Roz's shredded gloves - Erin's frozen boot

Roz’s shredded gloves – Erin’s frozen boot

I. The concept of combining a wilderness adventure, trek or journey with a greater idea around which the trip is based is not new.  Writing articles or books about such odysseys begins perhaps with the author of the original book by that same name, The Odyssey, in the  8th century BCE.  Homer wanted to define what Greek civilization was.  In the 8th century AD, Japanese Buddhist monk Ennin wrote of his years in China, calling his four-volume work The Record of a Pilgrimage to China in Search of the Law.

Environmental and transcendental writing about the countryside, rural areas, the unexplored oceans or the wilderness bloomed during the age of exploration, and boomed in the 19th century.  Thoreau’s Walden, or Life in the Woods, and Darwin’s The Voyage of the Beagle are masterpieces that force readers to ask questions about ecology.  John Muir’s many books decry wasteful human practices and their negative impacts on the treasures of nature.  Muir’s writing, combined with his lobbying efforts produced marked changes in government and private policies.

In the early 20th century author and film maker Burton Holmes coined the term “travelogue” for his multimedia presentations about his travels.  Holmes wasn’t on any sort of a spiritual quest, though.  But his use of the latest technology to help bring audiences closer to his adventures was groundbreaking.

The concept of combining a wilderness adventure, trek or journey with a greater idea around which the trip is based, and sharing one’s trip with the entire world as it progresses is as new as the worldwide web.  I’ve been fortunate to watch three leading practitioners of this new craft, as they undertook their journey-quests.

I discovered Roz Savage, Erin McKittrick and Bretwood Higman at about the same time.  In early fall 2007, my friend Steve Johnson told me about a young couple who were walking, packrafting and skiing from Seattle to Unimak Island, to bring attention to the proposed mega mine system in the eastern part of the fragile Bristol Bay watershed, called Pebble Mine.  I found it hard to believe that they might actually succeed.  At that time, they had just left Yakutat, on the northern Gulf of Alaska, headed along “The Wild Coast” toward Icy Bay and Cordova.  I eventually looked up their blog and was astounded.

Soon afterward, while looking for an article about college rowing (my daughter was then on Western Washington State University’s NCAA champion women’s rowing team), I discovered Roz Savage.  At that time, Savage was frustrated from having to curtail her first attempt at crossing the Pacific, and was recovering from injuries she got in a storm.  In 2008, Savage continued her rowing quest – to be the first woman to row the three major oceans alone.  Her higher goal was to bring more attention to global plastic waste, particularly oceanic debris.  I started following her adventures.

Erin and Hig successfully finished their trek from Seattle to the Aleutians in June, 2008.  Roz finished her crossing of the three oceans in October, 2011.

After Roz Savage finished the Pacific Ocean portion of her quest, I contacted her to congratulate her, and to suggest she might find interest in the travels and writings of McKittrick and Higman.  Now they are preparing to work together in the future.  They’ve swapped blog posts.

II. The products of Erin and Hig’s long trek have been a book, A Long Trek Home, and an award-winning movie, Journey on the Wild Coast:

Since completing the 2007-2008 Seattle to Unimak Island trip, they’ve become parents of two kids.  On their latest adventure, to the gigantic Malaspina Glacier, they took these youngsters, as they chronicled the effects of climate change.

The products of Roz Savage’s efforts have had far less time to develop, as she only finished her oceanic odyssey four months ago.  Here is a look at her progress before the final Indian Ocean leg of her record-setting efforts:

She has been networking and speaking in the U.S. recently, and is planning a set of civic actions in the U.K. this coming summer that she is calling TrashMobs:

Today I can reveal a bit more about my project for this summer. We are calling it TrashMobs – like flash mobs, but more trashy. It is going to involve me traveling around Britain by kayak and bicycle, pulling into a town each night to do a beach cleanup. All will be welcome to join me, and we’ll be publishing a map and schedule on the TrashMobs website – once it exists.

