A Climate Walk: Big Ben to
Tonight we leave for
Five days ago I was on a train, traveling through the dark, much like I am now, except it was at the opposite end of the day and in the opposite direction. Like a true November day, the sky wouldn’t lighten for hours and the sun, as it turned out, wouldn’t come out at all. It was cloudy, drizzling. I’d waited in the dark for the bus to the rail station, wrapped in my winter layers, leaning forward slightly, balanced by the weight of a full backpack. I was on my way to meet up with four women who were walking 250 miles from Big Ben to
It was a Friday morning. I was planning to walk with them until Monday when I needed to return to campus for lectures or for as long as I could keep up. I’d never intentionally walked 15 miles in a day before. I didn’t know how I’d tucker out at 10. I was also keeping my options open in case it didn’t turn out to be something I wanted to partake in.
I had only met Roz once at another event in
to inspire people to take action on climate change. Something the ocean has taught me is that any challenge, no matter how huge, can be tackled if you break it down into little steps. When I rowed across the
And it’s the same with climate change. On a day like today, when we feel part of a huge global community, it’s easy to believe we can change the world. But there will be other days when maybe we feel alone, and that anything we do as individuals won’t really make a difference – that it’s just a drop in the ocean.
But every action counts. We all have it in our power to make a difference. In fact, we’re already making a difference – it’s just up to us to decide if it’s a good one or a bad one. Every time we switch the lights off, or choose to walk instead of drive, or say no to a plastic bag, it matters.
If I can row 3,000 miles across an ocean for climate change, then you can remember to turn off the lights when you leave a room.
I’d learned about Roz a few months earlier from a couple I’d met at a Fourth of July party. My friend, Paul Scott, vice president of a group called Plug in
Markus and Anna are an amazing couple. Markus was on the boat, Anna did support work from the shore. Their goal is to visit all five of the swirling garbage patches. This summer, they want to do the
So on October 24th, I arrived at this rally to support this group called 350, one of the lead organizers of this day of action. About 300 people gathered in the grass
I brought my Kazakh flat mate with me because she’d never been to
I introduced myself to Roz after we were done being a 5. I calculated the odds that there was another woman named Roz rowing across the Pacific and felt assured she must be the Roz that Markus and Anna told me about. Turns out she was. We exchanged a few emails afterward, trying to track down a PowerPoint presentation she told me about delivered by a guy at Climate Ride about the 4 main reasons climate change is so hard for people to understand and to communicate. The rest, as they say . . .
Friday morning, trying to stay awake on the train into
For a year and a half I worked for a
“THE CLIMATE IS FINE. PLEASE DON’T CHANGE A THING.”
Well, this lead me to question the quality of the service we were using—which seemed to consist of energy-guzzling SUV driving, science-challenged, conveniently faithful Republicans, invalid e-mail addresses, people no longer employed and people who employed spam filters to protect them from blasts like mine—but it also reminded me that there a lot of people out there who don’t consider the consequences of their actions, even something as innocent as turning on a light bulb.
I once, in a film called Garbage, I saw a man from
Knowing what I know, having researched climate and energy for two years, putting in time at a campaign, and hearing Roz chide us, “If I can row 10,000 strokes every day, you can turn off the light when leaving the room,” I knew I wanted to do more than turn off the lights. This was an opportunity to walk the line of my convictions.
Walking as a form of protest is nothing new, but you probably haven’t heard of most of the people who’ve done it. Let’s see. There’s John Francis, nicknamed the Planetwalker, who stopped riding in motorized vehicles after witnessing the 1971 oil spill in the San Francisco Bay and walked everywhere for 22 years (17 of which he stopped talking). During his time on foot, he traveled across the
There was the Peace Pilgrim who set out on January 1, 1953 vowing to remain a wanderer until mankind has learned the way of peace. I can’t imagine she’s still walking, not because we’ve reached such a state where she ought to kick back and put her feet up on a job well done, but because that was 55 years ago.
Tribes of Native Americans have walked across the
The reason why most of these folks are unknown is that it’s hard to communicate widely out while you’re walking (especially when you’re not talking). If 5 women walked 250 miles from
I transferred from the train to the busy and delayed underground. I got off a stop too early, and walked ½ a mile to where the team was meeting. I laughed. I was going to be walking 15 miles, why was I making it more work for myself?
I was late then, too, but only by a couple of minutes. Roz called me wondering where I was. I was just around the corner at that point and when I rounded it, there was no missing the group. There were four women in bright orange jackets and bright orange hats moving about a make shift staging area in front of a chain coffee shop. There bags, blow up balls with earths printed on them, and backpacks scattered across the pavement.
