Saddle up! TakePart's taking you on an eco-adventure—or five, to be exact.
In honor of Earth Day, you’ll meet five folks whose exploits get a big green thumbs-up. They are…
… a billionaire heir who’s sailing the Pacific Ocean on a plastic boat. A birder who biked from the Yukon Territory to Florida. A smart-from-the-start thru-hiker who will walk 501 miles for renewable energy. A Nigerian septuagenarian who wants to tame the desert. And a Butterfly who treehugged Luna for 738 straight days.
David de Rothschild
British adventurer David de Rothschild waves to another boater as he sails The Plastiki, a 60-foot sailing catamaran, in San Francisco Bay February 11, 2010. Photo: Robert Galbraith/Reuters.
“This is the most shocking thing I’ve seen,” declared Oprah Winfrey in April 2009. "This" is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch—a swath of water twice the size of Texas that is bristling with trash. Ninety percent of the detritus is plastic, and, in parts, the debris reaches 90 feet deep. Perhaps most depressing, the patch’s plastic outnumbers its plankton by a 6 to 1 margin. By the time Oprah made her proclamation, David de Rothschild, 31, was already waist-deep in Plastiki. Allow us to explain.
Plastiki is the name of the 60-foot catamaran that de Rothschild, the billionaire banking heir, built almost entirely out of recycled plastics. The hull is made up of more than 12,500 two-liter plastic bottles. The sail is plastic. The mast is an irrigation pipe. The purpose of De Rothschild’s mission, which set sail on March 22, is simple: to raise awareness about the Pacific Plastic Vortex—yes, the great polymeric leviathan has two names—by sailing through its synthetic swells en route from San Francisco to Sydney, Australia. At least that was his initial goal.
Ocean currents have dictated that the Plastiki's path to Sydney needs to be more direct; as such, it will miss the Garbage Patch. Nevertheless, de Rothschild and his team from Adventure Ecology—a group he founded that blends environmentalism, adventure, and education—still plan on disassembling and then recyclying Plastiki upon reaching the Sydney shores.
Video: Boothroyd searches for a rare bird in the Arctic.
Five, four, three, two…Happy New Year!
The arrival of January 1 means different things to different folks. Some cling to resolutions they know they'll betray; others perch on their couches, content to channel surf through a gazillion college football bowl games. For birdwatchers, however, 1/1 is the beginning of Big Year, an informal competition to determine who can eyeball or hear the most number of species within a single calendar year and within a single geographic area, like a state. The problem, according to environmentalists, is that the travel accrued by Big Year birders is far too fossil-fuel intensive.
Enter Malkolm Boothroyd, the Birder Boy, who embarked on the bike ride of a lifetime to slam home the point that birders don’t have to rack up big carbon footprints. In 2007, at the age of 15, Boothroyd and his parents left their hometown of Whitehorse in the Yukon Territory, headed south down the Pacific Coast, and made the mother of left turns all the way to Florida, before looping back to Texas. The final numbers from Boothroyd’s expedition, dubbed “Bird Year,” are staggering: 13,133 miles cycled, 548 different bird species identified, and $25,000 raised for bird conservation.
Photo courtesy of Adam Bradley
Adam Bradley is going on a 501-mile Southwest Intertie Project (SWIP) Trip hike. “I’m really the last person that’ll get the chance to see the land in its original state before its impacted—this is a unique opportunity for me,” says Bradley, 38. To understand who Bradley is and why his trek is essential to our collective green future, you first need to comprehend the state of the U.S. energy grid. To do that, an analogy is apropros. If the grid were a highway, it would be paved with dirt. It is old, decrepit, outdated—and we’re being kind. President Obama knows this and like Ike (that would be Dwight D. Eisenhower) did for America’s interstate highway system, #44 seeks to facelift the grid. Such a metamorphosis, however, needs to be done in an ecologically friendly manner. To that end, more and more business leaders and state governments are embracing “smart from the start” construction policies.