I will also be gathering signatures on an e-petition. Under UK law, if an e-petition gathers at least 100,000 signatures, it is eligible to be debated in the House of Commons. I am still finalising the wording of the petition, with input from a fantastic team of advisers and meetings with government staff, and it will be some form of call to dramatically reduce the amount of single-use plastics ending up in landfill and in the oceans.

The petition wording has been an interesting exercise. There is no point working hard to get the signatures if the petition itself is flawed – for example, if it asks the UK government to impose policies that restrict trade in breach of the Treaty of Rome. I’ve also had to do a lot of research to find out what European Union directives are already in force, because I don’t want to ask the government to do something less than they have already committed to do. So it gets complicated.

She is also involved with the group Plastic Shores, and is lecturing for the National Geographic Society, which named her 2010 Adventurer of the Year.  Here is a preview of the upcoming film, Plastic Shores:

III. Why are these three visionaries for 2012?  Rather than approach this segment of the series by just writing about their vision, I decided to write to them and ask them to describe aspects of what they have done, are currently engaged upon, and are planning.  My questions are in bold italic:

Roz, you dedicated your efforts and round-the-world trip to raising awareness about oceanic debris, particularly human plastic waste.  Erin and Hig dedicated yours to raising awareness of the ecological dangers of the proposed mega mine at Pebble in Southwest Alaska.  Have people listened more because of dialogues your successes created.

Erin: We can say we’ve made some difference, both through our own expeditions, and through supporting other adventurers’ work.  Through emails, comments, questions and conversations, people have told us how we have inspired them, opened their eyes to something they haven’t thought about before, or changed their minds about an issue.  In some cases it’s simply “raising awareness.”  In others it feels deeper… people really gaining an understanding of complex issues like perpetual tailings storage.

We can’t really say how much difference we have made.  We don’t have poll numbers.  Looking at an issue like Pebble, I’m very happy to see how the conversation has broadened since I first started working on it in 2005.  But I couldn’t tell you what portion of that we might claim credit for.

We keep doing what we do because we believe that in the long term, we’ll only reach a sustainable society when the people in it seek to balance the actual costs and benefits of every proposal.  Right now this means we all bear the burden of educating ourselves.  This is not just about Pebble Mine, and it’s not just about fighting projects we oppose.  We work on issues ranging from mining to coal to energy to climate change, and talk about projects that are worth the cost as well as those that aren’t.    I hope Ground Truth Trekking helps inspire people to read, explore, and figure those costs and benefits out.  It’s not the quickest way towards any political goal (or a goal to stop any specific project), but I believe there is an inherent and long-term value in each and every time we do or say something that makes someone stop and think.  We try hard to be open minded and rational.  And I am most proud of our work when someone who comes from a very different perspective tells us they’ve found something worth listening to in what we have to say.

Roz: My aim has actually been to promote awareness, yes, but more importantly to try and create a shift in our thinking. Ocean debris and plastic pollution are symptoms of a deeper underlying cause – what is going on in 7 billion minds around the world. Most of us have lapsed into a short-term and narrow-focused way of thinking, in which we have lost our understanding of the deep interconnectedness of everything, and fail to consider the consequences of our actions – on our surroundings and on the future. Many indigenous cultures had a deep and genuine concept of sustainable living, but that has been largely eroded as so-called “modern” thinking has come to predominate.

As Erin says, it is hard to quantify how much difference we are making. I do receive emails and comments from people who thank me for bringing their attention to specific issues, and tell me the changes they have made in their lives – for example, remembering to use their reusable grocery bags, water bottles, and travel mugs. These warm my heart, and encourage me to believe that I am succeeding in spreading some ripples of change.

But ultimately, I stick to a belief in tipping points – that even if I do not swing the floating voters on our future, that I have added another straw to one side of the scale, along with the straws being added by Erin and all the other campaigners, authors, activists, artists, speakers and good people in general. And one day all our efforts combined will tip the scales and a new, more sustainable culture will emerge.

