The end?

We had no idea.

When we said out in 2009 to bike around the world we had no idea what was waiting for us.

There are 790 mountain gorillas left in the world – we were mock-charged by one of them along the side of the road in Uganda. There are thousands of people in Mozambique who live and farm along land that is at sea level and already prone to flooding – we slept in their villages and shared cashew beer with them along the road. In Namibia and Tanzania, people dig holes in dried river beds to get drinking water – we followed them down to the sand and carefully spooned water into our bottles on countless occasions.

We set out to bike around the world, visiting permaculture projects along the way.  We knew that the environment was important, but we figured we had time, that things weren’t so bad. Sixteen months and 12,000 kilometers later, we had met so many new people and seen so many new things that biking around the world didn’t seem to make sense anymore.  Deforestation wasn’t something for the future – the gorillas are disappearing right now.  Climate change isn’t just an abstract concept – it could flood the coast of Mozambique tomorrow.  Drought and water scarcity are not just passing struggles – they are daily life for millions of people.

It was seeing all of this that inspired us to trade the bikes for a video camera.  Africa convinced us that it was urgent that we all take action for the environment, and so we thought we would spend the trip in Latin America finding people working on solutions, sharing their ideas and experiences and showing how each of us could take action in their own community to make the world a better place.  The Rio+20 Earth Summit became our destination, the biggest international conference in the history of the UN, directed totally towards sustainable development.

Finding people working on solutions turned out to be the easy part.  Whether it is cycling activists or transition towns or organic farmers, there is no town, city, or country that doesn’t have masses of people working on environmental solutions.  The harder part for us became actually figuring out how to make movies, how to manage our website, and how to balance all the work our project suddenly entailed with all the hours on the bus we needed to get to Rio – while still enjoying the unbelievable landscapes and cultures we were passing through.

In Latin America, as in Africa, the people we met were the most powerful part of the trip.  Whether it was spending Christmas in an indigenous community in the Amazon, dancing and sharing liters of yucca beer, or pushing a tractor along a dirt track in the rain in Chiapas in the middle of the night, or  waking up at 4:00 am in a farmhouse along the Ecuadorian coast to accompany the farmers as they prepared for the weekly market, seeing the incredible resilience, decency, and determination of people all over the world trying to solve our environmental problems inspired us again and again.  If we could all be half as dedicated as the farmers reforesting in Chiapas, or the indigenous communities protecting the Amazon in Ecuador, or the coastal farmers sacrificing sleep to bring organic produce to poor communities in the city, then the world could change over night, we could have a better world tomorrow.

With all this inspiration, we arrived in Rio for the Rio+20 Earth Summit.  Heads of state from 130 nations came together to discuss sustainable development and the environment. The opportunity was tremendous – oceans, fossil fuel subsidies, new sustainable development goals, the Rio+20 summit was supposed to be the time for nations to pledge to measurable targets on all these issues, even committing money to back them up.

Of course, none of that happened.  Negotiations began with a controversial text drawn up over the past two years in collaboration with civil society.  When it became clear that member states would never agree to such a document, the Brazilian delegation simply tossed it in the trash and wrote a new one over night.  The new text, the final result of the conference, was barely worth the paper it was printed on – “The longest suicide note in history,” the executive director of Greenpeace called it.  But it let the UN set up a photo op with all the governments declaring success, and that was what mattered most in the end.  A tremendous opportunity to build a better world passed us by in Rio.  What could have been a huge step forward became instead a complete non-event, a wasted chance to secure a liveable future.

But make no mistake, the problems we face are worse every day – just because our governments have decided not to act doesn’t mean our problems have gone away:

  • In January, methane fountains were found in the Russian Arctic, suggesting that methane (a greenhouse gas 60 times worse than CO2) on the bottom of the sea floor may be starting to come to the surface, a potentially catastrophic development for the planet.

All of these events correspond exactly with what climate scientists predict for a warming world.  All of them are just the beginning.  When we set out, we thought environmental problems were avoidable, we thought we could take action and things would be okay.  Almost a thousand days later now, we know that’s not the case. The world is warming now, it is too late to stop it.  Our governments will not take action and cannot be expected to.  What remains to be seen is just how much it will warm, how bad things are going to get.  And for that, we need to take action.

