We’re halfway on our journey and reflect on our progress. We’re hopeful but there’s a lot to do. It’s all hands on deck to achieve sustainable change.

Whangarei (NZL)

After sailing 29,000 nautical miles since our departure from Amsterdam we arrived in New Zealand. It took us four-and-half years, but geographically, we are only halfway on our trip around the world in search of sustainable solutions. We have visited 25 countries and documented 50 sustainable solutions. It feels like an appropriate moment to take stock and reflect. How are we doing? What have we found so far? And: how will our journey continue?

How It All Started

Let us start at the beginning. Why did we embark on this trip with a mission? “We were very worried” Ivar recalls. “Thanks to modern science, like satellite measurements and oceanographic research, we know that our world is in pretty bad shape. Climate breakdown, extinction of plants and animals, deforestation, pollution, and economic and financial crises dominate the news. In addition, social inequality is rampant and getting worse. The very fact that the richest 20% of the world’s population consume more than 80% of all energy and raw materials proves that it is not so much population size but behavior that’s our biggest problem. Our growing understanding of these challenges rendered us quite depressed indeed. What struck us was that even though it was becoming increasingly clear that humanity must fundamentally change course to survive on this planet, a concrete and hopeful perspective was lacking.

“What if we look for sustainable success stories?” we wondered. “When people see what good examples others are giving, that might motivate them to change their behaviour” we thought. That’s why we decided to highlight techniques and practices that show how we can live in harmony with nature and with each other. “Hopefully, the examples we find will illustrate what an ecologically sound and socially just society can look like!” Ivar said at the time. It was an ambitious proposition, because there are so many aspects to living sustainably. We therefore decided to approach the challenges broadly. We would look into solutions relating to energy, ecosystems, transportation, the economy, spirituality, community, nutrition, the climate, and buildings.

Inspiring Solutions Everywhere

Our voyage of discovery by sailboat quickly yielded inspiring examples. The Netherlands for example, is known for its cycling culture. Other countries can learn a lot from the Dutch cycling culture and associated infrastructure. Denmark is at the forefront of insulating buildings. It may not be the sexiest topic, but saving energy is an important part of the solution.

In addition, we found many opportunities to generate the energy we really need through renewable means. The Danish island of Samsø shows that wind energy can cover all electricity needs. Any resistance to the installation of turbines was removed because the whole community could become co-owner and benefit from the energy and the profits. Norway produces enough hydropower energy to stimulate the electrification of road- and water transport. And in Spain we saw that solar energy can be used to generate electricity on a large scale, even at night. “These kinds of examples merit imitation in the rest of the world, depending on the local possibilities” Floris sums up. By leaving fossil fuels in the ground and using renewable energy sources, we can drastically reduce CO2 emissions and limit the worst consequences of climate breakdown.

There is also hope for our food supply, thanks to agricultural initiatives based on cooperation with nature. The methods we found prevent soil erosion and biodiversity loss. In Brazil, a deforested, poisoned and barren piece of land has been turned into a food forest that yields more harvest per square metre than industrial monoculture agriculture. Without using synthetic fertilizers or agricultural poisons, that is. “It looks like a jungle, complete with insects and birds!” we thought as we walked through the food forest. In Germany we learned how farming with a closed nutrients loop works and how to make it financially attractive by supplying directly to 400 families. In Argentina and Uruguay, we saw how much land and animal suffering we can saved by eating less meat. Eating more plant-based foods is also cheaper, healthier, and makes it easier for the soil to absorb a lot of CO2.

Fundamental Changes

“It’s fantastic that there are so many solutions for a future-proof energy and food supply, but that alone won’t get us there”, Ivar says. “In many areas fundamental changes are needed, such as making the economy circular, changing legislation, the way we organize work, even our monetary system is in need of a major overhaul.” Yet we also found examples in those areas. Building with recycled and natural materials is not only circular, but also produces beautiful buildings, as we saw in Argentina. The call for ecocide law, which criminalizes large-scale destruction of ecosystems, is gaining momentum. In the social field, cooperative working offers perspective: it brings democracy to the workplace, leads to better wages, and less inequality and unemployment. In Sardinia we learned how Sardex works, a digital currency that supports a local and circular economy.

Sustainability From Within

“Most of the solutions we have described are concrete and practically applicable”, Ivar says. “But our sailing journey also made us realize that sustainability from within is perhaps most important. All over the world we met friendly people who want a livable future for their children. We sailed through untouched nature, some of which was well-protected because its beauty and value is recognized. Our Western culture is so rushed that there is almost no time left for reflection. By going hiking, for example, head space is created again. “Everyone has a green heart, we just need to learn to use it more,” Chris Dews reminded us in Ibiza while showing us his eco-education center. And on Easter Island we learned that the moai, large stone statues, are not just there for tourists. They symbolize the mana, energy and values of their ancestors, which still inspires the current generation of activists to strive for a more sustainable island society. These stories show that when people are motivated by inner conviction, sustainable behavioral change becomes self-evident.

Collecting Pieces of the Puzzle

“All the sustainable solutions we discovered are like pieces of a large, complex jigsaw puzzle”, Floris explains. “As we collect more and more pieces, the contours of an ecologically sound and socially just society become better visible. That image can act like a compass to guide our behavior. It’s an image based on success stories that have already been realized somewhere in the world, not on a utopia.” At the same time, we realize that the puzzle is far from finished. We will therefore continue our search for inspiring sustainable initiatives in New Zealand and beyond. There is still plenty to discover.

All Hands On Deck

Even though we are only halfway, our journey has already made us more hopeful about the future. That is because we have found so many concrete opportunities to deal with nature and each other in a smarter and better way. The next challenge is to make all those good examples a success everywhere. “Never underestimate your own influence”, we say to anyone who asks us what they can do themselves. “You can get started with sustainable solutions yourself, and think of your role as a member of a family and in the community. Or as an employee, entrepreneur, consumer, voter, or investor”, we explain. Of course, system change is also needed, but that cannot take place without the support of large groups of people. That is why it is so important that as many people as possible contribute to sustainable change. As there is a lot to do and time is running out, it really is all hands on deck!

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