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Steve Sawyer, 1956-2019

A place to share memories of an unforgettable colleague and friend

“A man is not dead while his name is still spoken”

— Terry Pratchett

Go straight to the stories in the comments

Steve passed away July 31st, 2019, of a sudden and aggressive lung cancer.

We are gathering stories to celebrate his extraordinary life – simply leave a comment below, and do remember to either log in or sign your comment with your name.

Update March 2020: Thank you to everyone who donated funds in Steve’s memory, to be applied in support of young activists working for a safe climate and clean energy future. An announcement regarding this programme will be made soon.

Obituaries in the press:

The New York Times
The Times (London)
The Economist
The Washington Post
The Monadnock Ledger
Renato Redentor Constantino
Greenpeace International

From the Antrim, New Hampshire memorial:

Songs Steve Sawyer loved – a playlist
Winslow (Tom) Sawyer speaks about growing up with Steve
John Cascino reads a remembrance from Peter Lamb

From the Amsterdam memorial:

Recording of the Livestream (Adobe Flash required)
Andy Stirling Tribute
eter Bahouth Tribute
Tribute Video

Go straight to the stories in the comments

Join the Conversation


  1. How lucky to have crossed Steve’s path in so many occasions, in so many different parts of the world in the last 10 years. Will treasure all our conversations, specially the one I now realise has been the last. Steve was such an inspiration, he will be deeply missed. My condolences to his wife and family.


  2. Heartbroken at the news, having known (and photographed) Steve during my years on IISD’s Earth Negotiations Bulletin team, late in his time with Greenpeace and into his time leading GWEC. Though I’m a few years removed from the those days now, I grieve with Duncan, Remi, Karen and many others. My prayers are with Kelly and the family.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I knew Steve in high school. I remember Steve was debating another classmate who was the best bassist, Jack Bruce of Cream or Felix Papalardi of Mountain. He turned to me with the question and without hesitation I agreed that Bruce was the clear choice. Until his passing I had no idea how he’d led his life and the impact he’d had helping all of us; I regret not having had the chance to personally thank him. This will have to do, thank you Steve.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I knew Steve for a short time, but he left an impression. Always willing to teach, to share and to support. A assionate advocate and a wonderful human being. I’m sure he touched many thoughout his life, however briefly they were lucky enough to know him.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. So shocked and saddened to hear this. I have so many great memories of Steve I don’t even know where to start. It was one of the great privileges of my life to not only have worked with him and Kelly for four wonderful years but to have been entrusted so many times with the care of their wonderful daughter Layla, one of the true loves of my life. I am especially grateful to Steve for letting me live one of my dreams – singing with the band! I was terrible but he, and the others, were gracious! The world is a better place for having had Steve in it, and a poorer one for losing him. All my love to Kelly, Layla Rose and Sam – rest in peace, Steve. Katinka

    Liked by 4 people

  5. Steve and I each joined Greenpeace about the same time – within days after it opened an east coast office in Boston, We were canvassers, living poor but doing what we thought was most important. But Steve was more. He read everything, and soon, no one in the office knew nearly as much as he did about the harp seal hunt and all its contextual surround. We campaigned together in Newfoundland. We were all lucky to know Steve.
    I’d like to say that I learned a lot from Steve, but the truth is that I pretty much just observed him, awestruck at how brilliant he was, how knowledgeable he was, and how good he was at everything. I’m glad, but not surprised, that he became the leader and the influencer of global significance that he was. He made the world a better place and nudged humanity in a more constructive and sustainable direction. We were lucky to know Steve.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Aagh. So sorry to hear this. What a terrible loss of Steve’s family and friends – and everyone on the planet. The climate movement badly needs people with the fierce intelligence, integrity, passion and humanity of Steve. With his move to the GWEC he was one of the people who inspired me to make a career move from fighting dams to building solar. When the history of the great energy transition is written, he’ll be there as one of its heroes.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Rest in Peace Steve. Like so many have said, I benefitted from his generosity. He answered every silly question I had on climate change in the first couple years I worked for CAN. He always had time for the newbies and thus ensured our commitment to the cause was eternal. I will always be grateful.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. My condolences to Steve’s family on his passing. Steve graciously met with me during COP 2007 in Bali. Although I was a newcomer to the industry, Steve engaged with me as a peer, which I’ll always appreciate. His passion and no-nonsense approach were contagious. He’ll be missed!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Yesterday was a sad day. I turned on my computer as every morning to read the newand the first line of RECharge was about Steve.
    I’ve known Steve since I started my carreer in the Renewable energy industry. He was so engaged in the emerging markets: Brazil and Mexico back in 2009/2010.
    He would go to each of the small wind events by then to make sure someone was there advocating for the region.

    Everytime we met he would tell me: you know you have the same name as my daugher – Layla. 🙂
    And I enjoyed hearing that every time!

    My heart goes with his faimily.
    He will be missed in the industry events. His honest opinions and statements – not afraid of what we could be hearing back.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Steve Sawyer, humping that great battered briefcase (his “office” as he called it) along the corridors of wind power the world over. Tirelessly toiling from conference to conference, exhibition to exhibition, meeting to high-level meeting, relentlessly fighting time the climate does not have. Despite a gruelling self-imposed schedule that few half his age would have managed, he was never without time to pause for a friend or colleague, to share a word of wisdom, a sentence of support, a commendation or a crusty complaint.