There is good news.  The good news is that solutions already exist and that they are beautifully simple. We don’t need our governments; we will be better off without them.  Corporations will stop polluting when we stop giving them our money to do so.  To plant trees, to build communities, to save seeds, we don’t need anything other than our own energy and determination.

And things can change fast.  When we left on our trip, Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt were all ruled by ruthless dictators and the word “#occupy” didn’t exist.  People are acting, people are stepping up, there is a rising chorus for change, there is a movement out there, growing every day, fighting to make the world a better place.

So what lies ahead for the Permacyclists?  Well for the next few months, we’ll be applying for a green card for Annabelle and finishing up our last videos and photos from the trip, including some projects we’re filming in Belgium and in the US.  So yes, there are more projects to come and we will be continuing the website, Facebook, and twitter pages, so do keep checking in.

In January, we will start trying to put into practice all the advice we’ve picked up along the road – to take our small part in that chorus for change.  We are planning on moving to Woodstock New York where a friend has some land and where we hope to grow our own food, to join the transition movement, to save seeds, to plant trees, and all the rest that you’ve seen in our videos along the way (yes, even to break a few laws if we have to). We’ll keep the video cameras rolling, and we’ll have more movies about our experiences and about other cool local initiatives.

As a final thought on the experience we’ve just completed: if you had told us when we set out on our bikes in the Brussels rain almost 3 years ago that we would spend one of our last days in Rio talking to Bill McKibben (our hero!) and filming the walk-out of 100+ members of civil society from the largest conference in UN history, we never would have believed it.

It has been an unbelievable trip.

But now the work starts.

Now the real journey begins.

This entry was posted in Argentina, Belgium, Bolivia, Botswana, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, France, Guatemala, Honduras, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mexico, Mozambique, Namibia, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Rwanda, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, United Kingdom, Uruguay, USA, Zambia. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to The end?

  1. Val says:

    How hard it is to put your time on the road into one succinct post! I’ve enjoyed reading your blog posts and the offer still stands if you want to brainstorm funding leads… actually, I’d love to talk sometime to hear more about your ‘what’s next’ and fill you in on some of my latest work (I’m doing some work with 350VT now too).

    hugs!! Welcome back to the US.

  2. stef says:

    et bien, partants pour continuer à vous suivre, et adapter nos comportements. je vous embrasse, steph

  3. Kathryn Meyer says:

    Harvey and I send our congratulations to you both for your extraordinary accomplishment . The fact that we are so happy to have you home shouldn’t distract us from our pride in what you have managed to do.

  4. Liz Johndrow says:

    You guys inspire me SO and I can’t wait to visit sometime. NY in August?! Bioneers by the Bay in Oct? Bill M. is speaking . Well, somewhere, sometime soon, okay?!

  5. Lisa says:

    Amazing, y’all. Hard to believe all that you’ve lived since the time we saw you in 2011 here at the farm. While life has moved for us at perhaps a less frenetic pace than it has for you, these last couple years have been intense, and I haven’t kept as completely up to date on all your travels and learning as I’d wanted. I’m hoping to slowly dig back through the incredible archives you’ve amassed here.

    So glad you’ll be on our continent again — hoping we’ll see you before too long.

  6. Thanks Liz! We would love to find a time to meet up – but alas, we wont’ be around in August, we’ll be off to Belgium already. In October though… we’ll be in touch!

  7. Thanks Lisa! Hope to see you soon too, let us know if you come up north anytime soon!

  8. Hi Val! Thanks so much – and actually we would love to talk to you about what you’re up to and funding and all kinds of things… We’ll write you a message to discuss more. Lucky 350VT to have you on their side!

  9. Mary Vinois says:

    Chers vous Deux,
    J’espère pouvoir vous accueillir un de ces jours pas trop lointain sur mon petit bout de Terre où il fait bon vivre et où la berceuse de chaque jour est hommage à l’Univers!
    Bravo pour tout ce que vous avez accompli, vous êtes merveilleux!
    Par vos témoignages ,j’ai pu être avec vous tout au long de votre chemin, vous accompagner avec émotion et avoir l’impression que je n’étais pas seule à voir que ce changement était urgent…
    Merci d’être vous, merci pour tout ce que vous apportez!
    Gratitude, Paix et Amour en partage
    De<3 à <3
    Bonne route parsemée de bonheur

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