I was in New Zealand in January 2017 – as part of the trip I met with sustainability professionals at two of New Zealand’s eight universities, Victoria and Canterbury. This was to share learnings and experiences and compare notes with what is happening at the University of Cambridge (where I am currently working) on sustainability efforts. You can find the write ups of these meetings here: Canterbury, Christchurch and Victoria, Wellington.
You’ll find a new section of the website called Engagement. Read on here to learn the multiple definitions of engagement, and how that links to getting married, flying and cognitive dissonance. Hopefully that’s enough to whet your appetite!
I am writing in relation to the decision made by the UK government yesterday to give the go-ahead to another runway at Heathrow. I do not see how this is compatible with the UK’s climate change agreements or how it is fair to our future generations. It will serve to increase inequalities between London and the rest of the UK, and between those who are better off compared to those with less wealth.
I am emailing to ask you to support the new parliamentary motion initiated by Caroline Lucas for a fairer, greener alternative – to put in place a frequent flyer levy. I came across A Free Ride (http://afreeride.org/) a while ago. It is an incredibly well thought-through, well researched and credible solution to deal with the issue of aviation in relation to climate change whilst also increasing social justice within the UK. I would really encourage you to have a look at the website and support the motion for a frequent flyer levy.
I look forward to hearing from you.
PS I do not require a paper response – I am more than happy to receive an email to save money and resource.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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”.
- “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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Be generous.
With contacts and connections, with (genuine) compliments, with support to others, and with yourself.
A quick update in photos from the last couple of days:
Blocks of ice from Greenland outside le Panthéon attracting lots of attention.
Interesting initiatives being proposed and implemented by students at their universities around the world (International Alliance of Research Universities’ Global Climate Forum):
Hearing from the UK Youth Climate Coalition about what they’re up to:
Alternative by name, alternative by nature at Alterniba’s Global Village Alternatives event:
A quick stop at a Parisian Christmas Market on the Champs Elysées…
…and then into le Grand Palais for learning about businesses’ responses to tackle climate change:
Arriving at the dedicated area for civil society this morning, Climate Generation Space, 100m away from where the negotiations are taking place:
It was very interesting to hear about the advances that the aviation industry are making to reduce impacts on climate change.
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!)
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.
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:
Climate Generation Areas (COP21’s official space for civil society)
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!
There’s an article I have written about the social enterprise I encountered on my trip in this month’s Cambridge Business Magazine – go to http://www.cambridge-news.co.uk/subscribe-to-cambridge-busi… then click on the magazine and go to page 15