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Swiss family, traveling the world to push action on climate change, stops in Mystic

Mystic — Sixteen years ago, Dario and Sabine Schwörer got aboard a 50-foot sailboat, determined to spread the message that climate change had already started to damage their beloved Swiss Alps and the rest of the world.

On Sunday at the Mystic Aquarium — more than 100,000 miles, seven seas and five kids later — the Schwörer family is still optimistic about the future of environmental activism.

The Schwörers advocate a small-scale, habitual approach to fighting climate change and environmental destruction. You don’t have to sail around the world or climb peaks on six continents, like they have, they say.

“There’s so many people talking about global warming,” Dario Schwörer said at the aquarium Sunday. "But the most important thing is action. What (people) can start the next day.”

The family has taken that idea to the extreme. Their sailboat, named Pachamama, Inca for Mother Earth, is powered only by solar and wind power. If they need to get anywhere on land, they bike or walk.

Calling their project the TOPtoTOP Global Climate Expedition, the family visits schools and communities to talk about their trip and try to convince people to help work against further damage to the planet.

The effort has brought them both to the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, where a historic deal was reached committing 195 countries to lowering planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions, and to schools in the U.S. where teachers would not even let the family use the phrase “global warming.”

The trip has been an exercise in learning to listen to other people and finding common ground, Dario Schwörer said.

“I think it’s so important to have this culture of understanding back,” he said. “We need to build bridges.”

The family, currently on a New England leg of their trip from Bar Harbor, Maine, to New York City, spent the day at the aquarium Sunday, presenting their photos and stories to visitors surrounded by tropical fish and Arctic mammals.

The four older children showed gifts they have picked up along the way — a mammal tooth, a turtle carved out of soapstone. They talked about seeing a polar bear swimming miles from shore, unable to find ice in the Arctic, spotting dolphins around the boat, and meeting people in countries all over the world.

“It’s awesome,” 11-year-old Selina Schwörer said, asked by a visitor about life on Pachamama. “I love to see new cultures, and new animals.”

The kids — ages 11, 9, 7, 5 and 1 — have seen more animals and cultures than many people ever see. Curious, smart and charming, they have lived their whole lives on the sailboat and in tents with their parents, food from intermittent shopping trips, and not much else.

“We love to show our lifestyle, where living light becomes a must,” Dario Schwörer said. “It’s good for our souls, not only good for the planet.”

The family is living especially light these days — Schwörer says they owe thousands of dollars to someone who loaned them money, and are trying to raise funds to pay it while at the same time continuing their educational programs and donating laptops to schools so students can connect across borders to learn more about climate change.

They’ll be in Connecticut for the next week, speaking at schools and clubs in the area before heading to Haiti.

And all seven Schwörers will stay powered by wind, sun and their own energy, along with an unflinching optimism.

“I'm really a big believer in building bridges between borders,” Dario Schwörer said as he flipped through a slideshow of pictures of his family’s adventures to a small audience in the aquarium Sunday. “I think we have to learn more and understand better.”


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