    As campaigner and editor, respectively, Steve and I were co-dependents. I shared with him a mutual respect and trust not always achieved with others in his line of business. The global wind industry was immensely lucky in attracting Steve at a time when his sharp campaigning edges had been smoothed to perfection by his years at the front in Greenpeace. His achievements in getting the right wind power policy into place in the right country at the right time are already the stuff of legends.

    A little dishevelled, sometimes jet-lagged unkempt, Steve ran out of time for himself. I thank his family, whom I never met, for their generosity in giving Steve time to devote his prodigious passion and persuasive abilities to speeding the course of wind energy’s growth. It was time well spent.

    Lyn Harrison

    Liked by 1 person

  11. It feels like losing Steve is like losing a brother. He and I grew up together in Greenpeace, starting as volunteers at our local Greenpeace offices, where opportunities to invent the organization out of whole cloth were still possible. I don’t remember the first time I actually met Steve, but eventually – in those very early years of scrappy anarchy and seat of the pants organizing (we were very young), he and I ended up in many meetings together (with many others), trying to figure out how to corral the best attributes of the organization, realize its potential, or simply to prevent things from coming unglued. I wish I had great campaign stories to tell about Steve, because campaigning was so much more fun than trying to create an organizational architecture out of a lot of DIY materials. Steve’s skills navigating the internal politics of Greenpeace were as formidable as his campaign ability. Being part of that strange and fraught side of the organization in those early years was bearable largely because of Steve. While we began as peers, I eventually considered him a mentor.
    And it’s a good thing that he figured out how to lead by example, because in all honesty, he could do everyone else’s job as well or better than we could; and he certainly had the wherewithal to manage the organization’s growth and evolution while running campaigns, fixing engines and taking apart his own computer. Steve could hold thousands of facts in his formidable brain and seemed to remember everything. He was brilliant, fearless and cunning, and as humble as they come.
    Once when he was staying at our house in Takoma Park, while he was running GPI and probably putting out some stupid fire at GPUSA, he fixed a broken lamp that we figured we’d just have to throw away. I remember saying—don’t you have more important things to do? And he answered that sometimes it’s nice to just do something uncomplicated and simple, but still useful. It’s like he was just irrepressibly compelled to make things work right.
    Steve was truly consequential in the organization and in the world. His great legacy—apart from many big, important environmental wins—is all of us who had the good fortune to work with him and benefit from his inspiration and actions.
    My heart breaks for Kelly and Layla and Sam, and for all of Steve’s friends and family around the world. Courage, power, and love to all who mourn his passing.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. That’s a wonderful set of memories Kay, which resonates with me and my intersections with Steve in the earlier days of Greenpeace, and beyond. Steve’s analysis of virtually any problem be it political, organizational or mechanical, was spot on. He cared so deeply about people and the planet, and took the time to listen to people, to parse their ideas and consider how best to utilize them. His love and knowledge of music provided an antidote to our global angst. Steve was an earth hero; we need many more of them today, and his insights and energy will be sorely missed.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. I knew Steve Sawyer not as a captain, a warrior, or an activist…but as a long-haired hippie freshman at Haverford College in 1974. I was his customers person, assigned to show them the ropes, be his friend, and answer any questions he might have.

    We immediately became fast friends, and I spent much of the next two years at college in the delightful company of Steve and John Cascino. We spent countless hours listening to Eric Clapton, and one of our great delights was to wait until midnight and blast “After Midnight” throughout the freshman dorm.

    Steve, along with Rusty King (another Haverfordian who also, sadly has left this earth) were the only two people who consistently beat me at Scrabble. Much though that irritated me, I still make use of the many words they taught me in my games today.

    Steve had a wicked sense of humor, and I remember one birthday dinner at a very fancy restaurant in Philly where Steve surreptitiously erased part of the U on the blackboard menu and then demanded to have Dick with Orange Sauce for dinner as advertised. They were not amused, but we were beside ourselves with laughter.

    Two incidents really portray the kind, thoughtful and generous person Steve was. The first was when my daughter was studying in Florence for a semester abroad and tried to get tickets to a concert in Amsterdam but was unable to get them in Italy. I contacted Steve and, to the best of my memory, either he or Layla actually stood in line to get the tickets and handed them over to Alexa when she went to pick them up at his house in Amsterdam.

    The second instance was when my niece was delivering a presentation at the Paris climate summit. Once again, I contacted Steve and asked him to seek her out. Not only did he seek her out, but he sat next to her and offered her words of encouragement which she remembers to this day. That’s the kind of man Steve was.

    Steve was a force of nature and went on to do the great work for which he will always be remembered. But, mostly, I will remember him for the kind, funny and extraordinarily decent man I met 45 years ago. Steve will always loom large in my heart and my memory. I am blessed to have known him and will miss him terribly.

    My heart goes out to Kelly, Layla and Sam. I send you much love.

