Steve Posselt, a self described “regular bloke” from Brisbane was ticked off about the Australian government’s apparent desire to exploit all of the country’s coal resources, disastrous climate change implications be damned. He took a novel and physically demanding approach to protest: A (very) long distance solo kayak trip. Which begat another (very) long distance kayak trip. And then another. GreenSportsBlog talked with Posselt to find out about his paddles from Brisbane to Adelaide; from New Orleans to New York City (you read that right) and, this fall, from London to Paris for the COP21 United Nations Conference on Climate Change.
GreenSportsBlog: Steve, where did you get the idea to use long distance kayak trips as a way to protest awful environmental policies?
Steve Posselt: Well, I was living in Brisbane in Queensland, in Northeast Australia. I used to be a runner–1/2 marathons, marathons and the like–but, in my late 40s, about 15 or so years ago, knee problems meant I couldn’t do it anymore. So I tried cycling but moved to kayaking.
GSB: How long did it take to get good at kayaking?
SP: I tried to race early on but I didn’t do well. It took me about 9 months to get a good paddle stroke. Then I started paddling to work.
GSB: Which was…?
SP: I was in the water treatment industry, making equipment to treat sewage…Anyway, in 2004, I’d started to get seriously interested in climate change and that led me to want, in 2005, to paddle to Adelaide in South Australia, about 3,000 km (1,865 miles) to build awareness.
GSB: That. Is. Amazing! Did you do it?
SP: Not right away. You see, I had a big motorcycle accident in the desert. Could’ve died but didn’t. At that time I resolved to make every day count. So I started to dive deep into climate change. In 2007, I talked to scientists and other experts. And then, since I’d healed up, I was ready to take the paddle from Brisbane to Adelaide. Took 4.5 months.
GSB: Holy Cow! I imagine the Australian media covered this, no?
SP: Yes, absolutely! The Aussie media covered the story–national TV, national radio and print. Also the Australian Water Association got behind us.
Steve Posselt (Photo credit: Steve Posselt)
GSB: OK, so what do you do for an encore?
SP: Next up, a dam was proposed for Queensland that would be an environmental disaster, so I did two paddles in relation to that–to build awareness and to give the activists on the ground an extra boost. The first one was a Brisbane-to-Brisbane paddle–up the Brisbane River, over the Conondale Ranges, down the Mary River and back home to Brisbane via the ocean. 1,000 km, that. Then, I did a Brisbane-to-Sydney paddle, another 1,000 km or so. This time I brought with me 3,200 letters to the Environment Minister. So attention was growing.
GSB: So did the dam get built?
SP: No, it didn’t. The federal government stopped it, citing seven areas that it failed under the Environment and Biodiversity Protection Act. Did you learn at school that mammals came from lungfish coming out of the water?
GSB: I vaguely remember something like that…
SP: …Well, one lungfish, 250 million years old and thus older than the dinosaurs, is native to two rivers in the world. One is the Mary, where the dam was proposed. It was important for the world that we stopped the dam on the Mary.
GSB: WOW!! What a testament to activism that was. What did you do next?
SP: Well, I had to back to work to make some money. So I rejoined the water industry in 2009…
GSB: …Makes sense. But somewhere, over the last few years, you morphed from long distance kayak trips within Australia to paddling from New Orleans to NYC and then from London to Paris and COP21. How did THAT come about?
SP: It was a bunch of things. The climate crisis got worse and worse. After enacting a Carbon Tax in 2011, we turned ’round and elected a Conservative Prime Minister who repealed the tax and plans to mine every bit of coal we’ve got–and we’ve got a lot of it…Right now, Australia exports enough coal in a year to wrap around the earth, 4 1/2 meters wide and 2 meters high–and we’re looking to triple that! So I had to do something. And I thought that something should include building awareness in the US of the climate crisis. And then, because our government does not represent the 75% of Australians who want something meaningful to come from COP21, I decided I needed to paddle there as well.
GSB: Hey, this is a global problem, or set of problems…
SP: Exactly! I wanted to connect climate chaos…
GSB: …I LOVE that term–climate chaos–that’s a new one to me!
SP: …Feel free to use it. Anyway, I want to connect the climate chaos that’s going on, from a fire tornado in Canberra (capital of Australia) to Katrina in New Orleans to Sandy in New York to the floods in the UK to drought in France.
Steve Posselt on his long distance paddle from New Orleans to New York City on a bayou near the Mississippi River. Posselt’s goals are to raise awareness about climate change and to turn awareness into meaningful action. (Photo credit: Steve Posselt)
GSB: OK, so you’re in New Orleans…how the heck do you kayak to New York City?
SP: I started on March 1st in the Gulf of Mexico at Lake Ponchartrain, paddled up the Mississippi to Memphis.
GSB: How many hours per day are you on the water?
SP: 6-8 hours most days.
GSB: Yikes! And is that a hard paddle out on the Mississippi?
SP: It varies but when it is tough, it’s life threatening a couple of times per day. That said you just adjust to the new normal. It is what it is. And then there was flooding in Memphis so I couldn’t go on. Bought a bike and rode to Greenville, NC.
GSB: How long was that?
SP: About 600 miles.
GSB: Piece of cake!
SP: Not bad. Then I get back in the kayak at the Tar River near Greenville and start heading north through the Intracoastal Waterway. It took me 4 weeks to get to New York City from that point.
GSB: Did the US media pick up on the story?
SP: Unfortunately, no, it was non-existent really.
GSB: The Australian press?
SP: Nope. Nowadays the mainstream Australian media is turned off by climate change.
GSB: This must get you down–paddling your heart out and no media coverage…
SP: Actually, not really. Sure, we’d love the coverage–no doubt about it. But we’ve met fascinating, fabulous people along the way and they’ll spread the word. So we’ll build things that way.
GSB: OK, so London to Paris…how does that work? You can’t kayak across the Atlantic, right? Right??
SP: Uh no. We took the QE2 across to Southampton in July and just started the paddle from Bristol, England. I’ll be kayaking through canals before I hit the Thames and head down to London. From there, it’s down to the English Channel and across to the coast of France, head south to the Seine, turn left and on to Paris.
GSB: And when will you arrive at The City of Lights and will you be attending COP21?
SP: We’re expecting to get there in mid-October. As for COP21, I will be at the Civil Society area, which can cope with 20,000 people
GSB: What will your message be to the media in the UK and in France?
SP: Simple–if we’re serious about taking action on climate change, we’ve got to do something about Australia and coal. When we dig a hole for a coal mine; that mine is so deep and big that the city of London could fit inside. We’ve got a situation right now where the public is largely against coal and natural gas fracking, but the prime minister and state governments are for it. We need to use COP21 to show Australia’s elected officials that they need to listen to the people on this one.
GSB: I wish you luck, good health and a lot of media coverage as you make your way to London. What you’re doing is, to quote Steve Jobs, “insanely great.”
SP: Thanks, man. I am really disappointed in the “macho” politicians who don’t have the balls to face up to the reality of climate change and yet pretend to the world that they are tough. Bloody cowards is what I’d call them. Hey, I’m 62 years old. I need to be able to look my grandkids in the eye and tell ’em I did what I could to set Australia and the world on a good path.
Ed. Note: To follow Steve’s journey to London and on to Paris, check out his diary here.
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