Happy Holidays to you!!
So, I recently got a letter from a teacher in the UK, asking if I would write a letter to his 14-15 year old students who have been assigned a big project on climate change. He asked me to include a bit about life aboard Swell, about ‘making a difference’ for the planet, and whether I think that reading up on foreign issues (vs. witnessing them firsthand) can give one a thorough understanding of them. I thought I’d share the letter here, too, both a resource for other teachers that might want to share it with their students, and as some holiday food for thought as we head into the new year.
Love and best wishes to all during this fun season of giving and sharing. Your support and comments keep me inspired to keep writing, seeking, learning, and exploring this amazing planet we live on…so THANK YOU!!
May Peace be in Your Heart!
Love, Liz and Swell
P.S. Give the Earth a gift this year by remembering to bring your shopping bags to the mall, using recycled or reused wrapping paper, and choosing earth-friendly items with minimal packaging!!
A quote on the wall in Barry Schuyler's office…come on, let's harness the power of LOVE!! (the last word of the quote is 'FIRE')
Letter to Mr. Avery’s Students:
Hello fellow citizens of Planet Earth,
My name is Liz Clark. Mr. Avery probably told you that I’m sailing and surfing around the world on my sailboat. It was always my dream to be a captain and take this voyage. It is also my dream that humans will find a way to live in harmony with nature on Earth…I thought the best way for me to ‘make a difference’ for the planet would be to live this low-impact sailing lifestyle—simple and close to nature. Since leaving California in 2005, I’ve sailed over 17,000 miles through Mexico, Central America, the Galapagos Islands, French Polynesia, and Kiribati—looking for waves, meeting new people, learning new cultures, challenging myself, and making observations on how we can solve the environmental problems we face.
Swell is a great boat. She’s 40 feet long and 55 years old! I have worked really hard to restore her and make her a sturdy sea warrior and also my home. I have to have a basic understanding of a lot of different things to be able to make this trip, like mechanics to fix the engine, navigation, weather and seasons, wiring and electricity, first aid, cooking, wood working, knots, and more! I must learn new languages when I arrive in a new place, and cultural customs too. I eat a lot of cabbage and carrots because they don’t spoil for a long time when I’m out at sea. I also catch fish and even bake my own bread. I love to free-dive and climb coconut trees too! I do yoga and read lots of books since I don’t have a television. The things I miss most about land life are hot showers, ice cream, fresh lettuce, washing machines, and most of all–my family. Sailing is an amazing way to travel. I move along over the ocean at a speed not much faster than you can run, but with my home! I love it because the ocean has a way of making me feel incredibly small and insignificant, but also so powerful.
So, I hear you guys have been given a big assignment on climate change?! That kind of project can feel really overwhelming at first. But when it’s broken down into smaller pieces, like you guys will do, it becomes more manageable. In a way, your assignment is a mini version of what all humans on Earth are facing right now with climate change. Because the challenge and breadth of the issue is so enormous, it takes all of us participating, just like in your class, to understand the problem from every angle and collaborate to create effective solutions.
When I think about the global environmental problems that I have observed throughout my voyage, a few ideas stand out:
First, country borders are invisible lines that don’t mean anything to Earth’s life-sustaining systems, nor to what makes us human. We can’t solve climate change country by country, because it’s bigger than that. It will affect us all, no matter what flag we fly, or music we like, or sport we play…And from my observations, people are essentially the same everywhere! We often choose to look at our differences, especially physical ones, but if you look with your heart, you will see that there are far more similarities than differences among us. We all have arms, legs, and eyes. We all want to eat, breathe, have shelter, and be loved. We all experience feeling sad, happy, angry, and embarrassed. We are born into different cultures, realities, and physical bodies, but that is what makes the richness of humanity! It would be so boring if we were all exactly the same!
