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Ocean Rower Takes Eco-Message to Copenhagen Climate Summit

  • Rosanne Skirble

Savage rows in big waves across the Pacific Ocean from San Francisco to Hawaii

Savage rows in big waves across the Pacific Ocean from San Francisco to Hawaii

Roz Savage has been recognized as a climate hero by the United Nations, which honored for her environmental activism. She has undertaken extraordinary feats to raise awareness about global warming - largely from the seat of a rowboat. Having already crossed the Atlantic Ocean in 2006, she was rowing across the Atlantic when she took a break to attend the United Nations climate summit in Copenhagen.

The "rowing thing" started for this former high-technology consultant a few years ago when she realized she had a job she didn't like, was buying stuff she didn't need, and was out of touch with the environment.

"I'd realized that my respect for myself went along with respect for the planet," Savage says. "I recognize that we are connected with everything else, that we are this complex web of life, and when any element of that web gets out of balance, we are going to get in trouble pretty quickly."

The control panel inside the cabin showing [top, clockwise]: a battery monitor, cart plotter, bilge pump switch panel, stereo, VHF radio and Sea-Me control switches

The control panel inside the cabin showing [top, clockwise]: a battery monitor, cart plotter, bilge pump switch panel, stereo, VHF radio and Sea-Me control switches


Trading a job and a home for a rowboat

Savage says her idea to row across the Atlantic would embody those values.

"It was environmentally low-impact. It was adventurous. It would give me a feel for the size of this planet that we live on. And most importantly, it was sufficiently unusual that it would get people's attention."

Savage did have some experience. She was a member of her college rowing team at Cambridge and had continued the sport with a rowing club in London. Despite some initial fears that the project was too big and ambitious, Savage took the plunge. She quit her job, traded her home for a custom rowboat and equipped it with an electronic geopositioning system, satellite phone, stereo music system, VHF radio and a webcam, which allowed her to bring along virtual adventurers.

Hard-won ripples of change

On Savage's 2006 solo Atlantic crossing, viewers shared the anguish of her oars breaking and the effects of tendonitis in her shoulder and saltwater sores on her back. They also saw a brave soul who never gave up, no matter the conditions. It took Savage 103 days to make the grueling crossing from the Canary Islands off the coast of Spain to Antigua in the Caribbean.

Savage says she goes through about five pairs of rowing gloves during each ocean crossing

Savage says she goes through about five pairs of rowing gloves during each ocean crossing


In 2008, she was off again, this time to cross the Pacific. The first leg of that journey - from California to Hawaii - Savage dedicated to raising awareness about ocean pollution. She introduced online visitors to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the floating mass of discarded plastics twice the size of Texas, America's largest state behind Alaska. She says people wrote they had adopted reusable grocery bags, coffee cups and water bottles.

"I really felt that I was starting to spread those ripples of change," she says.

Inviting others to join her quest

In May, Savage rowed westward in the second stage of the Pacific crossing, a 4200-kilometer journey from Hawaii to Kiribati, an island nation in the central Pacific that is threatened by rising sea level from warming global temperatures. In a campaign called Pull Together, she asked people who followed that adventure online to take steps to reduce climate-changing carbon emissions.

"When they upload their steps, they will get feedback on how many calories they have burned and how much CO2 they've saved, driving home that message that it's good for their bodies and good for the planet," Savage says.

Roz Savage in London at the start of a walk from the British capital to Brussels where she joined negotiators and activists on the Climate Express, a bus ride into Copenhagen

Roz Savage in London at the start of a walk from the British capital to Brussels where she joined negotiators and activists on the Climate Express, a bus ride into Copenhagen


Savage will continue with the third and final stage of the Pacific crossing in 2010. This month, she's taken her message to the Climate Conference in Copenhagen. She walked part of the way from London to Brussels, where she joined other activists on a train called the "Climate Express" to the Danish capital. She frames her hopes for the summit in nautical images, with the grassroots movement aboard ships from all nations of the world.

"If we can generate a strong-enough wind, we can actually get all those ships lined up and pointing in the same direction," she says, "so that we as human beings, regardless of country and color and creed, will actually get our act [together] now because it is so important."

Roz Savage believes that that people everywhere can be engaged in helping the planet one little step - or one oar stroke - at a time.

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