If you’re here chances are you have spent some time trying to make sense of how you feel about the problems the world faces and what action you can take. As Impact Director at HERO, I’m often thinking about the way we relate to climate change and ecological degradation. Spoiler alert – I have good days and I have bad days. Without wanting to diminish the scale of the challenge these threats present, I feel as though my relationship has arrived at a place where some level of contentment and a pressing urgency to make change meet. Here are 3 key lessons I’ve learnt along the way:
Lesson 1. Your relationship status can change – all you need to do is take action
Aged three at my local primary school, I had my first palpable experience of fearing ecological degradation. The teacher put on a film about the impacts of human operations on the sun monkey population of the Amazon Rainforest. Underpinned by the roar of chainsaws, picture little golden bundles of joy falling to their deaths as their home is destroyed beneath them. Harrowing.
Later on whilst working for various music festivals, the creeping onset of unease about the extent of human impact on the world gripped me again. The Show Must Go On report (2020) calculated that music festivals in the UK alone are responsible for 25,800 tonnes of waste. That’s the equivalent weight of 2150 double decker buses. Or when parked up, those 2150 buses covering the equivalent space of 58 Manchester United Old Trafford FA football stadiums. What was the impact of creating so much waste? And what about the other impacts associated with festivals, such as power and water consumption?
As a festival procurement manager, I asked myself what I could do to take action. Developing a renewable and hybrid power plan across festival sites, integrating a reusable cup system, and forming a partnership with the local council to invest in efficient water infrastructure which could cut production emissions further, felt like a start. In taking action, I claimed a degree of agency in my relationship with the issue of how humans impact the environment. And in doing so, the relationship went to the next level…
Lesson 2. You can refresh your relationship at anytime – inspiration really helps
In spite of taking action, I still felt I could be doing more. Not only this, I also felt a growing disconnect between my attempts to deal with the challenge and the bigger picture story. Reading the headlines about the pace of things going to shit was a total mood-killer.
A last minute visit from my sister, serendipitously led me to someone who changed the way I related to climate change. Scouring the Bristol events calendar for something for my sister and I to do, I came across George Marshall, Director, Climate Outreach aka the shiny, hopeful truth-speaker beacon. During his Cabot Institute Lecture (2015), George talked about our relationship with climate change as being unheimliche, a German word meaning that which is ‘uncanny’, or strangely familiar yet difficult to explain.
What George spoke about still resonates with me today and inspires me to think differently about my relationship with climate change. Getting to know issues like climate change better can feel scary. But it also helps to size them up and to know where you stand in the relationship.
Lesson 3. You are not alone – we are in this together
Inspired by George and coupled with where I found myself professionally, plus the hunger (and privilege) to deepen my understanding around environment and resource management, I returned to study for an MSc. Floundering my way through would best describe how I experienced that year of my life. I have visceral memories of feeling alone; in a city where I knew no one, couldn’t speak the language and the only student on the course with an arts and humanities background in a sea of young, scientific Dutch people some of whom were there to do a second masters.
There were endless tears and calls home, as well as silence when talking seemed impossible too. I wanted to quit numerous times. Was I the only person finding things hard? After another painfully confusing environmental economics lecture, I sheepishly dropped a note into our cohort Whatsapp asking if anyone else was struggling. Next thing I knew the ‘Econ Solidarity Club’ was born and I soon realised that I wasn’t the only student feeling totally lost and out-of-their depth. What’s more, the community we established gave us a space to vent, commiserate and support one another.
The same applies to dealing with the threat of climate change and ecological degradation. The world is a confusing place and many of us are understandably afraid. Taking ownership of our fears together is part of the journey towards realising the solution. In doing so we might not just pass the test, we may even thrive.
Still wondering how to manage your feelings around climate change? In the next blog, I share 5 ways to help you cope with it.