Welcome Roz Savage (RozSavage.com) (Twitter) and Host EdwardTeller / Phil Munger (ProgressiveAlaska) (Twitter)

Stop Drifting, Start Rowing: One Woman’s Search for Happiness and Meaning Alone on the Pacific

Few books have gotten me to take entirely new looks at how one might bring attention to the ongoing human-activity-induced extinctions and impending mass extinctions of so much around us as has this one. Why?

First, it is an adventure fraught with dangers. How many of us would welcome getting back alone into a 23-foot boat, to row it across yet another multi-thousand mile stretch of ocean, after having had several close encounters with death in that same vessel before? To bring attention to the masses – thousands of square miles! – of plastic trash accumulating in the great oceanic gyre points around the globe.

One in a thousand? One in 100,000? Maybe one in a billion.

Second, how many of us might even put such a venture together, hatched out of inspiration and dedication verging on the edge of sanity, in the first place? And then, while striving to eke out a mile at a time, a few miles per day – or less – while keeping up with the world so distant, through radiotelephone, the internet, social media and what news one might catch, write blog posts that are truly inspirational?

One in a thousand? One in 100,000? Maybe one in a billion.

Third, how many of us might be able to, after succeeding at all this, turn her efforts (and those of her hundreds of material and spiritual supporters) into something more meaningful, as she links with and networks among many of the leading environmental and ecological thinkers active today?

Not many.

Roz Savage’s second book, Stop Drifting, Start Rowing: One Woman’s Search for Happiness and Meaning Alone on the Pacific, chronicles the Pacific Ocean-crossing phase of the author’s record-setting single-handed row around much of the world. It was not one journey, but a series of them, beginning with what might easily have turned out to be a tragedy, when, after two capsizes, she was all but forced to abandon her tiny vessel off the coast of northern California, and leap overboard into fifteen-foot breaking waves, in August, 2007:

She had been my prison cell, but also my life-support capsule. I owed my life to her. But now I was abandoning her. I felt a harsh pang of guilt and an overwhelming sense that I was making a bad mistake.

Meanwhile, a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter began to hover overhead. A diver jumped out of it, tethered to the chopper:

I jumped.

Salt water spray stung my eyes and the Pacific sucked at the legs of my survival suit as I half-swam, half-wallowed through the towering waves to the orange-suited Coast Guard swimmer. The helicopter’s blades thumped deafeningly into the 50-mph winds overhead.

The following spring, after retrieving and repairing her boat, Roz Savage headed out into the same unforgiving ocean, this time to succeed, in three stages: California to Hawai’i, Hawai’i to Tarawa, and Tarawa to Madang, in Papua New Guinea.

Though the technical details she had to attend to in order to pull off these journeys as she did were quite formidable, her descriptions of them never bog down the narrative. Not a natural techie, Savage had to learn to solve problems with sometimes dicey equipment that was cutting edge, almost experimental. Her chronicling of dietary, health, morale and inspirational details in this book are interlinked, showing how such solitary existence in the face of enormous challenge can utterly simplify existence, even in its inner complexity.

I cannot recommend this book enough, especially for young people, particularly young women. My daughter, a rower, wants me to send her my copy as soon as this book salon is concluded.

Roz Savage’s rowing gloves

Longtime Firedoglake readers might well remember our hope, then extreme disappointment, when, back in December, 2009, the United Nations held the COP 15 Environmental Conference in Copenhagen. It was described here as a huge sellout by Obama, in respect to carbon emissions, and recognition of the responsibility large industrial nations hold toward small non-industrial ones, particularly those about to be inundated by rising seas.

Roz Savage was there, on dry land for a while, preparing to row from Hawai’i to one of two South Pacific island nations already noticing the rising power of the relentless sea in their daily lives. Savage addresses her concern at that time:

The environmental world was abuzz with preparations for the conference. Newsletters and emails were flying around the globe as various campaigns [including some here at Firedoglake] rallied the troops to save the world. After decades of slow-burning activism, Copenhagen had come to represent a pivotal moment in the environmental movement. There was a real sense that if we didn’t win this battle, the war was as good as over.

It was a cruel irony that the countries where I was considering making landfall at the end of Satege 2 of my Pacific row had among the smallest carbon footprints in the world, yet would be the first and worst effected, while the affluent nations that had created the problem had more resilient infrastructure and were better equipped to adapt to a new climate. This was not just an environmental issue; it was about human rights.

In the new book, Roz Savage leaves us wondering how she reacted to the sellouts that transpired at Copenhagen. Yet her blog entries around the time of the conference reveal far more, as she came to realize how awful the conduct of the major industrial powers’ representatives had been:

I was among the first handful of people to arrive at TckTckTck’s Fresh Air Center, and headed for the row of communal computers. Bill McKibben arrived a few minutes later, and sat at the computer next to me. As he greeted me I apologized. I had read his 350.org newsletter yesterday and knew that he was fasting today in a show of solidarity with the poor of the world. And I was sitting with a caramel latte and croissant at my side. Even worse, my latte was in a disposable cup, my lovely Sigg mug having been stolen along with everything else.

“Hey, at this stage, a coffee cup isn’t going to make much difference,” he said. He was in self-confessed bitter mood. As the talks in the Bella Center reach their most intense – and tense – stage yet, he was pessimistic. He opined that the collapse of the talks might be the best outcome we can hope for.

“And do you think there will be another COP in July?” I asked.

“We could have COPs until the end of time, and we still wouldn’t agree anything,” he said.

I looked at him, stunned and speechless. My eyes misted. I didn’t want to believe that I had just heard him say what he had just said. I have known throughout that my optimism was based on a stubborn refusal to contemplate the consequences of failure in Copenhagen, rather than on any evidence that we might get a positive outcome, but tit was nonetheless a slap in the face to hear it stated so starkly, by a man whose opinion I respect.

Bill went on to tell me his view that COP15 has been a display of naked power. He told me that small countries have been threatened by the IMF that it will withdraw its funding if they don’t toe the line. He gave an example of a small country that had been promised two new hospitals by the Chinese if it would back their position here. Money talks, and here it has been talking the message of business as usual, and continued financial growth at the expense of our poor aching Earth.

I confessed to Bill that I had been naive when I arrived here. I really thought I could make a difference. I thought that the global leaders could surely not remain unmoved by such passionate demonstrations in support of a fair, ambitious, and legally binding deal on climate change.

But it seems I was wrong. I will leave Copenhagen more jaded than I arrived, but more realistic too, and hence hopefully more effective.

I wish the book had had more of such deep and telling anecdotes as this one.

Yet the book accomplishes quite a bit, and shows us how varied climate awareness actions can be, while treating us to a sea adventure yarn that would be very hard to beat.

I can’t wait to read about this vibrant person’s next endeavor. Hopefully, she will be able to update us during today’s book salon. Yesterday, she flew from London to Charleston, South Carolina, via Charlotte, North Carolina. I’m pleased that she has found time to be here.

Please join me in welcoming one of the most outstanding environmentalists I’ve yet had the privilege to encounter, Roz Savage.


[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book and be respectful of dissenting opinions.  Please take other conversations to a previous thread. – bev]



Alaska progressive activist, notorious composer and firedoglake devotee.