Mr. Avery’s Letter…
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
Cabana BoyDecember 25, 2011
Liz and Swell
I do not think I have ever read something so wonderfully described as this letter to the hearts of humanity…!
You are truly amazing and your service to us all !
Tessa EckermanDecember 25, 2011
I too am from Santa Barbara. I live on a 28 Newport in Marina 1. Your venture is uplifting, inspiring, perfect. I have been following your blog off and on for about 2 years now. I felt compelled to write and tell you about the poignant writing I find you jotting. My ducts well as you speak fervently for the necessity of treating the earth better, in a sustainable manner and to recognize our relationship with all living things. I too understand that anthropocentrism runs this world and country, but we need to change! I feel choked up when I see the majority of our Santa Barbarians driving solo in their lifted SUV, throwing trash, getting a plastic bag for their 1 silly item, buying things that were transported 3000 miles, teaching kids about consumerism and big business, mass drinking in attempts to nullify the void in their souls, obesity, money obsession– among many other woes. I don’t know if we are so emotionally triggered due to being female, but I was gifted (or cursed) with this intuitiveness about the earth’s health and the human role– to live in unison!
I study Environmental Science at Antioch University and I am encouraged by the amount of intellects in the field who are researching and helping eradicate environmental degradation. But, I am also baffled and upset by how a class leaves you; in shambles, sad, hopeless, alone.
So, I too ask, “Why aren’t more people listening and awake?” It’s easier to live a sustainable life because we don’t have to feel like shit about what we’re doing to this Mother. Environmentalism is fun. The lifestyle change is rewarding. I Just wished to thank you for being the activist I inspire to be, but am too chicken, too occupied and too uneducated to be right now.
Though I am flawed…on my end I bike everywhere, don’t own a car, eat local organic vegs(I don’t have garden space anymore:( ), study environmentalism, don’t own a computer because companies mine rare earth metals for materials and displace people in the meantime, attend environmental lectures and events, stick to my guns no matter how many people think I’m funky or weird for being “so worried about the environment”, just applied to the peace corps, helped and taught in nicaragua this summer, built a cobb house in oregon, wwoof often, and plan to live on land (permaculture stylie with a yurt), I aspire to get my teaching credential and create a middle school/environmental pedagogy, I write prison inmates anonymously per week to educate them of spirituality and environmentalism, and I write 3 environmental petitions per week to government organizations or businesses. Among all that I just try to live it! Live with a minimal footprint.
I’ve noticed peoples excuse is, “Well, 1 person can’t change anything!” That’s the problem! We can as a collective whole.
With that said, sorry it’s lengthy, I wished to inquire, how to stay strong and not explode from disgust and disappointment in our species?
How did you keep your head up when you were land barren?
Take care. Safe Journeys. Blessings. I long for a journey like yours…
PS I LOVED YOUR QUOTED WORDS BELOW (Also, Roz is my idol!) I shared your blog with my colleagues:)
1)AND I ABSOLUTELY FAMILIARIZE WITH =The tears snowballed into sobs…and I cried on into the night, because the Earth is slowly dying: its biological richness depleting, its rivers and oceans and skies choked with our waste, its wildness tamed by bulldozers and plows…And still, the majority of the humans are either ambivalent, feel too powerless to do anything, or lack education. And individually, most of us are just doing our best to get by everyday…so who’s really at fault?
The tears eventually subsided, but one thought stuck with me: No matter how humans came to control this noble planet, I am certain we have greatly misinterpreted our role as Earth’s most ‘intelligent’ beings, tragically overlooking our duty to be stewards rather than looters, of this unfathomably awesome orb of life.
2)With sporadic use of phones and internet…away from cars and advertisements…television and news…facebook and movies, I’ve noticed feeling connected to something that doesn’t require a 2-year contract for a phone upgrade—Earth! And I’ve begun to think we may really be missing out on something. I’ve asked myself over and over lately. What is it that I get from giving nature my attention? What is it that I crave about these faraway places, beyond uncrowded waves and unpolluted water? I’ve concluded that the answer is quite simple: I love to bear witness to wild Earth. It simply makes me feel good. There is an energy that I feel near wilderness—almost like I can hear nature resonating! But once we’ve chopped, cropped and paved, that energy seems subdued. There is simply a different feeling developed places give off…When I find a less human-effected corner of the earth, I feel like I’m witnessing the wild world rejoicing, sparkling, thriving, and flaunting it’s splendor–and I love it!! But these corners are so rare and even the farthest removed places on Earth are being destroyed by climate change…Will these atolls even be above sea level in a hundred years?
