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Rosie Watson beim Laufen

Rosie Watson

Running Against The Climate Crisis

Adventurer Rosie Watson is hunkering down in Kosovo as borders have closed. But her inspiring climate activism is more important than ever.

Von Chris Cummins

As lockdown measures were imposed all over the world, we all found ourselves pretty much stuck, with borders closing and flights being cancelled.

For young British adventurer Rosie Watson that meant several weeks in a youth-hostel Kosovo. She was passing through the Balkans on her way, on foot, to Mongolia as part of a project to highlight and document the youth-led climate-activist projects that are springing up all over the world.

“The point of the New Story Run is connecting individual stories across the world and feeding them into something bigger,” she told me via Skype from the youth hostel in the western town of Prizren, “I mean a bigger vision and story of how we can live positively and tackle the climate crisis at the same time.”

Rosie Watson beim Laufen

Rosie Watson

An Incredible Journey

I first spoke to Rosie late last summer when she was making the final preparations to set off on her mission. I was researching stories for my series Fm4 Adventurous. Her plan, quite frankly, seemed almost incredible. I couldn’t get my head around it:

She was going to run all the way to the Far East with all her possessions on her back in a tiny rucksack containing an even smaller tent and basic provisions.

„I’m on my third pair of shoes“

While some adventurers take support cars, stay in hotels and even have masseurs, Rosie is travelling on an absolute shoe-string budget. Sometimes strangers have given her a couch or a bed for the night, but often she has slept outside. The cold ground seems an uncomfortable reward after running between 25km and 42km most days:

“Yeah it has obviously been quite hard at points,” she says, “and I am on my 3rd pair of shoes. But from the beginning the main focus was to not be injured in terms of how much I ran so that is why I have kept it really flexible and open with the route and never having a set schedule.”

Rosie Watson beim Laufen

Rosie Watson

She arrived in Austria at the onset of winter. “As soon as I got to the Alps, the snow hit and I was camping and bivouacking when I didn’t have people to stay with. So, it was cold but I had good gear and it was quite magical really. I think the sleeping outside, I love doing that even when it is cold so that wasn’t too bad.”

Adventure and Romance

Mike Elms

Radio FM4

Mike Elm

That positive attitude has stood her in good stead in this period of limbo. When Kosovo shut its borders. Even public transport was shut down as well as most shops and Rosie had to hitch her way from near the capital Pristina to the town of Prizren where her boyfriend Mike Elm had found a place to stay.

Mike, who visited Fm4 studios last autumn, is on a related adventure, inspired by that of Rosie. In November he set off on his bike from Austria to Mongolia, calling it the New Story Ride, and calculating his meandering route to intersect with Rosie’s route. Adventure and romance: what could be better?

Rosie Watson beim Laufen

Rosie Watson

Rosie says the pair struck gold with the Arra Hostel, run by a pair of kindly brothers, Ismail and Ardi. It’s friendly and cheap and a benefactor of their climate awareness project has offered to foot the accommodation bill for as long as they are stuck. The only real interaction they can have in this period of lockdown is with the brothers and the hostel’s three resident cats, one of which has just had kittens. Rosie is determined that the adventure should continue after this period of limbo: “I’m viewing it basically as a delay but not as something that changes anything in terms of what will happen in the future it will just take longer, obviously.”

Indeed, the couple’s aim of raising awareness of the good work being down by climate activists seems more important than ever. This COVID-19 crisis has, understandably, dominated the news headlines, but that doesn’t mean the much larger climate crisis has gone away.

A Much Bigger Crisis Looms

2020 is projected to be the warmest year ever recorded and a new report, published today, has suggested that by 2070 up to one third of the world’s population will be living in areas unsuitably hot for humans. At the same time, governments have suggested delaying climate action investment programs because of the economic disruption caused by COVID-19. We need climate advocates now more than ever. “We are just waiting and as soon as possible and safe we will carry on,” vows Rosie. “The climate crisis is still there so the adventure will still be there."

Rosie Watson beim Laufen

Rosie Watson

The truth is that this corona virus crisis should be a reminder of why sound environmental policies are more important.

Scientists say COVID-19 emerged because of our loss of respect for nature and biodiversity, they also point out to the link between high-death rates from the virus and areas of high fossil-fuel pollution.

A recent study that I covered for FM4 calculated that in just month in Europe alone there will have been 11,000 fewer air pollution-related deaths than in normal years.

The clear skies and loud bird song we hear are a reminder that a cleaner, healthier world is possible. "As Dr. Maria Neira of the World Health Organization puts it “the most important issue is that we need to make sure that after COVID-19, the recovery will be a healthy recovery, because we want to reduce vulnerability.”

As enviroment minister Leonore Gewessler told me last month: „Climate action solves two problems in one go.“

A New Cleaner Future?

The story of the fight against climate change has been one of delays and excuses. For example, it has always been declared unthinkable to reign in the era of cheap-flights. But who is planning that weekend city trip now? It has taken years of snail-paced developments to make space for cyclists and walkers, but now pop-up cycle and pedestrian lanes are appearing in several cities. This could be a new model for the future.

“The way that emissions have been reduced this past few weeks is not sustainable and we all hope we can move on,” Lauri Myllyvirta, of the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air, told me last week. “But in the next months, governments will be figuring out how to restart their economies. They will be figuring out their stimulus packages and, in those packages, clean energy and clean transport could be prioritized. At the same time this period of exceptionally good air quality could be something that could inspire action to reach these levels in a more sustainable way.”

Rosie Watson beim Laufen

Rosie Watson

Mike Elm says the lesson he has learned while watching the corona virus crisis from the Arra Hostel in Kosovo is that we can act urgently to tackle a crisis when we need to. “What we are seeing in terms of the massive global response here is that is changing what we thought was possible almost overnight. Governments have been able to do things over night that before would have seen unthinkable.”

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