This morning I found myself dangling from a big yellow parachute with a smiley face on it, about fifty feet above the South China Sea, streaming a banner with the words: SUPPORT CLEAN ENERGY before a boatful of Malaysian media. It was, I have to confess, rather good fun. I know that campaigning isn’t necessarily supposed to be enjoyable, but this certainly beat freezing my backside off on a march in Copenhagen last December. It also heralded my move from environmental campaigning at the high-level/conceptual level into activism at the specific, local level. Okay, so it’s not exactly MY locality, but there again, for a wandering nomad such as myself, anywhere in the world can be “local”.
Initially I had planned to come to Malaysia to climb Mount Kinabalu with an English friend who lives in Singapore. Nick and I met for the first, and in fact only, time in 2005, in a swimming pool in a dodgy part of East London called Tower Hamlets, as we wallowed in and out of liferafts during our RYA (Royal Yachting Association) Sea Survival Course. I had signed up to do the Atlantic Rowing Race, and Nick had signed up to do the Clipper Round The World Yacht Race. Both races required this preliminary safety training. United by the shared indignity of seeing each other in bright orange survival suits, we had stayed in touch, and when Nick said he would like to climb Mount Kinabalu I was quick to invite myself along.
A couple of weeks after we had booked our permits, I received a newsletter from 350.org asking people to sign a petition to the Prime Minister of Malaysia to protest against plans to build Sabah’s first coal-fired power plant. Aha, I thought, as I will be in Sabah anyway, what a perfect opportunity to make the trip doubly worthwhile. Initially I was concerned about coming in as an outsider and trying to tell the Malaysians what to do, but when I heard that there was already major local opposition, which had resulted in the proposed plant site being moved twice already, my mind was made up.
Through my friends at 350.org I was introduced to the very impressive Cynthia Ong of LEAP, one of 5 local organisations who have joined forces to contest the coal-powered plant. She immediately jumped at the chance to use my visit to highlight the issue, and we rapidly evolved a plan to promote a clean energy solution to Sabah’s energy needs. We hit on the concept of campaigning on land, in the air, and under the sea – because dirty energy pollutes all of these. (See today’s press release at the end of this blog.) Photos of this morning’s airborne protest would be issued along with images of me and the banner underwater, and at the top of Mount Kinabalu, to emphasise the extent of coal’s negative environmental impacts.
The press conference, held immediately after the parasailing escapade, brought up some interesting questions – and some great answers from my colleagues. There are some aspects of the issue specific to the ecology of Sabah – the location of the proposed power plant lies between the rainforest on one side, home of many endangered species including the orang-utan, and on the other side the Coral Triangle, offering some of the most pristine dive locations in the world. But the Sabah power plant is also a symbol of the key question facing humankind right now. Do we carry on with business as usual, drifting towards disaster? Or do we switch our investment to clean, renewable energies, and steer a course that will meet our energy needs into the future?
Even if you don’t believe that the burning of fossil fuels causes a problem, it is undeniable that one day they will all be used up and we will need to find alternative sources of energy. So why not take the initiative and do it voluntarily – with all the benefits (such as energy independence and better air quality) that renewables bring? It is the way that we answer these questions that will determine our future.
These questions are cropping up the world over. A quick scan of your local newspaper would yield several stories with long-term implications for local flora, fauna, agriculture, and so on. Each and every one of these decisions is crucial. Individually they may seem minor, but cumulatively they affect the air we breathe, the water we drink, the quality of our food and the quality of our lives.
I am excited about teaming up with these Sabahan activists. They are engaged, intelligent, and proactive – real winners. As Cynthia said today, letting the decision-makers know what we want is democracy in action. This was my first foray into specific local action, and – even apart from the parasailing – it felt good. Why not find a local issue that lights your (low carbon) fire, and exercise your democratic right to make YOUR voice heard? It all counts! And remember to share it with our EcoHeroes community and help spread those ripples of change.
Today’s stunt was fun, but the Mount Kinabalu episode of the campaign was rather more painful. This afternoon the customer in the next cubicle at the massage salon must have wondered what was going on, as gasps and groans emanated from my side of the curtain while Fe worked energetically on my stiff, sore legs. But gasps and groans aside, today’s massage was one of the best I have ever had. If you ever find yourself in Kota Kinabalu in need of some therapy, look up Fe at Helen Beauty Reflexology in Warisan Square.
If you are interested in climbing Mount Kinabalu, I went with Amazing Borneo on a 3-day, 2-night option. Day 1 involves no strenuous activity, merely taking the 2-hour bus ride from Kota Kinabalu to a lodge on the end of the park. Day 2 involved a reasonably challenging 6-kilometre uphill hike on a well-made path comprised mostly of steps with only occasional stretches of flatter trail. On Day 3 we set out at 2.30am to hike the final 2.5 kilometres to the summit. This ascent started out as a stepped trail as before, but once we reached the rocky approach to Low’s Peak it switched over to ropes. Most of it could be walked (slowly) or scrambled, but a few short stretches we had to use the ropes to haul ourselves up. And then, of course, we had to walk all the way back down. WORK those quads!
