of my presentation to The Climate Project conference in Nashville. I won’t allow myself long to bask – there is just too much work to be done, both for me personally and for all of us generally – if we are to save ourselves from the worst consequences of climate change. But please permit me this brief pat on my own back.
I gave my presentation on the middle day of the conference, and, ahem, blush, got a couple of standing ovations. I was more nervous than usual before my speech – hmmm, that might be something to do with speaking in front of a Nobel Peace Prize winner and another legend of the green movement, Canadian environmentalist Dr David Suzuki. But that memory of a roomful of people, including Mr Al Gore, standing to applaud my speech will make me smile for a long time to come, and will help motivate me through the tougher days on the ocean. It’s just good to know that what I say makes sense and resonates with people – even people of intelligence and distinction.
The last day of the conference was even more amazing for me, and I still get a little glow of satisfaction thinking about it. In his closing remarks Al Gore suddenly said my name, out of the blue, not in the middle of a sentence – just suddenly “Roz”. I nearly jumped out of my skin, like a student caught daydreaming. But he then went on to say “When you wrote those two stories with the two alternative versions of your future…”, referring to my obituary exercise. He went on to use that as his main theme – we have two possible futures – which will we choose?
Then as we were being photographed together he said he’d shown my website to his wife and daughter the night before. Who wouldn’t be flattered to imagine Al and Tipper huddled around the computer screen checking out my website?
[The photo above is just a placeholder, taken by Nicole on her iPhone. Better pics to come.]
So, yup, even though I try (and generally succeed) in not being too impressed or over-awed by anybody based on reputation alone, I couldn’t help but be pleased to bits that my words had made an impact with him. Hey, I’m only human!
So now it’s back to Hawaii and some seriously hard work. But I’ve got fantastic support from my friends, several of whom are coming out from California to help out with last-minute preparations. So I’m sure it will all happen. And then the hard work starts – the rowing. Oh boy….
If you’re really interested/a glutton for punishment, I’ve included my speech in its entirety below. It’s not exactly what I said – I tend to write out speeches in full, but then ignore the notes while I’m actually on stage – but it’s more or less what you would have heard if you’d been there.
My name is Roz Savage. I am an ocean rower, and a recovering addict. I used to be addicted to money, materialism, and stuff. I’d like to tell you a story about how and why I turned from management consultant into ocean rower, and what this has to do with climate change.
Back in the year 2000, I was supposed to be happy. I had the well-paid job in London, the big house, the foreign vacations, the little red sports car. In other words I had the classic materialistic western lifestyle – everything that Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher had told me would make me happy. But there was something wrong with this picture. I wasn’t happy. I felt there was something inherently unsustainable about my lifestyle. At this stage it wasn’t even an environmental awareness. It was just a niggling feeling that there was a mismatch between the person I was and the person I was pretending to be.
What brought it home to me was an exercise I did one day. I sat down and wrote two versions of my own obituary – the one I wanted, and the one I was heading for. They were very different. So I realized then that I needed to make a course correction. I realized that my future would be the accumulation of my todays, and my todays weren’t taking me in the direction I wanted to go.
So I set out on a different track, and it was around this time that I read about the Hopi prophecies. The Hopis have been sending a delegation to the United Nations ever since the Second World War, to deliver their message that if we lose touch with our spirituality, and start exploiting the earth instead of respecting it, it’s not going to go so well for us.
When I read that, it just made sense to me. I remembered how as a child I would look out at the English countryside from the back seat of my parents’ car and notice how deep a mark mankind had left on the landscape – and feel that it wasn’t quite right. But then I grew up, and lost that sense of what was right and what was wrong. I got caught up in the modern day myth that stuff makes you happy, and for 11 years did a job I didn’t like to buy stuff I didn’t need. It took me a long time to realize that it was this disconnect between my values and my lifestyle that was making me unhappy.
I think that deep down many people have that same unease. We know, intuitively, that we are on an unsustainable course. We know that we can’t keep sucking all the goodness out of the earth, turning it into stuff, and throwing it into landfill. Nature works in cycles, cradle to cradle – a cycle of life – while our current model of industry goes from cradle to grave – a line of death.