With this in mind, the Nevada Wilderness Project (NWP) commissioned Bradley, a world record-holding thru-hiker (obsessive walkers who traverse long-distance trails from start to finish), to trek the SWIP renewable energy transmission line—before construction begins on it in early summer 2010. Upon completion, the line will be the main renewable energy artery between Idaho and Nevada.
“We are supportive of this line because it is going to carry the kinds of clean energy that people have been clamoring for,” says Charlotte Overby, Communications Director for NWP. Her staffers will document Bradley’s 15-day trek, which begins on Earth Day, via photographs, video footage, and daily blog updates. NWP, which believes that the goals of conservationists and renewable energy developers should be harmonious and not acrimonious, will use the on-the-ground information Bradley collects to influence the development of future feeder projects off the SWIP line, which may include solar or wind farms.
Photo courtesy Newton Jibunoh
Raise your hand if you’ve ever head of desertification. That you probably haven’t is why Dr. Newton Jibunoh keeps going, even at the age of 72. A soil engineer from Laos, Nigeria, Jibunoh is the founder of Fight Against Desert Encroachment, or FADE. Three times he has driven across the Sahara, the world’s hottest and largest desert, the last two in an attempt to increase awareness about desertification—the severe corrosion of land in arid climates due to the gradual disappearance of vegetation. Desertification’s main causes—overgrazing and over-siphoning of groundwater—can all be traced back to overpopulation.
For years, African governments, with assistance from the United Nations Convention on Desertification, have been trying—and, sadly, mostly failing—to plant trees to impede encroachment. The long-term survival rates of many of the trees in these reforestation programs have been low, according to Jibunoh, because well-intentioned community members and local leadership fail to take ownership of the saplings.
“Instead of seeing this little tree becoming this mighty tree,” says Jibunoh, “you find that they have all died—so you have very little to show for it.” Against this milieu, Jibunoh and FADE designed a “Plant and Own a Tree Today” campaign aimed at school children and rural women in the village of Kano State, Nigeria. If the plan works, rows upon rows of shelterbelt trees—basically, a wall of trees that blocks the sand-carrying winds—will be planted and nurtured to maturity.
Photo: Shaun Walker/Wikimedia Commons
Julia Butterfly Hill
Confining oneself to two six-by-six foot platforms seems more like self-imposed solitary confinement than a rip-roaring adventure. But, from December 10, 1997, to December 18, 1999, that’s precisely what Julia Butterfly Hill did. Today, more than ten years later, the eco-elite are still buzzing about her feat. Okay, by now you must be asking, what’s the big deal? Well, here's the eye-opening factoid about Hill’s 738 day escapade—she was more than 180 feet above the ground. Yeah, that’s right, she was in a tree—a 1,500 year old California redwood.
“Luna,” as Hill, now 36, affectionately dubbed the conifer, was—and still is—located in the Headwaters Forest of Humboldt County, California. The point of Hill’s treehug was crystal clear: stop the Pacific Lumber Company from chopping down Luna. It wasn’t easy and it took months of negotiation, but, in the end, Hill won. Luna, and any tree within a nearly 3-acre circle, was spared. Today, Luna is doing "really well," wrote Hill in an email to TakePart. "Every spring, the tree is covered in new growth."
Hill’s two-year, eight-day sit-in was chock-full of a dizzying array of disparaging time requirements—anything from quipping with radio hosts during live interviews (she had a solar-powered cell phone), to corresponding with supporters (on average, she received 100 letters per week), to braving El Nino-induced rainstorms. "After that experience," says Hill, "I know that it is possible for all of us to go further and be bigger than we think, if we allow love to guide us and call us."
In the decade and change since Hill came back down to Earth, her schedule hasn’t eased up. She’s delivered hundreds of motivational speeches, written a best-selling book, and founded two nonprofit organizations: the Circle of Life Foundation and Engage Network, which aims to organize and fine-tune the messages of local community activist groups.