Journalists, at least in my mind, seem to want to write more about failed voyages, treks and quests than those which succeed.  Dismally failed journeys at sea, like the 19th century Franklin Polar expedition, or, in Alaska, Chris McCandless’ starvation in an abandoned school bus near Denali, generate far more interest than have your triumphs.  Beyond the newspaper and TV maxim that “if it bleeds, it leads,” why do you think that is?

Erin: One common thread of adventure literature is that the parts people most like reading about are the parts that are the most uncomfortable to experience.  So I think part of it is just that simple dramatic thrill of starvation, accidents and gory deaths.

More deeply, I think people often feel threatened by life choices that are very different from their own.  This applies not just to “extreme” choices like wilderness expeditions, but to mundane everyday choices about the careers we pursue, the food we eat, and how we raise our kids.  It’s a human impulse to try and find some way to feel superior to those who are different.  (See Gawker’s response to a NY Times article about us a few years ago).

A failed expedition allows readers to feel smugly superior to the adventurers who died.  In Alaska, people bring up the stories of Chris McCandless and Timothy Treadwell over and over again, primarily to make the point that: “Those guys were idiots!” and “I’m smarter!”  Although I am thoroughly sick of being compared to McCandless and Treadwell (we really have little in common with either one), I do feel the need to defend them.  In both cases, they took risks, made a lot of OK choices, and one or two bad ones.  The ones that didn’t work happened to kill them.  All living adventurers I know have gotten away with at least a few stupid mistakes that might have killed them (particularly in their younger days).  Many people who’ve died on highways have died of a similarly unfortunate error in a risky situation.

Roz: I agree with Erin that when journalists focus on the failures, they reveal their own fear of being different. They tend not to realize that they are saying much more about themselves than about the adventurer. And it’s not only journalists. When I find myself responding negatively to another person, I have to ask myself some deep questions about what it is about them or their actions that makes me feel uncomfortable.

Several years ago, when I was trying to figure out why my corporate lifestyle just didn’t seem to be working for me, I sat down and wrote two versions of my own obituary – the one I wanted, and the one that I was heading for if I carried on as I was. When writing the obituary that I wanted, I found that I most admired the people who had the guts and the gumption to get out there and take risks, to dare to live life large. It didn’t matter whether they succeeded or failed – at least they had tried.

Doing that exercise allowed me to let go of the fear of failure that had been holding me back from really embracing life. I’ve had my fair share of failures since – luckily none of them terminal, obviously – but those experiences have actually taught me more than the (thankfully more numerous) successes. As the saying goes, an expert is just someone who has made more mistakes than anybody else in a narrow field of endeavour.

Roz’s voyages have been expensive, because of the need for a unique vessel and the logistics to support it.  Erin and Hig’s, by contrast have been relatively inexpensive, and almost carbon neutral.  But both approaches reflect what had to be done to accomplish your unprecedented goals.  In respect to having an impact on public awareness of your declared missions, or a small material footprint, what have you learned from each other?

Erin: First of all, I’d have to say that “almost carbon neutral” is too generous.  We think about impact in everything we do, but neither our packaged and mailed hiking food, synthetic raingear, or (in some expeditions) flights to and from our start point are zero-impact.  Over the years, we’ve worked hard to eliminate or minimize the need for charter bush plane flights in our journeys, which reduces the impact substantially.  But when we reach out to talk about what we’re doing, we deliberately focus on the place we’re visiting and the issues we’re exploring, rather than our own personal impact.  As a result, I think the vast majority of people following our trips don’t pay much attention to those struggles.

Looking at Roz, I can see the plusses and minuses of being higher-cost.  Because our trips are inexpensive, we can pretty much do whatever it is we think is most important to do, whether we get any support for it or not.  That gives us freedom.  But a more expensive expedition, by necessity, is one where more players are involved.  More collaborators, more supporters, more people working to make sure the message gets out.  I think that can lead to a higher-profile journey, with more potential for outreach.

