Ecologist sails from Maine to Miami teaching climate awareness

By Louis Bettcher | Oct 02, 2017
Courtesy of: Dave Oakes Dave Oakes stands on the deck of his boat Tusen Takk, which he will be sailing from Maine to Miami.

Hope — Dave Oakes, co-founder of the Center for Ecological Living and Learning, is embarking on a trip down the Atlantic seaboard on his 35-foot sailboat, Tusen Takk. Oakes will be making a series of stops in ports of call along the coast, holding mini-workshops and giving talks on climate change and environmental awareness, before reaching his final destination in Florida.

Oakes departed from Thomaston Oct. 2, and the first stop on his educational tour will be the Waynflete School in Portland, where he will engage students in a discussion of climate change, environmental protection and sustainable living. Oakes' visit to Waynflete will be followed by stops at schools and libraries in Cape Cod, New York City and Washington D.C., before reaching the Carolinas as he sails south.

The boat that will be his home for this voyage is an Island Pocket 350 cutter rig with two foresails, that can sleep up to six people, and is moored by Oakes in Rockport harbor. Tusen Takk, whose name means "one thousand thanks" in Norwegian, is equipped with solar and wind power, and even a composting toilet, making it an appropriate vessel for spreading Oakes' eco-friendly message.

Oakes expects to spend the next six months on this educational voyage south, flying back to Maine in November to spend Thanksgiving with his family.

Thirteen years ago, Oakes and his wife, Sue, founded CELL, a nonprofit organization, after returning from Botswana. They had spent three years in the African country: David was overseeing the environmental education department at the University of Botswana, while Sue raised their children.

“There was a lack of environmental education at the time, and I saw firsthand some of the environmental problems. I worked to infuse environmental education into the curriculum, and highlight the relationship between the environment and the economy. If you want people to visit a place, you need to have a healthy environment,” Oakes said Sept. 27.

CELL offers a series of study-abroad programs in locations ranging from South America to Scotland and Iceland, where adults are immersed in sustainable lifestyle practices. Living in sustainable communities, Oakes says students return from the programs reinvigorated and prepared to take a leadership role to “make this planet a better place to live.” College credits for the programs are offered by CELL's academic partner, Northland College in Wisconsin.

Sitting at his home in Hope, which harnesses sun and wind to generate electricity, Oakes said he was reluctant to use the term "environmentalist" to describe himself because of the political associations that the label usually conjures up. He emphasized that climate change and environmental awareness and action should be nonpartisan issues because they affect everyone.

The courses offered by CELL, like the talks that Oakes will be giving on his sailing voyage, are referred to as Climate Action Now programs. The goal of these, Oakes said, is to "find proactive solutions, commonsense solutions that focus on sustainability and find a common ground among people." A lifelong explorer and lover of the outdoors, Oakes even designed his business card to echo his attention to the environment: it is a thin strip of recycled paper, printed with soy-based ink and embedded with wildflower seeds so that it can be planted in the ground.

Through his experience sharing environmental concerns with the public, Oakes said one of the common themes he has heard when asking people how they feel about the changing earth is a sense of overwhelmed hopelessness; a sense that the problems associated with global warming and climate change are too great for any one person to effect a change upon them:

"This is an issue that has been framed to be political, but once I speak with people and start 'unpacking' their feelings about climate change, I want to give them a sense of hope -- hope that change for the good is possible. Without that sense of hope, people aren't going to take action."

Oakes points to a 2017 study conducted by Yale University that found that six out of 10 Americans are worried about climate change. Another study, conducted by the American Lung Association in 2016, found that more than half of the U.S. population lives amid dangerous air pollution, and 166 million Americans live in areas that have unhealthy levels of either ozone or particle pollution.

Making his jaunt down the coast on a boat seems an appropriate means of highlighting one of the biggest environmental concerns to Oakes: the warming of the ocean.

"As the Earth's temperature continues to rise, 92 percent of this excess heat is being stored in the oceans," said Oakes, who added that this rise in water temperature results in ocean acidification, coral bleaching and a significant loss of vital marine habitat.

Oakes has never sailed as far on Tusen Takk as this trip from Maine to Miami. Asked if he was apprehensive about making the voyage in the wake of a recent profusion of hurricanes, Oakes laughed and said, "This is the prime time to do this." Nonetheless, in the interest of safety and under authority of the Coast Guard, Oakes will have to wait until Nov. 15 to depart Cape Hatteras, N.C., before proceeding south.

Through CELL's website, Oakes has cast his net wide, seeking volunteer crew members who will sail for legs of the trip, from one port to another, and he is still receiving emails from people who want to participate in the voyage and help on the boat. As he makes his way down the eastern seaboard, people interested in his mission can view blog entries from Oakes' travels via

"I want people to be inspired to take action and make a difference. We can find win-win solutions to these problems, and [with these talks], I want to invite that level of conversation. We have the skills and knowledge to solve this -- the greatest challenge the human race has ever faced," said Oakes.

Comments (2)
Posted by: VALERIE ANN ORR | Oct 03, 2017 10:46


Posted by: Colleen Richmon | Oct 03, 2017 08:06

Thank you for this outstanding article about Dave Oakes and his work concerning climate change.  I will definitely be watching the blog of his trip and for other environmental activities from his website. I would not have known about this had it not been for your article.  Excellent article.  Excellent work, Dave Oakes.

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