Swiss family warns Portland about climate change

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PORTLAND — The last time the Schwörer family went grocery shopping, they were in Honolulu in May.

On Oct. 28, Dario Schwörer, Sabine Schwörer, and their children Salina, Andri, Noe, Alegra and Mia were at Ri Ra Irish Pub on Commercial Street to share warnings about climate change, rising sea levels and environmental damages they have seen in 16 years of sailing around the globe.

“How many times have you touched your cell phone today?” Dario Schwörer asked. “How many times have you hugged a tree?”

Welcomed by Mayor Ethan Strimling, members of the Natural Resources Council of Maine, and International Institute for Energy Conservation Chairman and President Rob Pratt, the Schwörers shared photos and experiences from their sailing trip around the Northwest Passage through the Arctic linking the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

It is a fabled route pursued by explorers for centuries, and now navigable by the 50-foot sailboat that is home to the Schwörers for 10 or 11 months a year. That the family made the trip without needing an icebreaker was not a source of pride for them.

Instead, it highlighted the perils of melting ice and thawing permafrost that is harming the lives of people and wildlife.

“I was afraid there, we would be stuck in the ice and there would be blizzards,” Andri Schwörer said of the Northwest Passage. “It turned out I was (in) bare feet.”

Dario and Sabine Schwörer are mountain climbers who decided to traverse the seven seas and climb the highest peaks on each continent, driven in part by glacial melting in the Alps.

“Our motivation was, our office was melting away,” Dario said.

What was envisioned as a four-year venture has quadrupled in time and the size of the family is not done yet. The children, who range in age from 10 months to 11 years old, were each born on different continents. All are integral to the family’s outreach, especially to school children all over the globe.

The family now works through the nonprofit TOPtoTOP, and their vessel, the Pachamama, has wind turbines and solar panels to generate electricity. Navigation gear, radios, computers other systems are provided by companies looking to test their products, Schwörer said.

The family’s travels have be tracked at toptotop.org, where donations can can also be made.

On land, the family hikes and bikes and sleeps in tents as they explore best practices for sustainability and get first-person accounts on damages caused by environmental problems and warming temperatures.

The melting Arctic ice and thawing permafrost have depleted hunting grounds and housing for wildlife and Inuit populations, Schwörer said.

“We have seen many polar bears just dropping and starving,” Schwörer said. “If we don’t act now, we don’t see polar bears in future.”

The family has also learned of African families walking six hours for potable water, when waiting even longer to draw it. A return trip to the Galapagos Islands off South America showed the effects of erosion on shorelines, and Schwörer said some islands have just disappeared completely.

At sea, the family has seen and felt environmental damages.

“What has really stressed us is all the plastic we are seeing in the ocean. There is a huge continent of plastic sitting in the north Pacific,” Dario said, adding, “Since we have started sailing, the storms are more frequent and violent.”

While their mission is global, the Schwörers endorse small local steps that can be taken at each stop. Dario complimented Strimling for efforts in Portland such as the planned solar farm at the former Ocean Avenue landfill that will generate power for City Hall.

Reducing consumption is more than just altruistic, he said.

“When we realize less is more, we will be much happier,” Schwörer said.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

The Schwörer family sailed the Northwest Passage from Alaska to Newfoundland while observing effects of climate change on the Arctic. They shared details of their journey Oct. 28 in Portland.

Mia Schwörer reaches for her father, Dario Schwörer, while being held by her mother, Sabine Schwörer, on Oct. 28 at Ri Ra Irish Pub in Portland. The Schwörer family, with Alegra in front, recounted their voyage through the Northwest Passage.

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.