    Jill O Lawrence

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Knew Steve at Haverford. Always smiling, in his own groove, somehow looking relaxed and intense at the same time. Followed his Greenpeace activities with awe. So proud the read of his achievements, regretting his early passing. Jonah Salz, Kyoto

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Since hearing the news about Steve hardly a minute passes without thinking about him and Kelly.
    I’ve tried a few times to add a comment – but each time I started the screen just went blurry… Now a little time has passed.
    I remember sitting with him, and Roger Wilson, on a blue couch in Keizersgracht, as we discussed the forthcoming expedition to the Persian Gulf after the 1991 Gulf War. I felt a remarkable confidence that he trusted me on such an issue that had created strong internal arguments. I felt he was tense; he asked probing questions; but in the end he was sure that it was the right thing to do – it was, and, we did it.
    We (along with Kalee Kreider and many others) plotted the challenge to BP’s Northstar rig off Alaska. Whenever I visited Amsterdam I stayed with Steve and Kelly – as have many others over the years. Their home was often a home for visiting Greenpeacers. We spent hours in that basement office of his, littered with papers and memorabilia. It would take just a word or sentence about some historical fact or figure and Steve would regale me with the whole story, with anecdotes, commentaries, and – of course – his opinions.
    Later we were in Alaska – together with Duncan Currie – battling the BP Northstar offshore rig, taking apart the EIA. Steve’s persistence, clarity, commitment, and example were some of my best learnings.
    We also had some fun. At the 2001 climate COP7 in Marrakech, one evening we visited the souk in which a couple of the retailers dressed us both in Arabic clothes. I still have the photograph.
    Steve was so quick thinking and quick witted; he had short words for those without loyalty and commitment. He sometimes got frustrated at my limited digital/internet skills – they’re still limited!! But I remember the look of delight on his face when, at the start of the 2002 World Summit in Joburg, Steve managed to make a greenlink box – I’ve probably got that wrong – but he built it so that the whole team could have internet connections independently. This was before the days of wireless networks everywhere.
    My last meeting with Steve was in Buenos Aires where, in his Secretary General role, GWEC were organising their first wind energy conference in Argentina. He hadn’t changed much – still that chuckle and sparkle in his eyes – and short-shrift for anyone that he believed were untrue to the cause and/or the organisation.
    As many have written – Steve was impressive in so many ways and for those who knew him – there will be a part of him that will stay. He was also loving, and gentle, but he could also be fierce when needed. He is a great loss – but his spirit and memory will for the rest of my time – always be a shining light.

    Liked by 7 people

  15. I’m so sorry to hear about Steve, I was shocked and just like so many others felt Steve’s enormous generosity in sharing with newcomers (me starting at CAN Europe in 2005) his experience, his wisdom, his time and his ability to work with everyone in tackling the huge challenge of climate change. He did so much during his lifetime that impacted and inspired so many people, me included and I always remember him walking through the climate conference with his earpiece talking to someone and how he always volunteered for the editors shift for the Eco magazine. His knowledge on climate change crossed so many themes and I will forever be grateful that I was able to walk on this earth the same time as Steve.

    Sending all my love to Steve’s family – Kelly, Layla and Sam whom Steve was so immensely proud of and was so generous in sharing his news. Kirsten Macey

    Liked by 1 person

  16. It was very difficult to find one memory to share, or at least (maybe) one memory I felt comfortable to share. I knew Steve first when he was International Executive Director of GPI, and I was the first lawyer at Greenpeace UK. During many campaigns both successful and not (yet) successful, GPI and GPUK got into legal hot water, and then we had to work closely together Steve, his lawyer (Duncan), our ED (Peter Melchett RIP) and I. During the Brent Spar campaign, of course one of the most successful, we had alot to do with each other. Along with all the logistics, actions, communications, media, and other considerations, we ended up involved in many lawsuits whether because we brought cases to try & stop the dumping of the Spar or because Shell were desperately trying to stop GP activists, lead by Jon Castle (RIP), the Captain of the Spar at that time, from boarding/re-boarding/staying on board. So that’s the background.

    As GPUK lawyer I was at the forefront of the legal battles, and deeply involved in all the campaign decisions etc, working closely with (among others Chris Rose, then GPUK’s Programme Director) and Peter. So, there came a time when we needed to make a pretty quick decision involving the combination of actions and legals and we needed some particular financial back-up from GPI. I remember one call with Steve where I discussed the situation, and what we had in mind to try (legally) to gain a few more days out at sea on or near the Spar which was then under tow to the dump site. I needed to ask him for financial backing – ie to commit a certain, large amount of GPI funds should it be required, in order to take this step. I realised he didn’t understand, why would he?, all the ins and outs of the legal strategy, but he fully backed the plan and gave his agreement. I asked him: “what more do you need from me to make this happen?” and he answered “nothing, I’ve spoken to you, that’s enough”. He asked me, “what do you need from me now?” and I could say, “nothing, I have your word, that’s enough.”

