I’m reading some interesting books at the moment (yes, I currently seem to be unable to get to the end of one before I start another! does this happen to you?) and they are sparking off some interesting trains of thought that I’d like to discuss with you.

The No-Growth Imperative: Creating Sustainable Communities under Ecological Limits to Growth, by Gabor Zovanyi, is a deliberately challenging read. As an antidote to the “10 simple things you can do to help save the Earth!” ethos, his epilogue (okay, another confession, I skipped to the epilogue before I’d read the book!) describes “10 difficult personal actions needed to save the world”. His point is that changing lightbulbs, turning the thermostat down one degree, or draftproofing your windows is NOT going to be enough to adequately meet the challenges that we face. As Captain Matthew Webb said, “Nothing great is ever easy”, and what could be greater than safeguarding the future of humanity?

Zovanyi’s suggestions include:

– Ecologically responsible childbearing is “one or none”

– Ecologically responsible car ownership is also “one or none”

– Eat much lower on the food chain, shifting to “one or none” meat meals per day

– Become an advocate of ecologically responsible consumption, shutting down exponential economic growth

– Insist on the management of human behaviour as the most pressing unmet need of the current era

Can we turn the ship in time, or are we heading for the rocks?

As you can see, few of us would feel smug after reading such a list. It challenges some of the most basic tenets of modern society. And yet I found, as I read through his reasoning, it was hard to fault its ecological basis. Many books talk about what CAN be done. Zovanyi writes about what NEEDS to be done.

On a more optimistic note, I am also reading Cancel The Apocalypse: The New Path To Prosperity, by Andrew Simms of the New Economics Foundation, an excellent think-and-do tank based here in London. So far (I am up to Chapter 4, with no cheating), he has pointed out that human wellbeing and economic extravagance are not linked, that we can in fact be happier human beings with good jobs, living in stronger communities, while at the same time reducing our ecological footprint. His thesis is grounded in solid research and analysis, and certainly presents a compelling argument. But even he does not shy away from the fact that we need to make enormous changes if we are to achieve true sustainability.

I see a rowing metaphor here. Longtime readers might remember a large amount of dithering going on in mid-Pacific while I tried to decide whether to go for the easier route to Tarawa or whether to bust a gut to try for Tuvalu. I did my best to steer sufficiently south for Tuvalu, but all the time the currents were pushing me west. My efforts to get south were not enough to counteract that relentless westwards drift, and the angle I would need to achieve became steeper and steeper until my weatherman concluded that, simply put, “you can’t get there from here”. I’d done too little each day to push south, until eventually it became impossible to reach my goal.

As I see it, we’ve been drifting along with the current of “business as usual”. If we’d have taken action forty or fifty years ago when these issues were first raised, we’d have had smaller, easier adjustments to make. In the intervening years we’ve drifted a long way from the course of sustainability, so now we’ve got a difficult angle to steer. We are very nearly at the point where we won’t be able to get there from here.

What do you think?

Are you content to keep drifting in our present direction, or do we need to change course?

How soon?

How much?

Or is it already too late?

My view is made pretty clear in the title of my next book, Stop Drifting, Start Rowing (US link), Stop Drifting, Start Rowing (UK link).


Other Stuff:

Last month I spoke at the inaugural YaleWomen Conference at the National Geographic Society HQ in DC (see featured image), alongside amazing ladies such as Arianna Huffington and US Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Kamala Lopez has blogged for the Huffington Post (thanks, Kamala, for your kind words!), and the video of my presentation is online on YouTube. Thanks to all the Yale Women who made it such a terrific event, and to the intrepid organisers. A very enjoyable and thought-provoking conference, and I am already looking forward to the next one.

Dee Caffari, Ben Fogle, and me at Row2Win for Plastic Oceans and Crew Clothing

Last Wednesday I got back in a boat for the first time since I finished the Indian Ocean in 2011. Not an ocean rowboat this time, but a coxed quad on the Thames Tideway, in a benefit event for the Plastic Oceans Foundation, organised by Crew Clothing to commemorate their 20th anniversary. We had a fun race over 500 metres between three quads, captained by myself, Ben Fogle (who with James Cracknell rowed the Atlantic at the same time that I did) and Dee Caffari (who was also on the water at that time back in 2005, becoming the first woman to sail single-handedly and nonstop around the world). There is now an online challenge (currently open to UK residents only) to beat the time that Ben set on the rowing machine over 200 metres, with Crew Clothing giving a donation to Plastic Oceans for every 100 online participants. Also a tour of the UK Crew Clothing stores, with competitors having the chance to win a signed Concept II rowing machine.

If you’ve tried sending me a message via my Facebook page, and haven’t received a reply, my apologies. For some reason the notifications stopped coming, and with my being so much on the road and offline I didn’t pay attention, and I’ve just discovered a massive backlog. I’m slowly working my way through it. Thanks for your patience!

It’s not Mothers’ Day here in the UK. We had ours back in March. But to all US moms (as opposed to UK mums!) HAPPY MOTHERS’ DAY!!

One Comment

  • Can sell one or none to most people for nearly everything. Combined with technical improvements we can get there. Difficulty seems to be acceptance of one or none with regards to kids. Whenever I suggest it I get shot down in flames. Human needs and wants suggested. Interested to know others views on how we can turn back population figures.

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