Roz: Like Erin, I think that your contrast of our expeditions may be a little misleading. Yes, I have a unique vessel, but I have recycled the same vessel for all 6 of my voyages. The initial purchase of the boat was expensive – for which I used my life savings – but since then my expeditions have operated on a shoestring budget, largely “crowdsourced” by a multitude of supporters. As to “the logistics to support it”, this may imply that I have a support vessel – which I don’t. I do what I can to recycle as much kit as is still working at the end of every voyage, and to select foods that have minimal packaging, with as much of it as possible being recyclable or biodegradable. I am quite proud of my frugality and regard to environmental impact in this regard, so although my adventures may be more costly than Hig and Erin’s, when you compare them with other ocean rowing voyages, or even more when compared with racing yachts, my budget is actually very modest.

The need to raise funds has had significant side-benefits in terms of outreach. Much of my funding has come from a multitude of people who have donated anywhere between $10 and $10,000 to support my adventures. This has three huge benefits – firstly, it gives them a sense of ownership towards my mission. Because they have parted with hard-earned cash to help make it happen, they are more likely to check in and read my blog while I am at sea to reassure themselves that I am using their money wisely – thus increasing my outreach.

Secondly, when I am having a tough day on the ocean (like, most of them!) it really helps to keep me going to think of all those people who have invested in me – emotionally as well as financially. Even if I am struggling to find the motivation to keep going for my own sake, I do it for them. I feel I owe it to them to complete what I set out to do.

Thirdly, it gives me freedom. I’ve never been in the situation of having to decide whether to accept a huge sponsorship deal from an environmentally reckless company – but if I did accept such a deal, it might have raised question marks over my independence on environmental issues. By being funded largely by individuals, I don’t have to toe any corporate line, giving me freedom to express my own views.

All three of you have, in your adventures had to get by without actually seeing other people for weeks.  Yet you’ve all kept in touch with followers around the world through the web, particularly by blogging and telecommunicating.  How weird has the contrast of actual isolation vs. instant access or feedback from people ten thousand miles away gotten?

Erin: I think the weirdest it’s gotten for us is participating in a Q and A session for a film festival in Vancouver, Canada.  We were standing outside our tent on the Malaspina Glacier, in the middle of nowhere, talking on the sat phone to a room packed with hundreds of people.  Communication is definitely something that’s changed dramatically over our adventuring career.  In 2001, we did a 2 month expedition with no outside contact save occasional calls to a parent’s answering machine from a village phone.  By 2007-2008 when we walked to the Aleutians, internet had reached even the most remote outposts, and I was able to keep up a blog by borrowing a computer when we stopped in at a village, remote camp, or lodge.  Contact was about every 1-2 weeks.  On our latest journey, we carried a sat phone with texting capability, and sent texts to a friend that ended up on Facebook nearly every day.  Since our journeys have an outreach mission, I feel like it’s important to make use of the communication technology that’s available.  But it does get complicated, heavy, and time-consuming compared to the days we only carried an EPIRB.

Roz: Last year I went for 5 months without seeing a (human) face. But I blogged every day, using a satellite phone as a data modem. It is roughly equivalent to the slowest ever dial-up connection, so I can do email only – no internet browsing. I feel it is an essential part of my environmental mission, as well as my way to show gratitude to my supporters, to keep up the communication. And I don’t think my mother would be too impressed if I said I wasn’t going to call her for 5 months.

But I have to confess that some of the happiest days I ever spent at sea were after my satellite phone failed 24 days before the end of my Atlantic row. Much as I love human company on dry land, when at sea there is something incredibly empowering about simply being alone.

In the middle of the Indian Ocean crossing I hypothesized on my blog that I might be the single most remote person on the planet. Someone commented that I wasn’t really alone because I had the internet. I couldn’t help myself from responding that the internet is not well-known for its ability to save somebody who has fallen overboard. Solitude is beautiful, and I would recommend that most of us could do with making more time for it – but if anything ever goes seriously wrong at sea then I get no second chances.

I’m particularly interested in how the efforts of young people like you are followed by those even younger.  Have you seen very young people, inspired to emulate your combination of record-setting treks and ecological statement, proposing or sharing this or that ultimate ultimate journey with you?

