For the last eight months I have been living in a tent on top of a car parked on beaches, in playgrounds and office carparks in countries around the Atlantic. I hand wash my clothes, cook over campfires and shower outside.
Please don’t get the wrong idea, it wasn’t always like this – I used to be a journalist living in a London flat, taking hot water and electricity for granted. Things changed when, with two friends from university, we started an environmental education project called Atlantic Rising. The plan was to travel around the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, overland along the one meter contour line, tracing what is predicted to be the new coastline in 100 years if sea levels continue to rise. It’s an exploration of what could be lost if we don’t change our behavior, as well as an investigation into how communities are already adapting to the effects of climate change.
We are creating a network between schools, talking to students about their experiences of climate change and putting them in touch with their peers across the ocean. Based on our research we create multimedia teaching resources on environmental subjects.
While my friends planned weddings and had babies, I traveled through Europe and West Africa and am now in Brazil heading north to Canada. Instead of cheekily jumping red lights on my bicycle commute in London, I have negotiated with countless West African policemen wanting bribes for imagined driving offenses. Rather than chasing members of parliament around Westminster I have been interviewing climate change experts from African universities. I am unlikely to be celebrating my forthcoming 30th with cocktails, but more likely to be talking to students about how climate change is already affecting the lives of young people all around the Atlantic.
We have had some tricky moments – digging our car out of the mud in the middle of the night in Mauritania, racing through politically unstable Guinea weeks and spending three weeks on a container ship between Africa and Brazil. But this is absolutely nothing compared with what some women do for environmental causes.
I certainly couldn’t work in conditions so cold you have to dance to keep warm, or trek for days in the pouring rain up along muddy jungle paths to track down an injured gorilla. But there is a growing band of dedicated women prepared to tackle environmental work that is difficult, dangerous and far from home.
Scientist Maria Banks, 38, spent three months in Antarctica drilling ice cores to study the history of the climate in the layers of ice. She lived in an unheated tent, sometimes having to dig through snow to get out of it in the morning, and worked in a facility that was cooled to -25C where the biggest danger was getting to cold. She said: “We coped with this by eating lots of calories, particularly in the form of chocolate, dancing to music while we worked to keep warm, and by keeping an eye on each other.”
Maria and the other scientists used just five gallons of water per person a day, compared to the average person who uses 90. Showers were weekly affairs and rationed to just two minutes. She says: “One also becomes very aware of how much water we use for each shower when you have to shovel snow into a melter to provide the water for that shower! Trying to use an unheated outhouse with a 30 knot wind blowing on you is an experience you will not soon forget!”
She was prepared to endure this because she believes her work is worthwhile. She said: “I value the science that comes from it and the adventure and fun of the work itself. “I also find much happiness in knowing that the work I do will hopefully improve our lives in some way, and help us to better understand our environment.”
In much hotter climes Lucy Spelman, 47, worked as a gorilla doctor. She was treating wild gorillas in Rwanda and Uganda but the job was not just that of a vet. She also tried to prevent injuries or illnesses resulting from contact with humans. She said: “The veterinarians were involved in helping to prevent these problems from happening in the first place by helping to improve farming practices, offering free rabies vaccinations for dogs, and ensuring better health care for people who live near the gorilla park.”
Apart from the danger of injury from one of her gorilla patients, Lucy faced other difficulties. She was living in an unstable area of the world and at times did not feel safe. She worried about her security and that of the families of her staff.
But she has a passionate environmental philosophy and says, “I believe that the health of everything is connected and that the environment benefits from every patient I heal. Of course, not every animal gets better; I don’t always have the solution. But I learn from each case. I also love my work as it involves helping both people and animals live healthier lives.”
I think it is great women are prepared to go to these lengths for environmental reasons. While this sort of lifestyle choice is obviously not for everyone, they act as inspiration for all of us trying to live greener lives.
Editor’s note: This is a guest post courtesy of Lynn Morris. Lynn Morris is director of an environmental education charity called Atlantic Rising. She is currently on an expedition around the edge of the Atlantic Ocean raising awareness about how climate change is already affecting communities. For more information about the project please visit Atlantic Rising.
Main Image: John Yavuz Can