Jason Lewis, 49, is an award-winning British explorer who was the first person to circumnavigate the planet using nothing but human power. Jason was 26 and a window cleaner when he set off rowing, walking, cycling and roller-skating around the world. He thought it would take two or three years but it took 13. He regularly speaks about global sustainability and is the author of several books. Mike Peake quizzes him for The Ethicalist…
1. As an explorer and one of the few people to have crossed the planet, what’s the most important thing you’ve learned about earth?
I think it is that while there are many differences between cultures and many different beliefs, we all essentially want the same thing: we all want a healthy planet for our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. That’s the thing that I really took away from spending 13 years with people at a very organic level, sitting around their kitchen tables, sharing a meal.
2. What’s the hardest kilometre you’ve ever travelled?
I think it would have been when I was in my little boat out in the middle of the Pacific and for three weeks I was pedalling on the spot going nowhere in the Equatorial Counter Current. I would pedal for 18 hours a day, sleep, and then when I woke up a few hours later I was back where I’d started the previous morning. Every one of those kilometres was just torture because I knew that I was going to lose it within 24 hours. It was one of those learning things where I realised I just had to give up the notion of trying to get across the Counter Current and to focus on pedalling so that my RPMs got higher and I would peddle stronger. That was how I eventually got out.
3. Where’s your favourite place in the world and why?
I love the Solomon Islands, to the east of Papua New Guinea, because I found the people there to be very welcoming of outsiders. Not many tourists go there so when I rolled up in my boat and they were all in their dugouts it seemed like we instantly formed a bond and they took me in like family.
4. What gets you angry?
When people deliberately – for personal vested interests – decide not to believe in data and science that gives us some really good ideas of what we need to be doing as a species if we want a sustainable future. When our elected officials sweep that under the carpet for material gains, it really makes me angry.
5. If you were in charge of the world for a day, what would you introduce?
A rule that all plastic packaging needs to be biodegradable. One of the things that really gets me going is how much packaging all of our foodstuffs come in these days, and there is no reason why the packaging of everything from bottled drinks to vegetables from the supermarket cannot be 100 per cent biodegradable.
6. Where in the world is this rule most needed?
Mexico. For some reason they put everything in a bag – even if you go to buy a bag, they’ll put it in a bag! Then, five seconds outside of the shop the bag gets thrown away and it ends up littering the landscape.
7. What small change do you wish we’d all make every day?
It would be helpful if people ate less meat. Meat is a big contributor towards climate change – between 14 and 18 per cent – and factory farming causes a huge amount of suffering to animals. Eating too much meat is bad for personal health, too.
8. Who or what would you banish to outer space?
A very predictable answer, but I would have to say Donald Trump. I think we need to get rid of this guy somehow or other, so let’s stick him in an aluminium tube and pop him up there.
9. What’s the least appetising food you’ve ever been offered?
That has to be dog. I was given some in Laos, up in the highlands, and the weird thing was that it didn’t actually taste that bad at the time because I thought they were giving me frog. Once I realised I was eating dog it became disgusting, which is ridiculous, because it was just like any other meat, really.
10. If you had to cross the world again but this time with a famous person in tow, who would you pick?
Sacha Baron Cohen – he’s going to make the time pass quicker. Or Rick Gervais – he would be a good travel companion, too. Actually, Sacha Baron Cohen would probably get us killed.