We have come a long way from moving at nature’s pace, and it seems to only be getting faster at an exponential rate. That makes sailing a small boat long distances rather special because you don’t have a choice but to work with nature, at nature’s speed. You must wait for the wind to change. You must feel the wetness of the rain and salt. You don’t have jet fuel to push past it…you have to work with it, understand it, give yourself to it. Being at the whim of nature is something we feel relatively little compared to the humans who lived before us. And despite that they missed out on flat screens and frozen yogurt, is there something much bigger that we in this era might be missing? Could it be that being close to nature makes us feel whole? Could it be that recognizing our connection to the rest of life, the elements, and the universal energy that makes all the electrons spin is good for us!?…I feel so good to be a part of such greatness!! Might it fill us with purpose and an intangible wealth to celebrate Earth’s diversity of life? To foster clean rivers, delight in teeming oceans, and see how much love we can bestow upon our Planet? Could it be that giving this love to nature automatically gives us something in return—something we can’t hold in our hands, but in our hearts?
I don’t think it takes a lengthy foray into the wilderness to experience this connection…it can be as simple as respecting the plants and animals that are native to your neighborhood. And just turning off your phone every once and a while to watch the clouds…
3)And if a species isn’t prone to being hunted for something to eat or sell, it falls victim to the next wrung of human negligence–habitat loss. If it isn’t edible or valuable, then bulldoze it’s home, poison its waters, because it isn’t useful anyway…It was this kind of thinking that got us where we are today, on the brink of species extinctions in every habitat the world over.
“I’m high on the incomprehensible complexity of this underwater world…Each organism participating in the great underwater symphony I’ve just witnessed. Its harmony the result of an unimaginable time span of evolutionary fine-tuning and fermenting into this fervent, sumptuous stew of life…
But what will be left here a hundred years from now? Will they survive the rising sea temperatures and levels, overfishing and pollution? As ‘far away’ as I felt at that moment, I shuddered: NO WHERE will be far enough to escape the effects of climate change…”
Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries.
Without them humanity cannot survive. -Dalai Lama
May we give and receive, sharing our good fortune – believing that there is more than enough for everyone.
Michael MohrDecember 29, 2011
Captain Liz and Swell,
I had a meeting with your auntie (Julie Ann) this week and she told me about your voyage and journey. You have a copious amount of wisdom that can only be acquired after such long travel and you display it beautifully on this blog. Keep it up. The world needs more people like you.
Heather TiszaiDecember 30, 2011
Thank you Liz for living such an exciting life and using it as a platform to educate people about today’s environmental issues. My family is about to embark on an extended sailing trip. I started a blog about it all and find a great deal of inspiration by your accomplishments and your writing. Today I wrote about a conversation I had with my daughter about endangered animals. I thought you might be interested- http://littlebirdiestakewing.wordpress.com/2011/12/30/what-to-say/
Many blessing to you on your journey!
Luke McCullochJanuary 4, 2012
Dear Ms Liz Clark,
explorer, and adventurer extraordinaire (yeah why not?),
I have followed your exploits, through various blogs, since Jan/Feb 2006. I still find your story amazing and inspiring after all this time (Actually, its really a short time, I think). I credit you (and one ill tempered economics professor who might as well remain anonymous) with shifting my focus from aerospace engineering to economics and finally naval architecture.
Buzz words: You inspire me to grow as an engineer to create sustainable and low impact energy from wind and water. There is so much progress to be made! And such a pressing need for it..
..Some background- Don’t hold it against me, but I am from Alabama. My accent is quite minimal, but, go ahead and read the rest of this in a southern twang to get the full effect. I did my MS in naval architecture at the University of New Orleans. Sadly, I graduated right as the 2010 gulf oil disaster was unfolding. If you can imagine surfing in the Gulf of Mex (ok ok stop laughing – life is tough for some!). Imagine it being your first full summer knowing how to just barely stand up on a longboard, and having BP and transocean not only ruin the summer, but put your entire gulf and every living thing in it in a terrible jeopardy that will last forever. I love the gulf and I will never forget what happened that spring.
We never forget, but I came here to write more than that, Liz. Today, you’ve inspired me again, and I’m just going to gush about what you do (that I want to do) for a bit:
–oh: think of this as a kind of “riff” on sailing and writing —
Because of you I know sailing must be a part of my life. What little sailing I have done has been so memorably beautiful, a powerful memory: As dusk settles in a million orange glints and diamond blue aqua refractions there is a friendly chop on the water, and a steady breeze heels our stubby vessel to starboard :: Here even wakes are happy – so odd, yes? And I, I am more than happy, this is my second time under sail, and I feel connected to universal experience as never before. Happy did I say? Yes …I feel compelled to verbiage as only a select section of new age American Buddhist popularizers have license for. I am one with happy. I gush like a kid with adhd who loves the thesaurus as if it is a type of dinosaur. Positively Rarr!-ing with happy! Dizzy now, I must sit. Sitting down, stars flickering far overhead, I watch a thunderstorm blow itself out over the horizon, and the only man made thing in sight is the boat which supports me, taking me further into and making me part of a scene of such beauty I cannot describe. The hull is a tiny compartment of human know-how in a great sea which is unknown to men, and full of peace and power, and strangely, I know, full of vulnerability. I think of the way Moby Dick was constructed, in all its asides and metaphor, like life, really, and I cannot help but smile and think of white whales barrel rolling in some mythic sea above the sky. Somewhere, there is a creative force, and it flows through all like a wave through the southern ocean. There is much to do. I smile.
