Let’s begin with a thought experiment (scientists’ double-speak for playing make-believe), that’ll have your anxiety level really set sail. Draw an imaginary line around your home. Are the dog and kids safely inside? Good; from this point on nothing gets in or out. Your power lines are cut off, no deliveries will be accepted, and you are effectively trapped. How will you cook the family dinner, watch your team crush their opponents, or function after sunset? How long will you survive?
Barring an apocalypse, this is an improbable situation. It is, however, one that was reality for the crew of the Voyage for Cleaner Energy, when they left Oman in mid-April to sail to Rio de Janeiro in time for this week’s Rio +20 Earth Summit. For about 60 days the crew of seven lived on a sustainably-outfitted, 67-foot yacht called “2041,” named after the year in which the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty is up for renegotiation. This contract between 27 nations currently allows for only scientific activities relating to mineral resources in Antarctica.
The Voyage is part of 2041 founder Robert Swan’s mission to maintain Antarctica’s status as Earth’s last unsullied continent, through the promotion of recycling, renewable energy and sustainability. At the second World Summit in 2002, Swan (a UN Goodwill Ambassador for Youth, and the first person in history to walk to both the North and South Poles), was given the task of inspiring today’s youth to be tomorrow’s environmental leaders, and to report back at this year’s summit. Since then the Voyage has sailed 130,000 nautical miles around the world, as a kind of showboat for how to be better tenants of 1 Earth, Milky Way Rd., Cosmos 454109.
“Being at sea is an extreme environment, and that means you have to be very aware of your energy consumption,” said Adam Zeller, a crew member of 2041. “This means that if you leave the lights/TV/computer on unnecessarily, the direct consequence is that the battery drains and we lose these comforts, not to mention the navigation lights and electronic charts. I think back on land people see the energy supply to their homes as infinite, as all obstacles from supply to billing have been minimized.”
2041 was the first vessel to have sails made from recycled Coke bottles, and is powered by eight solar panels and two windmills. Meals are cooked over an alcohol stove, cushions and mattresses are made from natural rubber and hemp, and when the winds are more whispers than gusts, the engine runs on biofuel. “I think that being in this environment highlights that back on land, at home, in the office and on the road, the amount of energy that you use and its source is really under your control,” said Adam. “With a bit of extra effort it is possible to use less energy, but more importantly, it is possible to make the energy that you do use sustainable. And if you can’t afford solar panels or windmills, then there are ‘green tariffs’ available from your energy supplier that will ultimately create a strong market force towards these technologies.”
During this week’s Earth Summit, the 2041 crew will give tours and go on short sails with business and government leaders attending the conference, and give personal testimony to sustainable survival during their circumnavigation of Africa and Atlantic crossing. As Robert Swan’s son Barney wrote in the boat’s blog as they bobbed mid-ocean, “The world is a boat, and we all are its crew… Like us, the world needs to be captained correctly and needs to learn to harness more sustainable means of living, or like us, things will start to be unpleasant very quickly… 2041 is looking after our vessel, now it is time for all you land lubbers to make an effort and make sure you are looking after yours.”