Respecting and celebrating each other and ourselves is one way that we can start solving a lot of our problems right now!!…Understanding and caring about each other is absolutely essential to collaborating as Team Earth! Look at the world today…Scientifically, I think we have a good idea of what needs to be done to at least begin curbing climate change. But when we move to the cultural and/or political arena, scientists might wince and become less interested. And the same goes when talking science to politicians, and so on. This is where we must improve! Our strength as humanity lies in our diverse sorts of intelligence! There are people who spend there entire lives studying one type of protozoan in the ocean, and others who dedicate their lives to a specific area of policy-making, or anthropologists who study one native culture in a lost corner of the Amazon, or an engineer who spends his career trying to improve the efficiency of a solar panel, and so on. Collectively, we know so much about SO much! But all that intellect doesn’t do us much good if we can’t collaborate!? We MUST come together and respect each other’s knowledge to come up with viable solutions!? We need each other!
But how do we get people to come together? I believe we can start on a person-to-person level. That means you and I have the power to make a difference! We must respect each other before we can accomplish our united goals. And before we can truly respect others, we must respect and love ourselves! But how do we learn to love and respect ourselves? We follow our dreams and passions! If we live up to our potential, and always try our best, we feel good about ourselves. Then, when we see others feeling down, we want to bring them up! We might remember how it feels to feel down, and start to see that we are all struggling with the same human problems. We might see that we are not so isolated, different, and separate from everyone else. Then, we might start to feel connected to each other. Taking that a little farther, we could start seeing our connection to plants and animals, too! Even the air that we breathe and the water we drink all connect us to each other and to the Earth, and all deserve respect! Once we feel this connection, it’s much easier to motivate everyone to work together for the Earth! We are all links on a long chain, and a chain link isn’t much good on its own!
So, to connect with all the other links in the chain of humanity and the web of life on Earth, we must try to understand each other! We can start by simply being nicer to each other. Try thinking of all humans like one big family. As for understanding other cultures, if you can’t hop a plane to Peru or Africa tomorrow, you can start by learning another language, or reading up on current international events, other simply spinning the globe. Wherever your finger stops, ‘Google’ it! Reading certainly expands our base of knowledge, but when traveling is an option, I think that experiencing the world with our own eyes and hearts always brings us a more complete perspective. A book or article will always have the author’s view invisibly inscribed in the way he or she tells the story. That view might be a little different than the way you see it once you are there in person. And, who knows, it might be your perspective and creativity that uncovers a new, real-world solution!
By traveling and seeing how other people around the world live, I’m expanding my understanding and perspective on the problems we as humans face. At the same time, I’m also expanding my attachment to all of humanity. Strangers from all over world often offer their help, a meal, or simply a smile. In turn, I love and care about them! The same goes for the animals and plants that have enriched my journey, too! I now feel like a citizen of Planet Earth, rather than a member of just one country.
Another important thing to consider is that people in third world countries look to the first world for ideas about how to live. In this sense, we have a duty to become good leaders and set good environmental examples, because Earth cannot support all the human population living the way we do in the UK and the US. So by becoming green leaders, we encourage the rest of the world to follow suit.
Lastly, I’m sorry to report that I haven’t found a single remaining corner of Earth that is unaffected by humans. Before leaving, I imagined arriving to a far away island with perfectly flourishing ecosystems and no pollution. I have yet to find that island! The most remote islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean have plastic washing up on their shores and foreign-based fisheries overfishing their waters. There is nowhere to hide, so we must make quick progress toward real solutions!
Some of you might consider choosing a Pacific atoll for your project, like those in the area where I am sailing now. Atolls are amazing land forms. They are actually sunken islands from millions of years ago, where the surrounding coral reefs kept growing up while the island itself sunk away. These rings of coral rise to only about 2 meters above sea level. They host extraordinary coral reef ecosystems, which are as biologically diverse as rainforests, and certainly as beautiful in their own way! When I think about the future of these atolls, I wonder…how will the coral adapt to rising sea levels and temperatures? Where will the local people go if the sea level rises? And is it fair that the people here make a tiny ecological footprint compared to those of us living in the USA and Europe, yet they will incur an enormous impact?
Best of luck to you all and let me know how it goes!…Together we can make the world a better place!
Lots of Love,
Liz and Swell