I was recently lucky enough to be selected to attend a “climate reality” training session run by Al Gore in Los Angeles. Once completed, myself and the other trainees would be “Climate Leaders”. During the three day-long programme, Gore gave his infamous presentation – the one made famous by his documentary An Inconvenient Truth. It lasted nearly three hours. And unfortunately, not much seems to have changed for the better since 2006.
It was a rollercoaster ride of emotions; it was difficult not to feel disheartened, depressed and intimidated by the tidal wave of bad news, rising temperature statistics and political fuckery that has become the defining feature of climate change policy, particularly in the US.
Like many climate change presentations, courses and training programmes I have attended or enrolled in (whether in real life or online), there is the expectation that you leave and you act. But that’s where I stumble. I leave, full of promise and vigour and determination that this time, yes, this time, I’m actually going to do something about it. I’m going to campaign, pressure my local leader, volunteer at village cleanups. I’m going to single handedly try and save the world. I’m going to finally go vegan and buy an electric car and only shop in charity stores. But it never happens. I set out with the best of intentions, but somehow, life gets in the way. The electric car proves to be too expensive to afford; the only eating organic is too hard and too pricey; the smell of a BBQ leaves me lip-smacking and eyeing up the flame-grilled burgers.
It had always been far too easy for me to ditch the “30 day eco challenge” halfway through because I had to travel for work and couldn’t not get on a plane, or to break my veganuary because quite frankly, being a vegan in Colombia was near-on impossible, especially when you have a nut allergy. But this time, Al Gore was going to hold me to account. All of us. We had to log, there and then, what our first action as a climate reality leader was going to be. We had to set up a profile on the Reality Hub portal so everyone could so. We were put into groups prior to the event, and we stuck with them for the three days, and now, there’s an email chain going round with everyone piping up what they’ve done from their action list. And I’ve cringed every time I’ve realised I still haven’t completed my first action – which was writing this blog. (It’s now been three weeks since the event.)
And so when I left the Climate Reality programme I realised I actually had to start small. Because starting big for someone with little willpower, meagre finances and a nut allergy (bye vegan alternatives) was going to be hard. (Side note: if anyone knows of meat alternatives that actually taste like meat, please pipe up now.) And feeling a failure never did anything to further my motivation.
It’s a challenge I have certainly noticed since I’ve been covering the environment. I tend to try and take a solutions-based or a human interest angle, because I truly feel a wall of gloom and doom, although shocking, is not going to galvanise anyone to take action. Likewise, who can empathise with statistics? Certainly not me. We’ve got to keep unveiling the human cost of climate change if it is ever going to hit home.
And we’ve got to build communities. We’ve got to start with kids in school. Make taking climate action a credit towards class, or a homework assignment. Make it a team-building exercise. Make it a group effort. Hold each other to account. Shame each other into taking action. Prompt, remind, bug, hassle: have a competition to see who can go without eating meat the longest. (And yes I know some people find it easy, but I have weird meat cravings I struggle to ignore). So, here are my climate action goals, which I am publicly shouting about so I can be held accountable to them:
1. Write this blog.
2. Cut out pork (followed by other meats). Cut down to eating meat once a week. By 2019, only eat meat once a fortnight. By 2020, once a month. When I do eat it, make sure it is free range and actually feel grateful for eating it. It was once a living being. I do not have a God-given right to eat it.
3. Write an environmental business plan for my new office (that means no plastic cups, cutlery, disposable plates, etc).
4. Email at least 50 schools with a link to the climate change documentary I co-produced and filmed for HuffPost and suggest they show it in class. If you’re a teacher and you’re reading this it’s here. It’s free to watch and it’s very suitable for students.
5. Persuade my new bosses to let me make another climate change documentary. And, if I can’t manage that, make it anyway. (If you’re a filmmaker – or a media mogul – based in LA and want to get involved, give me a shout!)
6. Buy a vegan cookbook and get excited about cooking vegan – and cook vegan for my friends and family so they get excited too.
7. Resist buying a car and buy a bicycle instead (cycling in LA isn’t too crazy…right?!)
8. Carbon offset all my flights. Every one of them. Even if it hurts.
9. Pluck up the courage to give Al Gore’s infamous presentation myself. If my other climate reality co-leaders can, I can.
10. Start asking restaurants where their meat comes from. It’s not being dicky. It’s being a person who gives a shit.
OK, so there they are. My eight points. Feel free to hold me accountable to each and every one of them (in fact, I encourage it). I also encourage you to write your own. And get everyone else you know involved too. Nothing like a bit of healthy competition.