Thoughts on Brexit

Written 1st July:

I feel like I have had a dark cloud over my head for the last week… the news that 52% of UK voters chose to leave the EU fills me with sadness. I can’t believe how different my values seem to be from that much of the rest of the population. I don’t understand why the UK (thanks to 52% of those who voted) is choosing to turn away from its nearest neighbours; it seems to be a completely backward step. To be honest, I feel completely ashamed to be British right now. Those of you who do not live in the UK but are aware of this news, please do not think all British people want to leave the EU and build up walls. My only hope left is that it gives a much more fundamental shake up to the way our society works, to change it for the better. I’m not feeling very hopeful of that right now but I’ve got to hope, and do what I can in the meantime.

 

“Doing something” in Calais

It is amazing how much a team of short-term volunteers can get done with Help Refugees at their warehouse in Calais – going even for just a day or two lends itself to helping sort and organise all the donated items coming in.

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Anyone thinking of going, I would highly recommend it for the tangible help you can provide. It’s also great insight to the amazing team behind the efforts to remember that people living in the Calais & Dunkirk camps are people too.20160501_110141

 

I had no idea how much was involved in the process from turning donated clothes into ‘packs’ for new people arriving at the camps. It also gives me a better understanding and respect for the efforts behind the scenes at any charity shop on the high street!

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She Is Sustainable

Over the course of Thursday 4th and Friday 5th February, I spent 14 hours in the company of 40 other women. We were there for a discussion – about the joys and challenges of being female and being change-makers. Its name? “She Is Sustainable”.

We heard inspiring and thought-provoking stories about women’s lives, careers, choices, adventures, loves, losses, changes, glass ceilings, struggles and values.

The organisers, the speakers and the participants were an inspiring bunch. To name just a few of them, they included Solitaire Townsend, Becky Willis, Amy Mount, Melissa Miners and Fiona Reynolds. Participants varied in age from 21 to 31. Speakers varied in age from 27 to over 60.

Certain themes came up repeatedly, and seem fundamental, normalising, grounding and motivational for all of us who are working women in sustainability. To share these themes is the main reason I’m writing this blog. The pearls of wisdom and realisations we had are summarised below:

  1. Be true to your values.

Do what makes you happy, and hang on to your purpose as your driving force behind everything you do. It will help you stay motivated.

  1. Define your own meaning of success.

You come up with your definition of success, don’t let society dictate it for you, in terms of who you are or what you do. Success looks different for every single person.

  1. Can women have it all?

You probably can’t have it all, all of the time. Over the course of your life you have different bits of the ‘all’ at different times. And, going back to point 2, work out what you mean by ‘all’!

As an aside, I was struck that the women who were ‘successful’ in the traditional sense of the word (i.e. at the top of a large organisation, large level of influence), all said they either didn’t have children, couldn’t have children, or their partner was the main carer. That was an important realisation for me that I really need to think about point 2 and work out what success means for me – and then how that will affect my choices in life linked to family, friends, spare time, work, and contribution to society.

  1. Believe in yourself.

It’s the most quoted, clichéd phrase you can find, but it’s true. A few of the women who spoke commented that they didn’t know how they were going to do a job when they applied for it, they just knew they wanted the job and would find a way to do it. Their self-belief that they would figure it out later carried them through.

If you don’t believe in yourself, how are you going to convince anyone else to do so? The most common barrier seemed to be our own self-limiting beliefs. Often these were created or reinforced by society, but it was clear how peoples’ own judgements of themselves are almost always far harsher than anyone else’s opinions of them.

  1. Act confidently.

Many of the women who spoke – inspiring, strong, motivated, intelligent, self-aware women – gave advice to put on the appearance of being confident even if you don’t feel it. Which links to yet another commonly quoted phrase that holds a lot of merit – “Fake it til you make it”.

  1. “I’m not ambitious, I’m a change junkie”.

Most of the women who spoke explained their drive came from the positive impact they want to create. My favourite quote of the two days linked to this was “Glass ceiling? Who cares about a glass ceiling when I’m tackling climate change?!”  It links back to point 1 – put your values and purpose at the core.

  1. Be courageous and assertive.

Push yourself out of your comfort zone. Take risks. Be scared and do it anyway. The greatest impacts, achievements and learnings often come from these moments!

  1. Other peoples’ opinions of you are none of your business.

Be nice to people, but at the same time, accept that you won’t please all of the people all of the time so don’t let that be a hindrance to you acting for the greater good.

  1. You have one life so choose how you live it.

Think about what your 80 year old self will think. How do you want to look back on your life? What impact do you want to have had? Think about what really matters to you and make sure it is there in your day to day.

  1. Most people are making it up as they go along!

“Post-hoc rationalisation” came up a lot i.e. that idea that with hindsight your choices and the directions life take you all make a lot of sense, but at the time it all seems like a lucky coincidence, or a crazy move, or a “what the heck am I doing here?!” feeling.

When you are trying to choose between path a or path b, most people have no idea what lies ahead. Take comfort that whatever choice you make – good or bad – give you experiences, contribute to who you are as a person and help you develop.

