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A drop in the ocean

Updated Tuesday 15th June 2010

Ocean rower, Roz Savage, discusses how she is inspiring action on climate change through rowing across both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

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Copyright The Open University


My name is Roz Savage and I’m an ocean rower. I row across oceans to inspire action on climate change.

Interviewer: How did you become interested in environmental issues?

I was going through a stage in my life where I was just starting to see things more clearly generally. I’d realised that the job I was doing at that stage was really just, I was just earning money doing a job I didn’t like to buy stuff I didn’t need. And clarity came in another respect as well. Around that time I was researching a possible trip to the Four Corners region of the US and I was reading about the Hopi Tribe who live in that area, and, like many indigenous peoples, they have this basic belief that we have to look after the planet if we want it to look after us. And when I read that, I mean now to me it seems so obvious but at the time it was like wow, I just hadn’t thought of it in those terms before and I suddenly realised how unsustainable our present path is. And so ever since then I’ve done everything that I can to reduce my own personal impact on the planet, and one of the ways that I do that is spend three months of the year in a little ocean row boat being extremely carbon neutral.

I look back at the learning curve that I was on on the Atlantic, my first ocean, and I really wonder how I managed to hold it together because it was, it was intense. Almost from day one I was struggling with it and I just really had to figure out how to come to terms with myself in order to get to the other side of the ocean without driving myself crazy.

Interviewer: What are you currently working on?

Right this minute I am almost obsessed with Copenhagen. I’m going to be going there next month and I’m just trying to do everything that I can to make a difference. I know that I do have a message that resonates with some people. My message is we might feel that there’s nothing we can do as individuals that’s really going to have any effect, that it’s just a drop in the ocean. But using the metaphor of my ocean rowing, each of my big ocean crossings has taken about a million oar strokes, so one oar stroke doesn’t get me very far but you take a million of them and you get across three thousand miles of ocean. And by the same token, if we can get as many people as possible doing the right thing for the environment day after day after day, that power of accumulation is extremely – it’s amazing just what can be achieved.

So I feel like, I know I have the power to inspire people and I just want to be able to look back on 2009 and the Copenhagen conference and know that I did everything that I could to make a difference. I’m going to be walking with a small group of friends from Big Ben to Brussels, which is about 250 miles, and from Brussels I’m going to join up with the Climate Express train which is being organised by the United Nations Environment Programme. So in my role as UNEP climate hero – tada! I will be getting on the train and heading up to Copenhagen and I’ll then be there for the duration of the conference.

Interviewer: What are you hoping to achieve in the next twelve months?

In a year’s time, with a bit of luck and Mother Nature willing, I will have completed my solo row across the Pacific. The third and final stage starts in April next year and hopefully ends in July or August. So really my direction for next year is going to be dictated by what the outcome from Copenhagen is.

Interviewer: Where do you think humanity will be on the issue of climate change in five or ten years?

In five or ten years’ time my wish for humanity would be that we’re living consciously, that we’re aware that everything we do has consequences and that to complement that awareness the government and the corporations in the world have made it easier to be green. I think at the moment it is quite difficult in some situations to do the right thing. It’s difficult to buy groceries that have been grown within a 100 mile radius. It’s difficult to buy electronics that don’t come in tonnes of plastic packaging. It’s like the whole society that we have encourages consumption, and not just consumption but waste, and I think that we need a top down and a bottom up approach. We need awareness at an individual level, but we also need legislative help to make this happen.

Interviewer: Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future?

I vary between optimism and pessimism on this. There are times when I feel like the awareness is growing so fast and that people are starting to demand greener products and better availability of locally produced things, but then I see an awful lot of world out there – well I see a lot of apathy in the developed world and I see a lot of need out in the developing world where people are just trying to get enough food and enough water and a roof over their heads, and you can’t expect them to worry about the environment when they’ve got much more fundamental problems to worry about right now. So it’s, there’s a lot of work to be done. It would be great if there was more social justice, more equality in the world so that we could all actually have the mental bandwidth to be living more conscious lives. I’m very intrigued to see where all this is going to lead. I feel like it’s a race against time; can we wise up enough soon enough to save ourselves? Because I really believe it is about saving ourselves, it’s not about saving the planet, and it’s a bit of a shame that that’s the way that a lot of the language has expressed it up until this point.

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