Arriving in Tarawa on Sept 6. In 40 years these islands will be uninhabitable thanks to climate change.
Arriving in Tarawa on Sept 6. In 40 years these islands will be uninhabitable thanks to climate change.

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.

Other Stuff:

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.

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  • Hi Roz,

    I’m in agreement with your messages, and even while I do ‘adventure research’ in beautiful New Zealand, I am struck sometimes by just how much resistance there is here to sustainable practices and effective environmental programs. A friend sent me a card a while ago with this important message: “Save the Earth…it’s the only planet with Chocolate.” Following your journey – Cheers,


  • During and after Word War II there were desparate shortages of everything. Later, as industry returned to making consumer products, we were so relieved to be able once again to choose clothing, furniture and foods instead of being stuck with whatever was available, that we forgot the habits we had learned during those five years.

    Instead of mending things that broke, or using the parts for something else, we threw them “away”. When materials developed for wartime use became available we eagerly sought the new products that they made. We were not “stupid” or “greedy”, we simply did not realize what the consequences would be. As populations increased (they always do after war) the amount of stuff increased to satisfy the demand. It was really only when we started to run out of landfills that the move to reduce garbage began.

    More recently the realisation that some materials deteriorate into toxic components has started to affect our decisions. Roz, and others, drawing attention to the results of the breaking down of synthetic resins have begun to influence our handling of waste plastics.

    “It’s the garbage, stupid” should be the cry. That’s something we can all respond to and pass on to others.

    Methane is a much bigger problem than carbon dioxide and not much can be done about it without eliminating rice paddies. Indeed, whether eliminating carbon dioxide will have any effect on the world’s climate is still an open question. Sea levels rise and fall over geologic time scales and much land that is now low-lying has been sinking for millenia. (

    In our efforts to avoid the destruction of our planet, we must not be distracted by theories popularised by people who lack the qualifications to judge them.

  • Over my 50 plus years, coming to the conclusion we cannot rely on governments to solve global issues. They are so deeply entrenched in profit & loss sheets that their blind to reality and environmental urgent issues.
    Can our governments not realize mother nature is being destroyed. What kind of lives can we expect for our children. We’ve surpassed the deadline on all treaties. Worldwide disasters are causing havoc. Emergency teams are over burdened and stressed.

    But yet we still consume as a throw away society. Sending money to poorer countries while throwing out perfectly good electronics, just cause it’s not hip or the latest model.
    Meantime everyone is pointing fingers. Who me? No-I’d never do that.

    Only when disaster strikes will workers from the 9 to 5 office job ever wake-up.
    Hmmmmmm . . . . even then who knows. Sleep away

  • Nice post, and aligns with a lot of what I have thought for many years.

    One issue that needs to be clarified though: climate warming and resource depletion need to be separated somewhat IMO.

    There is significant evidence that many great temperature changes have occurred naturally throughout earth’s history. It is not at all clear what mankind’s impact is via CO2 emissions, as compared to natural CO2, dust, SO2, methane etc changes in the past. However as a separate issue, our “mine to depletion” mentality to support our mine, manufacture, consume, discard model IS an entirely man-made system that has exponentially run out of control since the Industrial Revolution a mere few hundred years ago. This is causing huge environmental and economic problems from resource depletion at the start of the cycle, to pollution and probably contributing to climate warming at other parts of the cycle.

    I think we need to value resources far more (ie price them higher) , and spend a lot more energy (ie money) on recycling, reuse, and green energy. This should result in many fundamental changes, eg just in transport: pricing (big private?) cars beyond the pocket of average consumers, ending all motorsport, educating people to not value big and fast and powerful cars, etc. How long until that happens? How much outcry will that cause? Me, I am actually happiest back on my bike.

  • In Canada we have a conservative prime minister and government, that believes climate change is still open for discussion, that it isn’t an immediate problem and is doing everything it can to avoid dealing with it. It seems to stem from their fundamentalist beliefs—George Bush is a hero to many. If the world has leaders like Mr Harper, a man who believes that evolution is just a theory and that creationism should be taught in schools, how in the hell are we ever going to save this planet? I think at times we are doomed.

  • Roz, thanks for opening the door to Blog Action Day. Your tweet Tuesday about #BAD09 was the first I heard of this global action. I don’t normally blog, but I do participate on a few and have conversations with virtual friends here and there … but given this opportunity to use your blog, I thank you and will be brief.

    Dear Roz, Rozlings, Rostafarians et al …

    The Twitter page is already humming, and the official starting time is yet 20 minutes away as I am typing this [I plan to hit the Submit Comment button exactly at 9AM ET]. I have taken part in a few “events” on climate, but am generally not an activist … well, until I woke up on the winter solstice and made a like changing decision. I was unemployed at the time (at age 57), searching for a new color parachute. Decided that the Business-As-Usual jobs were not what I wanted at this stage of my life … so I made a course correction. Yeah, I was twenty years older than Roz was when she took the plunge.