  1. Be generous.

With contacts and connections, with (genuine) compliments, with support to others, and with yourself.

 

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Around the edges of COP21

A quick update in photos from the last couple of days:

Blocks of ice from Greenland outside le Panthéon attracting lots of attention.

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Interesting initiatives being proposed and implemented by students at their universities around the world (International Alliance of Research Universities’ Global Climate Forum):

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Hearing from the UK Youth Climate Coalition about what they’re up to:

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Alternative by name, alternative by nature at Alterniba’s Global Village Alternatives event:

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A quick stop at a Parisian Christmas Market on the Champs Elysées…

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…and then into le Grand Palais for learning about businesses’ responses to tackle climate change:

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Arriving at the dedicated area for civil society this morning, Climate Generation Space, 100m away from where the negotiations are taking place:

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It was very interesting to hear about the advances that the aviation industry are making to reduce impacts on climate change.

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The Place to B near Gare du Nord has made itself an outside hub for COP21 delegates (& also do great veggie options which is not common in Paris!)

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London and Paris here I come

The international climate change talks (COP21) kick off this coming week, signalled by marches all over the world today and tomorrow. I’ve just been looking at photos of the mass movement in Wellington on the opposite side of the world, and linking up with people I know who are going to the one in London tomorrow.

I’ve been to a couple of climate marches before (both in London) and have always loved it because of the atmosphere. It has felt so positive and full of energy. I’m hoping this one will be no different. I can’t help worrying a bit with the recent attacks in paris a) putting some people off and b) changing the feel a bit. However, there’s no point worrying. We’ve just got to keep on with showing our governments how much support and call that there is for them to act for us all to achieve the ambitious agreement we need.

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I have spent a few evenings this week researching the civil society activities going on while I am in Paris between Friday 4th and Tuesday 8th December. I’m really excited having never been to a COP (Conference of the Parties) before. I decided I just couldn’t miss this one with it being so close to where I live and not having to fly to it. It will be great to learn about the different initiatives and efforts towards tackling climate change around the world, all within one city.

My Friday evening and Saturday in Paris will mostly involve helping at the International Alliance of Research Universities’ (IARU) Climate Forum. Students from the ten different institutions part of this network (including the University of Cambridge, where I’m working now) will present their ideas for improving the sustainability of their respective universities. The idea is to share ideas, challenges, lessons, meet each other and create greater mutual motivation to implement and achieve their ideas.

On Saturday evening I will go to the Pathway to Paris concert with singers and speakers including Thom Yorke, Vandana Shiva, Bill McKibben, Naomi Klein, Patti Smith and lots more which is pretty exciting. From then on I’ll be playing it by ear but have in mind the following list of events and exhibitions:

Earth to Paris event

The Global Village of climate-friendly alternatives

Climate Generation Areas (COP21’s official space for civil society)

If Not Us Then Who talks

Solutions COP21

Place to B events

Whatever is going on in the negotiating spaces, I’m hoping the focus on civil society will be inspiring, and allow me to share and meet with others and hear more about the various grassroots and non-governmental efforts towards climate change. Hopefully I’ll be able to share some of those on here in the next couple of weeks!

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Speaking about my trip in Cambridge…

On Tuesday 28th April, I will be giving a short talk about my trip, the people I met, initiatives I came across and lessons I learnt. If you want to come along, please do. Details below:

Tuesday 28th April | 18.30-19.30 | Graham Storey Room, Trinity Hall | https://www.facebook.com/events/1576068459316888/

You are invited to attend a short talk by Emily Dunning, who has just returned from a 6-month trip to New Zealand, via the Trans-Mongolian Expressway, China and Japan and a few other countries in-between. She has been meeting people working on sustainability initiatives, particularly those inspiring others to take action. They vary from youth climate action groups in Taiwan to clean-up events in Russia to the social enterprise ethos inspiring change in Japan.

Expect half an hour of sharing some of her stories, introducing some of the people she met and the lessons she has learnt, then half an hour to engage in conversation about what it means for you, and the activities going on in Cambridge and the UK.

Who’s it for?
– Anyone interested in grassroots sustainability worldwide
– Those who want to hear about social enterprise in other countries
– Anyone wanting inspiration for travel
– Anyone who is a bit dissatisfied with where they’re at right now needing that gentle nudge to do something different.

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Lessons learnt, experiences in summary

A longer reflection on the headlines below can be found on the Centre for Social Innovation blog

At the risk of sounding clichéd, travelling really does re-instil the goodness of human nature.

It is difficult to live in the here and now.

Culture, society and infrastructure significantly affect how easy it is to be green.

Most common response to the greatest challenge of those working towards environmental sustainability? “Money”.

Most common response to how behaviour change is measured? “It’s difficult!”/”It’s a work in progress”.

What first motivates people to take action on environmental issues? Varied BUT common themes – teacher/parent/friend, nature, seeing injustice, having children.

And the most important three of all:

Individuals really can and do make significant changes.

Individuals who do make changes are empowered, confident, and believe in their ability to make a difference.

Connecting with others is key for creating wide-spread change.

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