    I will never forget this – it was a combination of total understanding, total faith, total trust and was immensely helpful to me personally even though I’m sure we never needed to get that large sum of money. This was Steve at his best (me at my most worried probably) and in being his best, he calmed me and made me remember and believe (again) that a group of committed individuals could really achieve everything and anything.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Except Sarah, Steve wasn’t ED during the Brent Spar campaign. He wasn’t involved as far as I can remember. He left the ED’s job in 1993. Thilo Bode was ED during the 1995 Brent Spar campaign. I remember it clearly: it was the same year as Chirac resumed testing and the 10th anniversary of the bombing of the Warrior. And I’d been up til 4 am for the first nuclear test in the Pacific, and had to get up and back to the office b/c Melchett had apologised to Shell. Later that year Ken Saro Wiwa died. it was a bad year for Shell. And Thilo then began his campaign to move GPI Comms from London to Amsterdam, something he managed to achieve the following year in 1996.


      1. I think (stretching my memory here) that Despo aka Steve D’Esposito was the ED (formally the Interim ED) when Brent Spar began. Thilo may have commenced during it but I’m pretty sure it started under Despo. Well after my time so can’t be sure.


      2. You are right Paul – Thilo actually became the IED towards at the end of the Brent Spar campaign. He had just taken up the post before the great celebrations in the German office warehouse.


  17. I am so saddened to hear this news. Steve was a hero of mine from before I even started work (many moons ago) when he was still with Greenpeace. I’m honoured to have known him and learned so much from him throughout my working life. I interviewed him many times over the years and sat chatting with him over a drink or two at countless conferences and exhibitions. He was always a joy to talk to, going back to my first nervous interview with one of my heroes when he was still at Greenpeace and then throughout his time at GWEC thanks to my work covering the wind power industry. He was a true giant of the environment and energy sector and all of us owe him so much.
    And yet, my fondest memory of Steve has to be simply the two of us standing on the deck of a boat for an evening GWEC conference trip in Shanghai, chatting about anything other than wind power just for a little while, drinking, and taking in the beautiful views, before heading off with the GWEC gang for cocktails. I can still see his big warm cheeky smile now and hear his laugh. I could add so much more, but would only echo what others have said. At the end of the day, it was a true honour to have known Steve – he will always remain a hero to me. Rest in peace you lovely, lovely, man.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Chocked over the news of Steve’s premature departure from life. My thoughts go to his family in this sad time.
    I had the honor and pleasure to meet and talk to Steve many times during my five years on the Board of the European Wind Energy Association. He always found time to talk and his wisdom and foresight became very useful at the time that we built the Swedish Wind Energy Association. His knowledge of wind energy was and is unsurpassed.
    R I P
    Matthias Rapp

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Very, very sad news. I worked with Steve, and Kelly, in Amsterdam during the early – mid 1990’s. He was passionate about the environment and I will always remember that period in my life because of him.

    Liked by 2 people

  20. Great inspiration for those of us that believe in international cooperation to address global challenges. A continuous reference, always with a clear vision and able to motivate and communicate.

    Liked by 2 people

  21. Gaad. Another anecdote: I first met Steve in 1990 just off the plane from NZ for my first climate campaign meeting and was kindly taken to Kelly’s to wait out the timezone thing. There was a big hairy bloke – sitting on the floor I seem to remember – after an exchange of names there was silence and I asked: so do you work for Greenpeace? He just gave that smile, I swear he did not say ‘I am the International Executive Director’. Such a long and braided river thereafter through into post-GP renewables world – it was always better to know Steve was going to be where you were going, I don’t know, this thread – still on the ship. All my love and thoughts to Kelly, Sam and Layla and all of you. Kirsty

    Liked by 3 people

  22. What an awful shock to hear about Steve’s passing. Kelly, Layla, and Sam, my heart is with you. Steve was among the most remarkable people I’ve ever known, and I’m so very thankful for the impact he had on my life during our time together at Greenpeace. He was already a renowned and intimidating figure when I started as a 23-year old in the Boston office. I remember we once did a college speaking tour through Northern New England together. He graciously tolerated me—a kid hired to do public education about Greenpeace even though I hadn’t done anything myself worth talking about yet—speaking to audiences about all these campaigns he had actually helped to lead. Years later when he rescued Greenpeace USA as executive director at a pivotal moment in the organization’s history, he gave me the chance to lead the US Toxics Campaign and supported the development of grassroots organizing in communities fighting polluters across the country.

    Steve was a role model for me as a leader. Though I could never match his shear intelligence, total dedication, competitive intensity (nor his musical, mechanical or athletic talents), I know I tried to emulate his unique combination of self-confidence, willingness to listen to others, and genuine care about those around him. I will forever be grateful to have been among them for a time.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Utmost respect and admiration for Steve Sawyer. I hadn’t seem him for a while, but in my early years of navigating the international climate world, around 2004, Steve immediately stood out for his many, limitless talents, huge conviction, sharp humour, passion, knowledge and his strategic wisdom in cutting through the insanity of the world around us, and got ‘stuff done’. He became a good, trusted friend early on. Most of all, he always had time for the new ones, of which I will always be grateful for. I learnt and took so much from Steve in the short time I worked with him – I just feel lucky to have had this opportunity. Thank you Steve. I, for one will continue fighting in his name. An immense loss. My deepest condolences to Kelly, Layla and Sam. Catherine

    Liked by 1 person

  24. I interviewed with Steve at the office at DuPont Circle, in Washington D.C., in 1986. He was intimidating. I remember the stern look, the glare, then then smile and deep, deep warmth, and the laugh. I don’t think I would have said “yes” to Greenpeace if not for Steve.