Three Things To Know About Sabah:
1. The states of Sabah and Sarawak comprise the Malaysian part of the island of Borneo. Malaysia shares the island with the country of Brunei and the Indonesian province of East Kalimantan.
2. Sabah has a population of around 3.5 million (about the same as Connecticut) in an area of about 76,000 square kilometres (about 3,000 square miles – a bit larger than Delaware).
3. Mount Kinabalu is the highest mountain in South East Asia at a height of 4,095 metres (13,435 feet, a little less than Mount Shasta which is 14,162 feet).
For more information on the proposed power plant, see:
The press release that was issued today by Green SURF:
PRESS RELEASE – 23rd July 2010
British rower brings climate message to Sabah
KOTA KINABALU (Sabah, Malaysian Borneo): British ocean rower and environmental campaigner Ms Roz Savage spent the past week in Sabah, spreading her message for clean energy.
Savage who this year became the first woman to row solo across the Pacific Ocean, climbed Mount Kinabalu and dived in waters off here, before ending her trip parasailing in Tanjung Aru.
Throughout her mountain high to ocean deep adventures, she carried a banner sponsored by Green SURF (Sabah Unite to Re-Power the Future) and the international 350.org, calling for clean energy in Sabah.
“We will fight dirty energy on the land. We will fight dirty energy in the air. We will fight dirty energy under the water because dirty energy pollutes all of these,” Savage said.
Green SURF, a coalition of local non-governmental organisations wants the government to scrap a proposal to build a 300 megawatt coal-fired power plant in Lahad Datu.
It has teamed up with 350.org, an international campaign that is building a movement to unite the world on solutions to the climate crisis.
Savage who is an athlete ambassador for 350.org, said she was sure that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak would do the right thing for Malaysia and the world in pushing for clean energy.
“The intelligent choice for any modern, forward-looking country is clean, renewable energy.
“I took up my oars because I believe in a cleaner, greener future. I urge you to take up your pen, phone, or computer mouse, and let the Prime Minister know how you feel about dirty old energy. Our future depends on it,” she said.
Savage worked as a management consultant for 11 years before it dawned on her that her materialistic lifestyle was not the path to happiness nor fulfillment, and was having an appalling impact on the environment.
After a 10-year break from rowing, she once again took up her oars, this time to spread her message of deep ecological responsibility.
Coupled with her solo row across the Atlantic in 2005 to 2006, Savage has now rowed over 17,702 kilometres (11,000 miles), taken 3.5 million oar strokes, and spent a total of nearly a year of her life at sea in a seven metre rowboat.
Savage is a United Nations Climate Hero and was listed amongst the Top Twenty Great British Adventurers by the Daily Telegraph, and the Top Ten Ultimate Adventurers by National Geographic. Her book, Rowing The Atlantic: Lessons Learned on the Open Ocean, is published by Simon & Schuster.
“My goal is to be happy, healthy and wise, and I can’t achieve this in a world that is diseased, polluted and impoverished.
“So every day I ask myself what I can do to make my world a better place. I urge you to do the same. Let’s look after this planet. It’s the only one we’ve got,” she said.
Green SURF’s Cynthia Ong said Savage received an email from 350.org on the coalition’s efforts to halt the construction of the power plant and asked what she could do to help.
“Roz Savage had just completed rowing solo across the Pacific and was passing through the region. She heard our call and asked what she could do to help our campaign.
“She knows, as we do, that this is both a local and global story of our energy quest and climate change,” Ong said.
Ong, who just returned from the annual gathering of the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation in Bali, stressed that there is a need for locals to also be concerned about the coal plant.
“Over 850 of the world’s biologists and conservationists gathered in Bali. The graphic simulation based on science of where are planet is headed towards 2100 is catastrophic.
“Life as we know it will be dramatically different. We are talking about our children’s and grandchildren’s generations,” she said.
Green SURF (Sabah Unite to Re-Power the Future) is a coalition of five non-governmental organisations. The NGOs are Worldwide Fund for Nature Malaysia (WWF-Malaysia), Land Empowerment Animals People (LEAP), Sabah Environmental Protection Association (SEPA), Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) and Partners of Community Organisations (Pacos).
350.org is an international campaign that’s building a movement to unite the world around solutions to the climate crisis–the solutions that science and justice demand. Its mission is to inspire the world to rise to the challenge of the climate crisis—to create a new sense of urgency and of possibility for our planet.