Thursday is Blog Action Day, and this year’s theme is climate change. So given that I am a passionate blogger and passionate about sustainability, how could I possibly resist the urge to contribute?!
Some people love the ocean. Some people fear it. Me? I love it, hate it, fear it, respect it, resent it, cherish it, loathe it, and frequently curse it. It brings out the best in me – and sometimes the worst. Its sheer vastness and deepness never cease to amaze me, and yet my focus is often reduced to the wave ahead.
If you go into Google Earth and rotate the globe until it centers on the Pacific, you’ll see that the ocean occupies fully half our world. There is just a sliver of California visible in the top right corner, a glimpse of Australia in the bottom left, and a smattering of islands and atolls strewn across its waters as if cast by a careless giant. From 2008 to 2010, this huge expanse of blue is my home, as I attempt to become the first woman to row solo across the Pacific, using my adventure to wage a campaign of awareness and action on climate change.
So what does rowing across oceans have to do with the biggest challenge that has ever faced mankind, and which our generation is uniquely cursed and privileged to confront? This year I rowed into Kiribati – one of the small island nations that is in the front line of climate change. Their president told me how their fresh water supply will soon be contaminated by saltwater, as increasingly frequent extreme weather events send waves crashing over their fringing reef. Within 50 years his country will no longer exist, its inhabitants gone, their homes lost. This video makes me cry – the human face of climate change. Since my visit to this innocent victim of climate change, I have done a lot of thinking about the challenge we face, and what needs to be done.
I have learned a lot about myself and about life through my transition from office worker to ocean rower, and during my three long solitary ocean crossings. I have learned about course-setting, about courage, and about commitment. Less than ten years ago I was working in a London office cubicle, dissatisfied and unhappy in my life, but not knowing why I was different when all my friends seemed to find their similar lives quite acceptable. So one day I sat down and I wrote two versions of my own obituary – the one I wanted and the one I was heading for. They were dramatically different, and I knew then that a major course correction was needed. I could see that unless I made some changes, I wasn’t going to end up where I wanted to be at the end of my life.
We as a species already know that our current course is not taking us where we want to go. If we carry on as we are, we are not going to be where we want to be in five years, or ten years, or fifty years. We collectively need to change course. Just as I considered those two alternative visions of my future, and chose a different path, we need to look clearly and courageously at our options. At this fork in the road, what version of our future do we want?
There is nothing in human history that compares with climate change. Never before have we faced the very real threat of human extinction. Because the issue isn’t about saving the planet, it’s about saving humankind. At the moment we’re killing ourselves slowly, by a thousand million cuts. Since the Industrial Revolution we have adopted this crazy consumerist ethos, where we suck the goodness out of the earth, turn it into stuff, and then throw the stuff into landfill. Whether you believe in climate change or not, whichever way you look at our models of manufacture, production and disposal, they just don’t stack up. All it needs is a bit of common sense to see that we are on an unsustainable path.
But human beings are not good at change. We resist it. Our self-preserving ego says to us, you’ve stayed alive this long by keeping things exactly as they are. If you change to something new, it might be dangerous. It might kill you. Let’s stick with the status quo.
And so we continue to fiddle around the issue, pointing fingers of blame at other countries while we all go to hell in a handcart. It comes down to fear – of what will happen if we don’t do something – rising oceans, water shortages, population displacement, desertification, starvation – and there is fear of what will happen if we DO do something – impact on the economy, loss of competitive advantage, effects on standard of living, loss of popularity with the electorate. We need to find the courage to see clearly what is happening, and to take the first steps towards a solution.
Courage is not the absence of fear. Courage comes from having such a powerful reason WHY that it overcomes the fear. Courage is having the moral gumption to recognize that the path is going to be hard, but going down that path anyway because you know that in the long run it is the right thing, for the planet, for humankind, for you.
And the good news is that we really only need the courage to take the first step. Once that step has been taken and the commitment made, it only gets easier after that.
So how do we find that courage?
First, we need to face the fact that we have a problem. We need to get our heads out of the sand and open our eyes.
Second, we need to believe that we are worth saving. Yes, we’ve made a right royal mess of things in the very short time we’ve been on this planet, but it’s not too late. There is still everything to play for.
And third, we need to create a SHARED VISION of the future we want – and work steadily towards it. If we are going to be carbon neutral by 2050, what steps do we need to take to get there? The future is the sum of the way we live our todays. There WILL be tough times ahead, when we wonder if it is worth the struggle, but when those times come we will remind ourselves of our shared vision, and it will give us the motivation to keep on going. We CAN do it, if we all pull together to create a better, greener future – one stroke at a time.
For the benefit of my regular readers, a quick update. I’m still in the whirlwind of the book tour for Rowing The Atlantic. Having humungous fun, and being spoiled rotten. The book is selling well, with some wonderful reviews on Amazon. Keep up with my whistle-stop progress via Twitter as I enter the final few days of the tour. You still have the chance to catch me in Seattle (if you move VERY quickly!), Boston or at National Geographic in Washington, DC.