    I thank him for the opportunity to be part of the Greenpeace magic, for the chance to contribute.

    He mentored, by example and with humility. He gave us rope. And although it was clear that he knew more than any of us, he listened (how unusual).

    Compassionate and oh so competitive. I will always remember him as a Sea Slug (in those brilliant green and yellow t-shirts). Winning mattered and we usually won, at least in the early years. He was willing, grudgingly, to let me play shortstop occasionally.

    The planet needs more Steve Sawyers–I don’t think I know anyone who has accomplished more.

    Steve will be missed but will also continue to inspire.

    My sympathy and love to Kelly, Layla, and Sam; and to all posting here.

    Cheers to Steve Sawyer!!

    Stephen D’Esposito (DESPO)

    Liked by 4 people

  25. Steve was not only a Greenpeace legend, he was a wind titan at GWEC. In 2005 in Beijing at the launch of Wind Force 12 he said ”Our collective future depends on us helping China develop wind power, Climate change demands it ”. A target of 40GW by 2020 has ended up as 200GW installed by 2018. Just one small example of Steve’s global influence. There are plenty of wind turbines across the world with Steve’s name on them. Like so many, I am so lucky and grateful to have spent time with Steve over the years. Sending love to Kelly, Layla and Sam.

    Liked by 2 people

  26. Aside from the man himself, what he knew and what he did, I remember Steve saying to me several times: “You ARE your brother’s keeper.” This stuck with me. He was of course answering Cain’s rhetorical question in Genesis (IV:9). It is easier to ask, like Cain, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” and go one’s own way, to say, that’s none of my business, let people make their own mistakes, etc. It is harder to take on others’ problems as one’s own and see they get solved, as Steve did.

    Liked by 4 people

  27. A 5 person team was scouting in Prudhoe Bay in April 1999. Steve – “The Beard” was on spot in Anchorage. He was perpetually walking the sidewalk in Christensen Drive next the GP office, nervous how it play out.

    Steve himself was in Prudhoe Bay in August 1980. Steve led the expedition of 8 persons in canoes down the Sag River. The anti-offshore-drilling protest was focused on the construction of two artificial gravel islands located approximately four miles offshore in the Beaufort Sea that eventually became the Endicott oil field [the first offshore oil field, start oil production 1986]. The impacts of oil spills and impacts even then on the climate were the main arguments.

    Liked by 3 people

  28. You always had a kind word, Steve. One of those rare people I will always remember, so full of integrity. Loved singing with you. So sad for you, Kelly, Layla and Sam.

    Liked by 2 people

  29. SO sorry to hear the news of Steve’s passing.We both started working at the Greenpeace Boston office at about the same time and were involved in the refit of the Rainbow Warrior in Maine all those years ago. He has been a dedicated activist for the planet all these years and made the world a better place because he was here. It is beyond sad to lose yet another one of the true warriors working to try and make this place just a little better. My condolences to his family.

    Liked by 1 person

  30. I didn’t know Steve that well but always held a deep admiration for him and the work he did. I remember meeting him in Beijing when I was the climate and energy adviser and remember how willing he was to answer any ‘stupid’ questions I had. He always had time for a story, a laugh, and sage advice. He will be missed and my heart goes out to Kelly, Layla and Sam. We will carry on your work Steve, rest well.

    Liked by 1 person

  31. At Dii Desert Energy we are all shocked about the sad passing away of Steve. We will always remember Steve as one of the strongest advocates of wind energy in energy global supply. We will miss him. Our thoughts are with family, friends and colleagues.

    Liked by 1 person

  32. I’m very sorry to hear that Steve passed away. I met him at a few occasions in conferences when I was working for IEA-RETD. His contributions were ALWAYS interesting, sharp, spot-on. The renewable community lost a big inspirer and fighter for a better world. My thoughts are with his family who can be proud of him.

    Liked by 1 person

  33. June 24, 2007, from a blog I wrote describing Steve’s farewell party when he left Greenpeace:

    We had a big party Friday night to mark Steve Sawyer’s departure from Greenpeace after nearly 30 years of service to The Firm. We put an invitation out to the diaspora of Greenpeace staff that Steve has known over the years — and they are legion — and asked them to gather to celebrate not just Steve, but the organisation’s history — the two are sometimes difficult to distinguish.Steve was there at so many beginnings, so many transitions, so many crossroads.

    I always thought of Steve as our Gandalf, our grey pilgrim, wise and cunning and wary — moving mysteriously, turning up at precisely the right time, inspiring and encouraging despairing members of the fellowship, always a step ahead of the enemy, and never one to suffer fools gladly.

    So along with all the shiny young creatures which seem to make up more and more of our Dutch and International offices staffs these days, a fair selection of Greenpeace dinosaurs, fossils, and relic species gathered to honour the man. Matt Gianni, former Greenpeace Oceans Campaign Coordinator, explained “relic species” to me as ones that everyone thought were extinct, but which turn up again. Well, that’s Steve I guess: by his own estimate, he has left the organisation 5 times, been declared extinct, and returned to surprise the taxonomists. So who knows? He may be back.