Erin: Last spring, we gave a presentation to highschoolers in Sitka’s Mt. Edgecumbe school, and ended up spending a good chunk of time giving tips to a boy we’d first met 3 years earlier in the village of Egegik, who was planning his own big adventure.  We often get emails from college students and others asking our advice on Alaska wilderness travel, gear, adventuring with kids, etc…  We’re always happy to answer such questions, but we especially love to work with other “ground truth trekkers” of any age – people whose expeditions may not be record-setting, but who are really working to learn and communicate something important with their journeys.  We provide what support we can (often in the form of loaned gear, technology, and advice), and have been pleased to work with the canoers of “Paddle for Sustainability” on their trip from Lake Superior to the Pacific Ocean, Mike of “Rainforest Treks” on his trips to Princess Royal Island and Hubbard Glacier, Bjorn and Kim on their “Where the Heck is Donlin” documentary expedition from Knik to Bethel to explore the Donlin Gold Mine proposal, Mike’s trip to Tustemena Glacier, and an upcoming expedition by some east coast college students to Greenland’s fjords.  If you have an idea, please contact us!

Paddle for Sustainability

Rainforest Treks

Where the Heck is Donlin?

New Eyes – Old Ice

Roz: Very nice of you to call me “young” = I’m 44! I do get a lot of enquiries from people wanting to find a meaningful direction in their lives, and/or to row an ocean.

I love working with people of all ages, but I especially get a kick out of working with the 18-21 age group. They have so many ideas, and so much idealism. It is so important to keep those dreams alive, and not let them die under pressure to be a “grown-up”. We need these visionaries of the future.

To those (of any age) asking for direction, I invite them to be the “grandest version of the greatest vision” they ever had of themselves (to quote Donald Neale Walsh). Dare to dream big. And don’t be afraid to fail – failure is a sign that you are pushing up against the boundaries of what is possible, and we need people to do that. To find out what you really want to leave as your legacy, that obituary exercise that I did is excellent – but be warned, it might just change your life.

To those wanting to row an ocean, I’d point them in the direction of my FAQ page,  especially Q9. And would also like to mention that I am involved with setting up a new ocean rowing race from California to Hawaii, due to launch in 2104. More details here. And be warned again – this might change your life too!

For Roz: Having produced three public lectures by Erin and Hig, I noticed how utterly amazing the network of Alaska wilderness trekkers is at getting people to show up for an important talk or presentation on rather short notice.  Is there an equivalent to that in ocean rowing?

I guess that I am lucky in that I have many networks – not just in the ocean rowing world. I have no home base, spending 100% of my time on the road or on the ocean, so my community is very much global, and online. If I am rallying people to a cause or event – or asking other people to rally people to mine – I would put the call out on my blog, podcast, Twitter and Facebook.

In many ways I feel lucky to have come late to the world of adventure. If I had done this in my early twenties, as many people do, I would not have had these amazingly powerful tools at my disposal.

I’ve found amazingly supportive networks everywhere I go. I have this theory that when you’re out there, doing your best to make the world the better place, people tend to rally to the cause.

For all:  Can that energy be transferred into an Occupy the Oceans or Occupy Pebble Consciousness movement?

Erin: Movements have the power to change public opinion much more quickly than reaching out to one blog reader at a time. But our society does not treat movements kindly.  On either end of the political spectrum, those who join “movements” are subject to ridicule, and turned into caricatures of lunatics, dirty hippies, or worse.  Hearing that someone is part of the Occupy Movement, or part of the Tea Party, most folks assume they know just what that person is like, and dismiss them immediately.  That scares away a lot of people who might otherwise be interested.  I’m not sure how to turn that around.

Roz: Occupy the Oceans – I like it! There is certainly a place for the more radical movements. Sea Shepherd are doing fantastic work for the oceans, but I don’t really see that as my niche. I have thought long and hard about how I can be most effective, and if and when there is an appropriate opportunity for civil disobedience, I would not shy away. But meanwhile, I have been blessed (or cursed) with a good education and a certain degree of articulacy. So I think that for now my role is more in the realm of words, ideas, and concepts rather than “occupying”.