Immediately upon flagging down Roz, I was gifted with gear: a bright orange jacket and hat, a pack cover with logo, and some lip salve, an earth ball. After a few minutes of changing clothes and adjusting the contents of my bag to accommodate the new goods, I was ready to meet the team.
Alison Gannett, extreme free skier, UN Climate Hero, campaigner for the salvation of snow, mountaineer, also Copenhagen-bound. Jane Hornsby & Laura Hazel, two warm, strong, smart ladies: friends who've known each other for 17 years, both wives, both mothers of 3. I also had the pleasure of meeting their husbands. There was also Nora (“Where’s Nora?”), a documentary maker, and her film crew of 3.
It was an awkward first few minutes. Roz was coordinating people and answering phone calls. Jane and Laura stood at the ready. Alison chatted enthusiastically with a reporter. The film crew looked bored. Nora had disappeared again. I chatted with a woman who ran an eco-product promotion and distribution company.
Once the first order of business was taken care of, getting in uniform, the second quickly commenced: Press. We walked out, single file, like traffic cone colored ducklings down the sidewalk, across the street. Only Alison carried her pack, which held her skis (almost as long as she is tall). She was collecting signatures on them so she could deliver them to delegates in
As our first team effort, we braved the rain and wind, standing on the bridge to
Finishing interviews, thanking visitors and families who’d come to see us off (and 15 minutes of looking for Nora who’d run off with her assistant—something about a car), we loaded the gear on our backs and set off, in the rain, first to visit the ghost forest in
The ghost forest consists of the giant trunks of dead trees from a commercially logged forest in
After a quick circumambulation of the exhibit, Jane, our navigator, lead us straight down to the
Despite what one might assume based on her leg length, Jane is an incredibly fast walker. She marched us down the Thames, past the
The group adjusted gear and got acquainted as we went. I snapped photos and looked around. Just as I was observing the trash barge floating, full of rubbish, and reading the sign on it that said it prevented 10,000 plastic water bottles a year from reaching the
“We just lost Planet Earth,” she said. “Luckily, we have another nine. Unluckily the same can’t be said of the real Earth. That’s what we’re going to
We watched the earth float down the river for a while and then continued on. Most of the day was on pavement. We took a turn north through
We cut through a park at one point and went through marsh lands. We walked and walked until after sunset and then we walked the last few miles in the dark. The conversations along the way were wonderful. Every one was in good spirits and really friendly. It was casual; it was about climate change and sustainability. We talked about connections—it turns out that everyone there had pretty much only met Roz once and only Jane and Laura had been friends before the walk.
We saw Nora and the camera crew for small intervals along the way. It seems Roz was constantly on the phone with her trying to explain to her where we were so they could catch up with us and film more. (We lost Nora back at the
We were all thrilled to get to the hotel--especially me. I limped the last 3 miles or so (ever since the reservoir), which were through a city and up and down hills. I had a lot of pain in the back of my knee and my leg seemed to want to bend to the side rather than to the front. I thought I was done for—destined to hop on a train and head back to campus, alone and defeated. I lay down for a few minutes, applied some Biofreeze gel to my knee and elevated it. Then I sucked it up and went down for dinner.
Dinner was hilarious. The menu was very limited. When asked if it was possible to do a baked potato instead of chips on a fish and chips order, the bar tender responded, looking perplexed, that there wasn't a button for that. When the fish came, it was crispy. We weren't feeling picky, though. We were happy to be off our feet and eating.
It’s 6 o’clock. It’s been dark for hours it seems. I’m traveling north-east through one of the most beautiful parts of
When I start to see lights, I know I’m nearing Harwich, an important port of yesterday. Today, a harbor for ferries which carry passengers and goods between
There’s nothing like getting off the train in the dark in a place you’ve never been before, never studied a map of and only heard bad things about. Luckily I wasn’t the only one getting off the train and asked an older gentleman in a suit if he could point me to the Pier restaurant. He did one better and walked me most of the way there. We passed down darkened streets. It was a quiet place and there were not a lot of people about. One of my classmates was telling me that Harwich is not a terrible place. It used to house a lot of industry and employ a lot of people on the docks, but that’s changed. Now, he said, it’s a very depressed area.
My escort left me at a corner and pointed me on. I continued down the street, past a couple of pubs and a restaurant, to the pier. The restaurant is one of the last buildings on the street, across from the pier.