    Steve shared with us his pride that whenever he goes to a conference or treaty negotiation, the official Greenpeace delegation always seems to be dwarfed by the members of the Greenpeace diaspora who turn up in their new roles as ministers, delegates, and lobbyists. A lot of the names of those folks could be found on one of the most thoughtful gifts Steve got, from long-time receptionist, Sjoukje: a framed original of the 1989 phone directory for Greenpeace International.

    The party was billed as an evening of story telling. Steve Erwood, who made the event happen, put together a stunning video of the organisation’s history. It featured footage that Sawyer had never seen, and which he didn’t know existed, of an event that marked one of the organisations greatest achievements: the press conference for the signing of the Madrid Protocol – the treaty which stopped plans for oil and gas exploration in the Antarctic. This was a campaign that we weren’t meant to win, and which taught us an early lesson in the value of impossible ambitions. Kelly Rigg, who partnered up with Steve in the early 80s to form the organisation’s Alpha power couple, ran that campaign to completion, plunking an overwintering Greenpeace presence in the Antarctic at the doorstep of the American base, along with creating a worldwide political pressure campaign that gathered force from the voices of Sir Peter Scott, Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, and Jacques Cousteau, along with hundreds of thousands others.

    There was an echo of that lesson in impossible ambitions in Jon Castle’s story, on video, about winning the Brent Spar campaign.

    He described preparing himself to tell the crew that they were going to have to accept the inevitable: that despite weeks of high-seas confrontation and a wildfire of protest across Europe, Shell was going to succeed in dumping the disused oil rig in the North Sea, as if it were their own private landfill.

    And it was just when he was about to muster the crew that the word came down from the bridge: the Spar was turning around. Cameras were there to catch the moment — crew members leaping into the air, giant spinning hugs, and Jon carried shoulder high in triumph. Happy Greenpeacers — too rare a sight.

    Grace O’Sullivan was there to tell the story of the hijacking of the Greenpeace ship Sirius by a breakaway group of whale campaigners, back in the 80s, and of how she got the job of informing Steve of the rebellion. There’s a vein in Steve’s forehead which bulges when he gets mad, and I have a feeling Grace saw that vein in one of the most distended states it had ever known. “He went bal-lis-tic” she told us in her lilting brogue.

    Matt Gianni told me about the first time that he’d met Steve, when our international office was in Lewes. Steve was the only one in the office, it was early, Matt introduced himself and Steve said hi. Then he asked Matt for his newspaper. “Did you hear about some ship in Alaska sinking?” asked Steve. Matt said yes, it was there on the front page of the Herald Tribune. The name of the ship was the Exxon Valdez. Today we may have instant communications systems that span the globe, but Matt considers it a mark of a simpler, slower time that the news of the biggest oil spill in history hit the desk of Greenpeace’s global communications centre via a newspaper in the back pocket of an office visitor.

    Janet Dalziell spoke of how she and her husband met on a Greenpeace ship — a voyage that Steve had proposed for a campaign that Steve had to fight for, against massive opposition within the organisation. So by that logic, one wag suggested, Steve is the father of her children. (By that logic, I suspect Steve is the father of many, many children…)

    Hans Guyt was there — one of the great hardcore campaigners to come out of the Dutch office. To this day he holds the record for most jail time served in the name of Greenpeace, for defying a high court injunction on continuing to protest Sellafield’s dumping of nuclear waste at sea. (And he still wants to know why it is that nobody at Sellafield got any jail time!)Like Grace, Hans had been there with Steve the night the Rainbow Warrior was sunk by French agents in New Zealand.

    At the party too were Walt and Lieke, and Cor Offerman, and dozens of others who laboured, and labour still, below the decks and behind the scenes.

    Mahi Sideridou and I were looking through a book of dedications that had been gathered, and she mentioned how many people’s lives Steve had touched. I told her how much of a mentor he had been to me, and how important his endorsement used to be in the organisation.

    Steve can be brutal in his judgement — people were either keepers or losers, and his blessing and respect were once, godfather-like, pope-like, almost essential to survival. And when you were lucky enough to stand in his presence, to have his ear, and to be party to his confidences, you were in a privileged state indeed. You were in the presence of history.

    Before the party, I went over to Steve and Kelly’s and asked Steve to hold up a series of T-shirts he’d collected over the years for a photo series. When I look at some of those old messages: Acid Rain, Stop Nuclear Testing, World Park Antarctica, the Ozone hole, and realise how many are now dated because we won, I remember Desmond Tutu’s blessing of the Greenpeace ship Esperanza:

    “When the history of these things is written, and they ask “how did this come about?”, it will be because you and you and you and you did something about these things.”

    When the history book on Greenpeace is written, and all those folks get asked why they did something about these things — why they got involved, what kept them going, what spurred them on to work harder, be smarter, and to not give up despite ridiculous odds — an awful lot of those people will be pointing at Steve Sawyer.

    Liked by 8 people

    1. Brian, that is such a superlative collection of memories, wonderful to relive some of the moments through your remembrance. At the conclusion of the long Antarctica World Park campaign on which Kelly, Steve and I worked together for years, the Madrid Protocol was signed. It was a day none of us really could have imagined, and yet seemed so completely logical that day. Greenpeace and ASOC had, with the help of many thousands of people and organizations from WWF to the Cousteau Foundation, stopped minerals development in Antarctica. Steve was sure we should have some of the official pens, and he was right! But I’ve forgotten how they actually materialized into our hands. If you still have that video of the press conference in Madrid I’m sure many of us would like to see us.