We can try to hide from this knowledge, as I used to – numbing ourselves with TV, over-indulging in food, or burying ourselves in the constant busy-ness of 21st century adult life, most of which revolves around stuff – buying stuff, selling stuff, maintaining stuff, fixing stuff, earning the money to buy yet more stuff, all for the greater good of the economy, which is based on our growing demand for stuff.
Finite earth, infinite growth – this just cannot work in the long term. It cannot be sustainable.
Deep down we do all know how to live. Once I saw the insanity and self-destructiveness of where we are going, I couldn’t NOT know it. And I couldn’t stand by and watch us all go to hell in a handcart. So I resolved to live more sustainably – and hopefully to inspire others to do the same.
So, from the arch-materialist of 2000, let’s fast forward six years. It is March 2006 and I am bobbing around on a 23-foot rowboat in the western Atlantic. I am homeless, penniless, jobless and exhausted after 103 days at sea. But bizarrely, I’ve never been happier.
During the intervening years I have gradually reassessed my entire value system. I’ve transitioned into a life that is simple and authentic, and it feels good in a way that life never felt before.
Now I am sharing my human-powered, environmentally friendly adventure across the internet from my boat, in the hope that other people might be inspired to try out a different, more sustainable way of living.
And it seems to be working. I get emails from people thanking me for making them aware of environmental issues, and for showing them how they can make changes in their lives that will make a real difference to their environmental impact.
When I’m sharing my message, I try to focus on the positive. There is so much information out there – if people want to know about climate change, a quick Google search will give them all they need to know. But most of them don’t want to know it. They are just worrying about getting food on the table or paying the mortgage.
Thinking about the environment makes them feel guilty, ashamed, stressed, afraid. So they ignore it. What I love about what I do is that it enables me to reach the unconverted. I get in under their radar. People come to my website because they are interested in adventure, or technology, or the ocean. Some of them think what I am doing is pretty cool. And when they see that I care passionately about the environment, they think that is cool too – kind of coolness by association, a new kind of aspiration.
So I’m doing it again. I finished rowing across the Atlantic just over 3 years ago. Now I am one third of the way through rowing across the Pacific. Last summer I rowed from San Francisco to Hawaii in a time of 99 days, and I am about to set out on Stage 2 – starting in just 9 days time.
And I’m about to announce my environmental initiative this year, which is all about climate change in the run-up to Copenhagen. When people read my blogs or hear my presentations, they tend to feel energized and inspired, and I want to take that energy and divert it in an environmental direction.
So I am asking people to match my 10,000 oarstrokes a day with 10,000 steps, which is the minimum we are supposed to take for our health. And the best way for them to fit the walking into their day is to walk as a substitute for driving. Short journeys – walk instead. Longer journeys – park a mile before the end of the journey. People will be able to upload their step counts to a website where they will be able to see all the other people around the world who are also taking part in the challenge, to build that sense of community and collaboration.
The idea is that I will then take the combined efforts of my walkers as a message to the climate change conference in Copenhagen. On October 24 – designated as a global day of action on climate change by Bill McKibben’s 350.org – I will be setting out to walk 600 miles from London to Copenhagen. I am hoping that people will come and join me on the march.
We are working with the United Nations Environmental Program, and I am hoping to have the opportunity to deliver a message to the delegates to say – “We’ve had this many people in this many countries taking this many steps and saving this much CO2. We’ve done our bit to save the planet – now you do yours.” And we plan to take a crystal model of the earth with us, which doubles up as a crystal ball looking into the future. We will present the delegates with this crystal earth, as if to say, “This is our fragile earth – its future is in your hands.”
We are calling this initiative Pull Together, and we really do want to build that sense of connectedness – a global community of people all pulling together to make a difference. Some people might feel that anything they do is just a drop in the ocean, but every action counts. Each of my ocean crossings has taken 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 can accomplish almost anything.
And everybody in this room is contributing to this. You are all spreading ripples in your communities. I want to invite you to use me and my adventures to destroy people’s excuses. If I’m prepared to row 7,500 miles across the Pacific to make a point about climate change – then is it really so much to ask, to get someone to leave the car at home and walk to the corner store? Help me to make sure that there never comes a day when I can row across the Arctic Ocean, because the ice cap is no longer there.