    Global warming was under my radar up to then. Experts like Dr. James Hansen, authors like Bill McKibben (“Death of Nature”) and Al Gore (“Earth In The Balance”), scientists associated with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and countless others had been advising us and our governmental leadership about the scientific facts since the 1980s … but I was deaf to it. It was noise in the background of my focus of earning increasing salaries to support my family, being a soccer coach and boy scout leader, remodeling my home to add space.

    For the past three years, I have been immersed in studying the science and presenting to audiences, mostly preaching to the choir, but helping the choir to sing. Suggesting that they spread the word about solutions to their friends … and getting to know their mayor and city council members … telling the town leaders they want what liberal Berkeley has (google ‘BerkeleyFIRST’) and what conservative Palm Desert and the State of California have (google ‘CityFIRST’ and ‘Levine AB 811’) which is more and more being demanded by other cities in California and other states … it is a virtual tsunami.

    I see that my allotted time is about up, so — wrap it up Doug — I have become an activist because I know from my experience as a petroleum engineer doing computer simulations on Prudhoe Bay oil field in Alaska, that we have to make a major course change if we are to avoid economic and climate catastrophe. The time to make the change is now. Copenhagen UN climate meetings in December will be pivotal, and we need our Congress to pass energy and climate legislation now and for President Obama to attend those meetings. I will be in San Francisco this afternoon to participate in a spontaneous and unannounced rally at Union Square across from the St. Francis Hotel where the president will speaking at a fund raiser. He and our members of Congress and our Senators and business leaders and ordinary people like us will get the message. Today will be an unusual experience for me, as will the October 24 “International Day of Climate Action” … my time is up. It is 9 AM ET. Thanks for listening. Please post your own blogs and include #BAD09 within the text.

    For the earth
    For humanity

    Rozling Doug

    [Thank you Roz]

  • Me again, Roz, Rozlings and Roztafarians … I was typing against the clock and did not proof read the post above. I see I left out one key element that would help it make a bit more sense: It was the winter solstice of 2004 when I got my wake up call. Little details help … sorry about the rushed unproofed copy ;-D

    If you are in SF come down to Union Square at 3:30 PM today. Wear a red shirt. Tell President Obama what you think. Oh, how did I hear about this? A friend forwarded an email two days ago. We are too connected to fail!

  • When exactly is your book signing in D.C. I see 11am in one place and 2pm in the latest tweet. I know you explained this before with the Hawaiian Time Zone, but the 3 hour change doesn’t make sense.
    I’ve been just outside D.C. for two weeks and I’m staying longer just to visit with you. I’ve been a rather quiet, yet fervent follower of your blog for two years now.
    Looking forward to meeting you.

  • Yes we have a problem … Yes we need to be brave and look past the fear of climate change and we will see all the possibilities … Yes we need to join together … And we are going to do it here globally on the internet but we also need to find each other in our local communities …

    Everyone tell everyone to join an action on the International Day of Climate Action Saturday, October 24, 2009

    Don in Canada … check out the NDP website, Liberal Website and Conservative Website and find out who is talking about climate change. Please bear in mind the NDP just got the conservatives to agree to an increase in unemployment benefits. Minority governments can be so useful.

  • Excellent updated video at

    Just finished re-reading your book, Roz. Even more impressed with it second time around.

    Anyone reading this who hasn’t read it yet, do so! It really is in a class of its own and one that you will keep and re-read over the years.

    It’s suitable for ‘teens upwards and is likely to inspire them to become greater than they otherwise might.

    UK readers can order it from (as my son has done) and it will be available as soon as enough of you order it to make it worth shipping a carton of copies! There’s no need for a UK edition because Roz writes as an English woman and there’s nothing specifically American about her style (I’m a Brit in California). In fact her writing style is part of the appeal of this book; it’s eminently readable and hard to put down. Read the reviews at

  • “Eek! Went into B&N to sign books. Computer printout said “If you bought this, you might also like…” Sarah Palin!!”

    Let’s hope that Sarah’s readers buy your book, Roz. Hers is #1 in History (Americas), #1 in Federal Government and #1 in Women. And it’s not even due to be published fo another month.

  • I agree that we all need to take better care of our Planet. But I do disagree that the Climate Change (previously called Global Warming) is making our oceans rise and I guess now our temperatures are cooling that is why the name has changed to Climate Change. I am all for a greener earth but the earth will always be changing; it always has before modern man and with modern man. So let’s keep doing our part and not panic because the earth will continue to change.

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