      Liked by 1 person

  34. I did not know Steve Sawyer. I wish I had. The world is a far better place for his presence and activism. Thank you Steve. Peace to you and all those whose lives you enriched. .


  35. I’ve met Steve in the course of the years at UNFCC, IPCC, IEA and IRENA meetings, in his role as Secretary General for GWEC. Always making the case for renewables and wind energy in particular. The RE sector will miss a strong advocate and influencer. My sincere condolences to his family, who may have looked forward in being together more often with Steve, but were overruled by this all-demanding disease.


  36. Both my husband and I had worked with Steve for years. My husband was with the Climate and Energy team of Greenpeace China in 2006, when Steve put large amount of energy and time into China’s climate and energy campaign. I’ve worked with Steve in GWEC since 2008. Steve had been a great boss and mentor for me in the past 11 years. He was also a great family friend and saw our family grow from two to four. Nearly every important stage of my life in the past decade was witnessed by him. He was the first one to know the birth of our first child, as his phone call came in just half an hour after our daughter was born.

    I knew Steve first from the climate negotiations and became acquainted with him in COP11. He struck me with his accessibility and his willingness to listen and talk to young people. Then a few years later, I joined GWEC and started a new journey into the wind industry, until today.

    I clearly remembered the first day when I went to GWEC for the job interview. After talking to Steve, I was chatting with the two colleagues, Angelika and Sarah, when Steve was away smoking outside. They were telling me the same message: Steve is a nice boss to work with. Their message played a role in my decision of joining GWEC.

    Like most of us who worked closely with Steve, he is not always that “good boss”. He is stubborn, grumpy sometimes, especially after long trips. His particularity to details can drive you mad. He can relentlessly overturn your writings and completely rewrite it, especially for those of us who are not English native speakers. I was so relieved after I heard Kelly complained about Steve doing similar things to her in the early years when she first worked with him.

    But deep down, he is still one of the best people and the best boss I know. He is so broad hearted that he never hold grudges with you, no matter how fierce argument you had with him; He generously shares with you his network and introduces you to important people despite your seniority; He put his trust into you and empower you with that trust; He is a brilliant writer, which is why he distains most of our writings and I truly have learnt a lot from the hundred times of being overthrowal by him; He enlightens people with his wits and his quick understanding of complicated situations.

    There is one more thing that I want to share about Steve, which is kind of mentioned by different people in their memorial texts but was never really being attributed to as one important legacy of Steve. Recently there’ve been some discussions, movements and activities aiming at promoting the role of women in different fields (GWEC’s new initiative Women In Wind is one of them). When I was glancing through the various memorial testimonies on this site and thinking of how much I’ve learnt from him and shaped by him career wise, I kept wandering: Steve is the one who has been promoting women’s role in RE industry, climate and sustainable field for decades. He is a role model in promoting the gender equality in all the area he has worked in. Many of us, who were young women professionals entering this workplace dominated by man, which is especially true for the wind industry, and even more so 10 years back, were enlightened, encouraged, entrusted and empowered by him. Personally speaking, I don’t think I would be where I am now career wise if it is not Steve that trusted and encouraged me. And I see similar sharing from other people in the posts on this website and other sources, from Kate Hampton to Yu Jie, from myself to my former colleagues Sarah Bryce and Shruti Shukla. There are many other women, whose career were greatly shaped by Steve, especially among the climate activists and in the Greenpeace family. This continuous empowerment of women in different areas, in both climate/ sustainability field and RE industry, is a great legacy of Steve. I hope that those women, who have gained from his supports, trusts and empowerments, will carry his beacon and pass it on to more fellow women. I’m sure this legacy will keep shining and carry great impacts in the future.

    The last few months of Steve’s life was changing very fast and he maintained to be the fighter as he always was. None of us would expect things to develop in such quick pace. I was lucky to see him in the end of June. I know his condition was not great, but I still didn’t realize, or refuse to think that way, it would be my last chance to talk to him and enjoy his humour and smiles. There are still lots of questions I want to ask him and lots of things to discuss… I wish him rest in peace now, truly enjoying the freedom from the pains, which inflicted him for the past months, and embracing the sea, the wind and the nature that he has been fighting for in his whole life.

    Rest In Peace, Steve! We will miss you!

    Liming, Ang, Ruth and Lanshi


  37. I am devastated by the news. Steve was a remarkable analyst of UNFCCC COPs. He has been a great help to me and to all journalists. My sympathy goes to his children and his entire family. Odile from Paris, France


  38. Many will know his work but not his name, and I know that’s just fine. In ‘78 I started working with what we then called “emotionally disturbed” kids, not far from where we grew up in Antrim. It wasn’t until years later that I learned what Steve was doing in ‘78. It warmed my heart to know the classmate who lived modestly just down the street was quietly dedicating, hell, risking his life to a great cause for us all. It would have been nice to know in ‘78, to have crossed paths in Beantown, to share stories. That never came to pass, yet kinship to a rabble rouser, in spirit to service of a much greater good is in my heart, along with deep gratitude to a rainbow warrior.
    Thank You Steve! To the rest, we have much more work to do.