Point your audiences to my website at rozsavage.com, ask them to check out what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. Make them believe that anything is possible, if only they want it enough. I used to believe that I had to live a certain kind of a life, because that was what Oxford graduates in the late 80’s did. It was what I was expected to do, and I bought into it. But then, you know what, I asked myself – is this true? This assumption I’ve made, about what I “have” to do, maybe it’s wrong. Maybe there’s a better way. And so I stepped outside. And the world carried on turning, the sun carried on rising. In fact, life got a heck of a lot better.
We’ve told ourselves that growth is good, that we need all this stuff, that we have to keep consuming, consuming, as our God-given right. But is it true? We tell ourselves that because we’ve been doing things this way for as long as we can remember, then it must be right to carry on this way. But maybe there’s another, better way, if only we find the courage to try it.
We stand at a pivotal moment in human history. I had my own pivotal moment when I wrote those two versions of my own obituary, and realized that the future I was heading for was not the one I wanted. Now as humans we have a collective pivotal moment, when we have to consider the possible outcomes and decide what kind of a future we want – do we want to live on a planet blessed with biodiversity, in a healthy, self-regulating biosphere? Or do we want to live on a planet wracked by famine, drought, floods and storms, with populations displaced, and wars waged over increasingly scarce resources?
When I looked back over my life from my imaginary deathbed, I realized I wasn’t living a life I could be proud of. It was a nice enough life, comfortable, pleasant, but I didn’t feel I was contributing anything valuable, I wasn’t leaving a legacy. When we look back at 2009 from a point in the future, will we be proud of the choices we made, will we be proud of the legacy we left, or will we be saying, “if only”?
The time for finger-pointing is past. Sure, some countries have been more at fault than others. As a Brit, I’m painfully aware that we probably started it with the Industrial Revolution. But as with so many things, the Americans took it and beat us at our own game.
But that doesn’t matter now. We can’t change the past. We have to look to the future.
We human beings are amazing creatures. We are creative, artistic, scientific, and philosophical. But we have also been arrogant, conceited, carried away with our own cleverness and believing that we can buck the laws of nature and get away with it. For a while, we HAVE got away with it, but now we’re living on borrowed time.
We’ve been killing this earth through a thousand billion cuts. There have been a few major disasters, but mostly the damage has been caused by a multitude of consumer decisions, multiplied up day after day, six billion times across the globe. Actually, it’s not the earth we’re killing – it’s ourselves. Give the earth a few billennia, and it will be just fine – but will we be around to see it? Or will we have drowned in our own filth, made sick by the toxins we have pumped out into our environment, day after day, year after year.
But the good news is, that we can counteract those thousand billion cuts with a thousand billion conscious, responsible decisions. We can start to heal the earth, by taking responsibility as individual consumers and by being the change we want to see in the world. In the past we have allowed our egotistical brains to overrule the wisdom of our hearts. Now it’s time to reconcile our inner and outer lives – to use the wisdom of our hearts as our compass, showing us which way we need to go, and then to use our brains to create the strategy for getting there.
This is the only earth we’ve got, and we have to take good care of it if we want it to take good care of us. We know this, and we need to tune in to that deep knowledge of how to live, respecting the earth instead of exploiting it.
We, you, are already creating awareness and change at grassroots level, which is good and necessary. But we also need to create change at a global, political level, to turn this tide before it is too late. And that is why it is so crucial what happens in Copenhagen – and beyond. We need decisive action, and a firm commitment to get back under 350ppm as fast as possible.
The best way to achieve something is to aim to achieve twice as much, so we need to push, and push hard. Time is too short for half-hearted ambitions. We have the technology, we just need to commit. It won’t be easy. Rowing oceans isn’t easy. There are many times when my motivation wavers, and I wonder what the hell ever possessed me to do this. But the thing that keeps me going is that I have a powerful reason why. I just have to keep my eye on the goal, and know that in the end it will all be worthwhile, because I am fighting for something that I care about.
So, we have to ask ourselves, is our continued survival as a species something that we care about? Is it a strong enough reason why for us to take the short term pain to achieve the long term gain? Do we believe we are worth saving?
I absolutely believe that we are, and that we can do it. It won’t be easy, but I truly believe that if we all pull together, we CAN build a better, greener future, the same way that I row across oceans – one stroke, one action, at a time.