Man Walks Across America; Speaks With Boston Daily

1218830356“He’s Swiss. He should be on time,” says Emil Wyss, deputy consul for the Swiss Consulate. As I try to figure out if he’s making a joke about Swiss watches, Dr. Martin Vosseler appears. He is on time (it’s noon), and he arrives at the Public Garden after walking 3,500 miles from L.A.—eight and a half months on U.S. roads in nothing but walking sandals (yes, sandals). Eight million steps to raise awareness about solar energy. From L.A. to Boston. In sandals. What was that like?
On January 1, 2008, Dr. Vosseler, a sixty-year old Swiss physician, begins walking from Los Angeles. He pulls a wheelbarrow-like apparatus behind him. It’s holding a tent, some clothes and is covered in a blue cloth featuring a smiling sun. He hits snowstorms in Arizona and heat waves in Virginia. An average day is well over 20 miles, and he clocks over 38 miles one day. When the road blisters his feet and tears at his calves, he thinks about the Boston Common and repeats his favorite poems. Hundreds of thousands of people speed past the gray-haired, transient-looking figure. And perhaps they paused long enough to wonder why the old man was singing hymns at full throat.

“That’s who I did it for,” says Dr. Vosseler. “I did it to raise their awareness of the potential of solar energy. They’d see me and think, ‘Is he homeless? What is that strange man doing?’ But then I hope they turned on their television or went to my website and learned what I was doing.”

What started as a passion for non-nuclear proliferation became a fascination for solar power for Dr. Vosseler in the 1990s. In 1995 Dr. Vosseler quit his practice in Switzerland to advocate full-time for 100 percent renewable energy practices. In 2003, he walked from Basel, Switzerland, to Bethlehem to advocate for solar energy. And, last year, he was the first person to cross the Atlantic in a solar-powered boat, “The Cataraman Sun21.”

The lessons he learned as a physician translate into his new role as an environmental activist. “The energy we use—coal, gas, and oil—is killing us. It’s like an arterial bleeding. You have to stop the bleeding,” he says. For Dr. Vosseler, it’s simply illogical not to rely on the sun’s energy. “It already provides 99 percent of our energy,” he explains. “Without the sun, the earth would be -400 F, a dead, black planet. We have the technology, now we just need the will,” he admonishes.

He’s certainly provided his.


Dr. Vosseler will give a lecture tonight at the Consulate of Switzerland, 420 Broadway, Cambridge, at 6:00PM.