However, I do believe that the energy that we create through our adventures and campaigns can be transferred into a movement. In these uncertain times, many are looking for someone who has a vision of what we should be doing – and anyone who has that vision becomes a kind of energy vortex and people gravitate towards it.

For Roz:  Are you ready to get a Packraft?  (I am)

I have actually asked Hig and Erin for their review on Packrafts. They said that theirs performed really well, except for two punctures – one when being dragged cross-country and one when it was clawed by a bear. Only in Alaska….

I am certainly open to the possibility of more land-based adventures, and in fact this year I will be kayaking around part of the British coast doing beach cleanups en route to help stop some of our plastic waste ending up polluting the oceans. A Packraft may well play a part in my future plans!

For Erin and Hig:  Roz is European.  One might now say, a world citizen.  Your efforts, so far, have been in the Pacific Northwest of North America.  What challenge in other parts of the world might you consider, that would keep your themes of ecological message and intrepid fringe adventure going together?

Roz: funny to hear myself described as “European”. I don’t think that Brits tend to regard ourselves as Europeans. Even though I am one of the most international/world-oriented people I know, I would still regard myself as British rather than European. Those 22 miles of water between us and France make all the difference….]

Erin: Ground Truth Trekking could be done anywhere in the world, and there are thousands of hugely important issues in thousands of extremely interesting places.  But by “staying home,” we gain a depth of understanding we couldn’t possibly have on a worldwide scale.  At this point, we’ve spent many years intensely focused on natural resource issues in the Pacific Northwest (mainly in Alaska), both during our expeditions and between them.  This has given us a great deal of insight about how different issues interconnect, as well as connections to the people that know even more about them.  I feel like Alaska really is important on a global scale – with large fossil fuel and mineral resources, a vast amount of remaining intact ecosystems, climate-change vulnerability, and first-world wealth that will enable us to solve or create our problems.  What Alaska does matters to the world, both in physical impact, and as a symbol and example.

We may branch out, but we will probably always keep that connection to Alaska.  For instance, we’ve toyed off and on with the idea of an adventure in Asia – where many of Alaska’s natural resources end up.

For Roz:  Are you ready for Alaska?  Do you imagine a trip here you might do, without having to row from Ketchikan to Barrow?

Alaska has long been on my list of Places To Go. I am hoping to join up with Hig and Erin (and kiddies) for an expedition next year. I have been to just about all of the other US states. A trip to Alaska is long overdue.

For Roz:  Once you got into the South Pacific, you encountered people living on the edge, in sometimes primitive conditions.  Traveling through Polynesia and Melanesia, you must have had thoughts about those civilizations’ earlier ocean treks, as you intersected their earlier routes.  I read a few of them as you rowed and wrote and rowed.  Care to share more now, in retrospect?

While in Hawaii I met Nainoa Thompson, who just about single-handedly brought back the Polynesian wayfinding techniques from the edge of extinction. I hope someday to join the traditional Polynesian canoe, the Hokule’a, for a voyage. We think we are so smart these days, but I would be totally lost (literally) without my GPS, and I have the greatest respect for traditional wisdom and knowledge. Looking at the ethnic origins of various peoples, it seems that those early and undocumented explorers traveled far and wide, without the benefit of maps or telecommunications, demonstrating true bravery and pioneering spirit far beyond what is required nowadays.

For Erin and Hig:  You wrote about how, as you visited communities in Southwest Alaska, some towns or villages work better than others.  My wife, who mentors young teachers in the same part of the state, has observed the same.  Some parts of the state where peoples used to be nomadic, were forced, compelled or impelled to abandon their 5,000-year-old culture to live in one place.  Some of those places sucked and still do.  Do you have anything to add to what you wrote back in 2007 and 2008 on this?

