Roc Sandford has only left the tiny Scottish island where he lives off the grid once in the last year to get a Covid vaccine. He’s been left with the birds, sheep, and clear sky for the rest of his life.His days are busy but evenings can be lonely; cooking for one is “very sad”, he says. At the moment, he is enjoying some wine sent by a friend, eking out the six bottles by sipping from a thimble-sized glass. Despite his commitment to a close-to-zero carbon footprint, he misses socialising with friends and family. “I work very hard and very productively in this beautiful, beautiful natural environment, without the compromises one has to make elsewhere. But I can’t go to the pub.”
Sandford, 62, is speaking to the Observer from a small shed atop a hill on Gometra, in the Inner Hebrides, just a few minutes’ walk from his home. He can get 4G from a mast on the nearby island of Coll, which is 20 miles away. His link to the rest of the world, his four children, and a network of environmental activists are the signal.
Currently, he is focusing his efforts on Ocean Rebellion, a sister organization to Extinction Rebellion, a climate action organization. It employs destructive, nonviolent tactics to combat habitat depletion, overfishing, the ocean’s effects from the climate emergency, and deep-sea mining.
“The oceans are dying, and if they die, we die. Ocean Rebellion has been set up to help stop it,” says Sandford. The group is challenging bodies such as the International Maritime Organization, which, he says, is in “complete denial” over the climate crisis.
“I call them stealth organisations because very few people know about the IMO, and yet it has immense power over our futures, our children’s futures and the futures of people all over the world. And so we try to bring them into the limelight.”
Sandford’s isolation on Gometra prevents him from participating in what he refers to as “creative deeds,” but he does assist in their coordination from his communications cabin on the hill. “Orchestration is an exaggeration – I am an orchestral instrument,” he says. “And essentially, everybody in this ensemble needs to be an instrument, and everyone needs to start playing the melody.
“We’re playing Russian roulette, with a gun pointed at our children, with five bullets instead of just one in the chamber, and we go on pulling the trigger until it goes off. That’s basically what climate and nature breakdown are.”
The baton of climate activism has been passed down to Stanford’s adult children. One works for an environmental think tank, and the other three have also been involved in campaigns. Blue, his youngest child, and her brother, Lazer, occupied a network of tunnels near London’s Euston station earlier this year to draw attention to the environmental damage that activists claim the HS2 high-speed rail line would cause.
Sandford says the protest was “worth risking your life for… if you’re really unfortunate and you die, it was definitely worth it in the war” in a television show called Stacey Dooley Sleeps Over, which will air on W channel on May 17 at 10 p.m. Sandford says the protest was “worth risking your life for… if you’re really unlucky and you die, it was probably worth it in the fight.” He tells the Observer, “I don’t want to take any unnecessary risks.” But if there’s a situation where taking unavoidable risks is needed to drive progress, I believe it’s justified.”
Despite his concerns for his children’s wellbeing, he points out that they were taught risk management as they grew up on the island. “Gometra is a dangerous place,” says the narrator. They were raised with me instilling a sense of protection in them. They’ve applied it to their activism.”
Sandford first became aware of environmental concerns as a teenager, when he saw farmers being paid to uproot hedges in order to increase agricultural efficiency. “I recall being utterly depressed about it.” Later, he became radicalized over salmon farming, which he describes as “disastrous” for both farmed and wild fish.
He bought Gometra nearly 30 years ago after selling some property left to him by his grandparents. While his children attended school in London, as ordered by a court order, he divided his time between the two cities, traveling 17 hours by train, bus, ferry, and foot. While he plans to visit his family in London and friends in France this summer, Gometra is now his full-time residence.
The island is breathtakingly beautiful, but it is impoverished in every way: there is no electricity, running water, stores, cars, or medical assistance. Sandford produces as much food as he can and gets the rest from the ferry. He wears layers and washes his clothes in a bucket of cold water to shield himself from the wind that blows across the island. He cheerfully declares that his herbal tea froze in its mug last week.
Is owning an island making it easier to be environmentally aware and reduce your carbon footprint? He responds, “It’s a reasonable question.” “I’m acutely aware of both how fortunate I am and how far I still have to go.” But, he adds, everybody can help by driving less, flying less, consuming less meat and fish, and turning down the thermostat.
“I don’t judge people. It’s not about judgment, it’s about figuring out how we get out of this terrible mess that we’re all in. People need to first understand what’s happening, understand how serious the breakdown of the climate and the breakdown of nature is. It’s real and it’s coming for their children. It needs attention. So, understand first, and then talk about it, because the silence is lethal. Given what we know, I don’t understand why people aren’t screaming.”
Sisters Blue and Savannah discuss their decision not to have children due to the climate crisis on the TV show. Savannah tells Dooley, tearfully, that her father is distraught.Sandford confirms this. “I feel extremely sad about it,” he says. “I want grandchildren. My advocacy to [my daughters] is to have children; people have had children in very serious circumstances throughout history. So, yes, I’m sad.” But, he adds, “It’s not just my children, there are loads of young women who’ve decided not to have children [because of the climate crisis], and we shouldn’t be putting them in that position.”
Despite his daughters’ decision and his children’s chance of being exposed to danger as a result of their advocacy, he has no regrets about educating them about the realities of the climate crisis. “Everyone needs to teach, including us.”
He adds: “As a parent, there’s an invisible umbilical cord between you and your children. And there’s a moment when you sense it going, when you sense their autonomy. That’s happened only recently to me. But I want them to follow their own path, whatever path that is.”
He sounds a bit unsure about where his own path is leading. “I’m not sure what the future holds for me. I’m really happy here, but there are a lot of things I have to give up.”
He’s glad he has to walk up to his shed to enter the outside world, despite the arrival of 4G being “transforming.” “It’s fortunate that it doesn’t hit my house – it really does work to not [be connected] unless you want to be. However, I believe that these days are numbered. At some point, a mast would almost certainly hit my home. And that’ll be a pity.”
Source: The Guardian