  39. Dearest Kelly & Laila & Sam so so sorry for your loss . The best ED Greenpeace EVER HAD. You will be missed so much but in honor of your spirit we will Never hang our heads .

    With love

    Liked by 1 person

  40. Another good man gone too soon. I had the honour and pleasure to meet Steve in Amsterdam while making a film with Marelle Pereira. To watch the kindness and honesty with which he talked to her about her father, his work with Greenpeace and the work of Greenpeace itself was both moving and inspiring. I’m sure he inspired many and in his lifetime and will continue to do so through everything he contributed to the cause. Sincere condolences to his family.
    Jan Euden

    Liked by 1 person

  41. Dear all, dear Kelly, Sam, Leyla

    I was lucky enough to know Steve for 20 years, first as the amazingly inspiring campaigner that led Greenpeace to confront Arctic frontier oil development to stop climate change (Northstar kicked it off), and later as an enabling leader, focused and extremely over-worked director and committed expert on everything from sailing, IT equipment, campaign strategy, climate policy, renewable energy, media or whatever.

    This page is already so full of fantastic and strong stories, so I will only add my absolute favourite.

    Our closest cooperation was during the mission at UN in New York where we lobbied to stop the war on Iraq by making the General Assembly invoke ‘resolution 377 Uniting for Peace’. This would make it possible to take the Iraq issue to a vote in the General Assembly, and by that show that the world was not supporting that war. Steve, Duncan, Eric and I spent two full weeks in an apartement flat downtown Manhattan, watched propaganda on Fox news until we almost believed bombing was right during evenings, met ambassadors from all sorts of countries during daytime. We actually had good progress for more than a week, until it turned out the US State department had intervened with quite hard diplomatic cable threats towards key allies to kill the idea of a GA vote. (This was before such were issued daily via twitter)

    In the end, we lost the peace lobby battle, bombs started to fall the same night we flew out, but I am forever thankful that we tried, we were the only peace lobbyists in UN at the time. The weeks spent with Steve, when he also set aside time to show us New York, still makes me very proud. As so many others, I am honored to have known and worked with such a man.

    I am very sorry for the loss, way too early. I know it must be most terrible for Kelly, Leyla and Sam that he always was so proud of. It is not enough, but even in this too short life it is no doubt Steve contributed more than most people, and inspired thousands of us to try follow some of his steps. Thank you!

    Truls Gulowsen, Oslo, Norway

    Liked by 2 people

  42. Steve was an inspiration to me. He was a constructive networker who made the GWEC a valuable point of contact for governments all over the world. I am very grateful for the opportunity to work with him. My thoughts are with his family at this difficult time.
    Farewell Steve!

    Hermann Albers, President of the German Wind Energy Association (BWE)

    Liked by 1 person

  43. Just hours before I got the news of Steve’s untimely passing I was sitting in a Ministry meeting debating Malaysia’s new industrial policy, which included the role of renewables. I had thought, I should contact Steve and see whether things are looking up for new wind technologies.

    When I got home I fired up Facebook and was so shocked to learn of his passing, through cancer no less. I had just lost my father to cancer six weeks before and my heart goes out to Steve and his family for it’s a terrible disease.

    I have many fond memories of campaigning in coalition alongside Steve at the various climate COPs and the WSSD process. At the time I worked in Third World Network. Steve was a gentleman, a being of truly warm intelligence whom I learned much from.

    I recently found photos of us supporting the first Climate Justice March in Delhi, 2002. He was smiling, engaging in some wry, thoughtful conversation as he was wont to do. He was also very humble. I never knew until I read his obituary that he was one of the original crew of the Rainbow Warrior.

    I was very touched that for years after we stopped seeing each other on campaign I would receive his annual Christmas email telling the tales of his family that year. Like everything Steve did, it was a work of class. I will miss him. The world will miss him. He made us better.

    Liked by 1 person

  44. Adding to the many comments of the many people who knew Steve better than me – look here a recent one:
    I also lost a friend, an impressive believer in the energy transition which is key to tackle climate change. I met Steve in 2004 in the context of the International Conference for Renewable Energies, Bonn, and its follow-up coalition of the willing where Steve served as a member of the steering committee. His passion and very professional engagement for renewables was based on his moral and deep roots in the environmental movement and his willingness to fight climate change. A hero … So sad … Rest in piece


  45. It’s hit me like a bolt out of the blue to hear of Steve’s sudden death.

    Steve was a man whom I respected enormously, not least for his wisdom but his boundless passion for his work. He was a giant and a hero to so many. Steve was principled, creative and someone for whom I held the deepest respect. His most recent work on climate change will remain a benchmark for everyone to aspire to and its just too sad that his life has ended all too soon.

    To Kelly and family – my sincerest condolences. I shall never forget meeting you and Steve in WDC through Bruce and the Environmental Defence Fund all those years ago – heady and earnest days that I will always look back on with enormous pride. I can only begin to imagine how much of a wake he leaves in your life, in those of your children and all his family.

    Steve’s spirit will live on forever, his life and his work a cause for celebration.


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