A Tribute to Steve Sawyer: 'We've won many battles, but we're still losing the war to save the planet'.

03 09 2019 | 13:09Christopher Hopson

As the wind industry joins his family to remember Steve Sawyer, Recharge republishes a 2015 interview with one of renewable energy's most powerful advocates.

Steve Sawyer, the first director-general of the Global Wind Energy Council and a tireless champion of wind power, died in July aged 63. A memorial celebration will be held on Tuesday in Amsterdam, and as its own tributeRecharge republishes an interview from 2015 that captures the spirit of an extraordinary life.

What defining events from your earliest years have shaped your views? Growing up in the US in the 1960s: the two Kennedy and King assassinations; watching the Chicago ’68 events on TV; the moon launch in 1969; and of course the Watergate hearings in the summer of 1973.

When did you develop a passion for environmental and clean-energy issues? Rather late, during my last couple of years at university.

Which person has had the greatest influence on you? My wife and partner of 30-plus years, Kelly Rigg; she has civilised me... mostly.

What was your first job? I had my first seven-day-a-week job (delivering newspapers) at age ten, and many others prior to finishing my education.

What is the biggest political change you would like to see in your lifetime? For the UN to become democratic, functional and very powerful, in that chronological order.

If granted one wish about our global future, what would you change?I would like to become certain that human beings are in fact more intelligent than the proverbial frog in the pot of slowly heating water.

What do you most enjoy about your job? The ability to help create and to witness small changes in our energy system turn into large ones which are ultimately transformative.

What has been your greatest disappointment? Although we’ve won many battles, we are, ultimately... still losing the war to save the planet, or at least to save human civilisation from itself.

What else would you have done if you hadn’t gone into clean energy? I’ve spent my professional life split into three more or less equal pieces: I was involved with the Greenpeace campaign against nuclear tests, most famously in organising the Pacific voyage in 1985 which resulted in getting the Rainbow Warrior blown up by the French in New Zealand; climate change; and renewables and energy issues generally. Either of the others could have occupied me fully, I’m sure.

How do you relax? In my chair in the dining room of our Amsterdam flat, or on the porch of our lakeside camp in New Hampshire.

If you met your 20-year-old self, what would he say about you? “Who’s that old fart? What happened to his hair?”

What are your favourite song, book and film? Layla; The Lord of the Rings; The Shawshank Redemption.

What is your favourite mode of transport? Sailing vessel.

What characteristics do you most admire and deplore in people?Admire: honesty; deplore: a sense of entitlement.

And what are your best and worst characteristics? Best: honesty; worst: procrastination.

The most important lesson you have learned? Humility.

Where and when are you happiest? Any July/August on the porch of our lakeside camp in New Hampshire, when the whole family is there – the aforementioned Ms Rigg, plus daughter Layla and son Sam.

What is the biggest practical way you try to live out your green ideals in your daily life? I sold my last car in 1988.


27 August 2019



Watch this video summarising the outstanding life and work of a brilliant man, Steve Sawyer.

Made with affection and humour by Brian Fitzgerald and Maarten Van Rooveroy.