So much good to do. I am so inspired by your success. But just now I am more happy thinking of something you wrote several years ago, that I have never forgotten about though I can only paraphrase it now:
You were somewhere off the coast of Central America (Nicaragua I think), and you described a night voyage in which the stars shown above while the sea, with its startling phosphorescence, mirrored the universe from below. I used to have the quote on my facebook page but seem to have lost it with the loss of my old computer. Anyway, I have never seen phosphorescence in person but I have often imagined such a night and such a voyage. It reminds me a little of Antoine Saint De Exupery’s book, “Wind Sand & Stars,” and at the same time a bit of Star Trek where they cruise at warp speed and we are with them in that lounge in the front of the ship, watching as the light shifted stars zip by.
I think you have inspired me to write. Thank you.
So I was wondering, do you remember the passage you wrote about sailing at night with stars and phosphorescence, and, total shot in the dark, do you still have it? Also, I remember you were working on a book(s?). Is that still the case?
Luke McCullochJanuary 4, 2012
Great stuff! Your stories have been an inspiration to me going all the way back to Jan/Feb 2006 when I first found them. Whatever happened to all those old posts? And aren’t you writing a book? How is it coming along?
You were a substantial influence on my decision to go into Naval Architecture and focus on alternative energy in engineering. (For me this means free stream hydrokenetic devices, wave, and tidal energy capture, etc.. Also, the possible resurgence of wind power in commercial shipping! -That would be amazing) I’m landlocked in the cold interior US working on another project now, but you’ve got me dreaming of the sea, travel, surf, and sail, as always.
Also, as a native Alabaman (read this with a southern twang, if you would like), and occasional gulf coast “surfer” (I know, I know – you are so jealous of our waves – get in line – says I), I will never forget the 2010 gulf oil spill. We’ve truly got to do something about the way we use the planet. I could be an oil platform designer – I’m trained to do so – but I don’t think that would really help the situation. Besides, why do that when I can loft sailboats and work on alternative energy? Its not enough, but its a start, for me. We have so much to do – you are right to say take little steps. I am trying to focus my PhD research on alternative energy, but I may not be able to – sadly it depends on where I can get my funding. – But to see your continued success with your journey and spreading your message gives me hope.
And I too am appalled by all the plastic refuse we’ve strewn across the beautiful places of the world. One of my worst experiences with this was lake Atitlan, in Guatemala. So beautiful, surrounded by towering volcanoes and high cliffs, with the lake already a mile high and cool in the tropical sun. -But take a ferry crossing, and out on the lake you’ll see the surface is plastic soup. Such pollution. Very sad. And I’ve seen this story repeated across Latin America (the limit of my “real” travels so far).
The planet is of course, my number one inspiration to travel, to think, and to work. But you too, are an inspiration. So thank you Liz, I don’t know how you’ve done it all – I will continue to follow your Odyssey wherever it takes you. You are an amazing person and the internet is lucky to have you.
Keep teaching, exploring, loving, and living!
All the best,
career student, and other stuff.
10 People Who Inspire MeJanuary 9, 2012
[…] surfer girl is sailing around the world alone visiting remote areas of the world. Her recent letter to a high school class is enlightening and […]
AddyJanuary 9, 2012
I love this letter! So sad that our planet is damaged every day by our activity, but I really do believe in what you say– that the only way to solve it is by working together! Our world is common property in an environmental sense, and is also our common responsibility. Thank you for making an effort to educate the next generation on this responsibility! With your permission, I’d love to repost this on my blog for my readers to see. Thank you again for all your efforts! Happy sailing,
lizzyJanuary 23, 2012
Please do, Addy! Thank you!! :) Liz
AddyJanuary 9, 2012
Thank you so much for sharing this letter! So sad, that we cause so much damage to the earth, and that there isn’t a corner left untouched. But how true it is that caring for the planet is both our common problem and common obligation. With your permission, I would like to repost this letter on my blog for my readers to see. Thank you for the efforts you are making in educating the next generation about their responsibilities for protecting the environment. Happy Sailing,
JDJanuary 18, 2012
I love all your posts – thank you so much for sharing.
This one reminded me of a quote by Mark Twain “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.”
lizzyJanuary 27, 2012
Ooh, how do I not know that great quote!?! Thanks JD!