Erin: There are two aspects to this:  physical location and community functioning.  The disturbing reality is that due to climate change, many villages simply cannot continue to exist much longer in the spot they were plopped down.  We still haven’t figured out how to support the villages that are already washing away (such as Shishmaref and Kivalina), and as warming increases and accelerates, we’ll see more and more people forced to move.  It’s likely that all of Alaska’s arctic coastal communities will be displaced in the coming century, and we’re nowhere near to being prepared for that.

On the community end, many of these villages are very small – a few hundred people or even smaller.  And we’ve been struck by how much a community is shaped by the handful of people that happen to be its leaders.  Even one or two strong and visionary leaders may be able to turn a community around and give it a much more hopeful future.  It’s such a prime case for individuals being able to make a big difference.

For all:  Where do you see hope in political institutions for reality-based decisions on climate change and rampant waste?

Erin: I try not to pay too much attention to our national political institutions, because sometimes, it’s hard to see too much hope in them.  Where I do see hope is in people.  During the course of our treks, we’ve had the opportunity to talk to all sorts of individuals all across the political spectrum.  And almost universally, we’ve found them to be reasonable, open-minded, and sharing core values with us, and with each other.  Everyone wants to leave the world a decent place for their kids. So we work to talk to citizens, and work hard to be reasonable, reality-based, and open-minded ourselves.  Eventually, I hope if the people make better decisions that the political establishment will follow.

Roz: I was at the COP15 climate change conference in Copenhagen in 2010, and came away from that event with many illusions shattered about the ability and willingness of our global leaders to take the courageous decisions that we need to ensure a future for humankind. But I also took great encouragement from the passion and intelligence of specific individuals, and from community leaders – especially at the mayoral level. There are many amazing people out there who have committed their lives to serving their towns and cities, and are doing all within their legal powers to create a more sustainable future. I hope and believe that these the ripples of change from these oases of commonsense will spread, showing what can be done given sufficient political will. And hopefully, one day, our national leaders will catch up with what is already happening locally.

This series of articles is about “Visionaries for 2012.”  You are already visionaries.  But I imagine you are also constant learners.  What vision or visions do you hope to develop in the long run, rather than next in line?

Erin: Our long-term pie-in-the-sky vision is to see Alaska become a world leader in sustainable development, smart management of natural resources, and tackling climate change.  Politically, we’re a long way from that.  But the ingredients are here.  We have a lot of functioning ecosystems left on the land, a lot of resources left in the ground, and a lot of fish left in the sea.  Which means there are a lot of decisions still left to be made and a lot of opportunity to lean from mistakes elsewhere in the world.  We also have a reasonably small population to sustain.  And between our vulnerability to climate change, our dependence on subsistence resources, and an economy largely founded on boom and bust from non-renewable resource export, Alaska has a lot to lose from getting it wrong.

Roz: We live in interesting times. Right now, the political, financial, industrial and agricultural practices that have delivered huge benefits over the last 50 to 150 years are becoming outdated. What was appropriate in a world of 1 billion people may not be appropriate in a world of 7 billion. It is time for a major overhaul.

We can do this the hard way – by waiting for a major catastrophe to make us wake up to the havoc we are wreaking on our ecosphere. Or we can do it the easy way – by taking a proactive approach and using our unique intelligence and ability to project future scenarios to figure out a better, more sustainable way of inhabiting this planet.

Either way, we need a plan. I am fascinated by future-oriented concepts such as resilient communities, urban food production, renewable energy, successful mass transit systems, ecoliteracy in education, devolution of governance, alternative forms of democracy, sustainable job creation, optimization of quality of life, and prosperity in a post-growth world.

Many of the best and brightest minds in the world have been working on these ideas for decades. Pilot schemes are already underway in many places. We have the answers – or at least, we have lots of theories that we should be putting to the test sooner rather than later. Most human beings are by nature change-averse, but I believe that one day soon we will find a better, happier, more sustainable way of living, and when we look back from the far side of that shift, we will wonder what took us so long.

The Series:

Visionary #1 – Paul Stamets

Visionary #2 – Peter Ward

Visionaries #s 3 & 4:  Stewart Brand and Winona LaDuke