Two phrases you don’t hear every day:
“Can I film your breasts?”
“Are you, like, a coccyx?”
The first was from a guy holding a large video camera, and was prompted by the fact I was wearing a t-shirt with the numbers “350” emblazoned across the front in bold type. “I’m not a pervert or anything,” he went on to say, somewhat less than convincingly, as he aimed his lens at my chest.
The second was from a young woman with a big smile and black dreadlocks. After I’d stood on a chair and bellowed into a megaphone to address the crowd at the London Eye, she came over to say she’d loved my speech. “You had me rolling with laughter.” I think she was referring to my comment that, “If I can row 3,000 miles across an ocean for climate change, then you can remember to turn off the lights when you leave a room.” I’m not quite sure hilarity was the desired effect, but maybe the sustainability movement needs a little humor once in a while.
In turn she made me smile when she doubtfully regarded my petite frame and said, “So are you, like, a coccyx that yells at the other people in the boat to row harder?”
Well, coccyx or coxswain, I suppose; I am indeed concerned with getting people to try harder …
And that was the feeling that I took away from today’s 350 event. I am not talking about the organizers trying harder — Abi Edgar and the heroes of the Campaign Against Climate Change could not humanly have given it any more than they did today. And today has on many levels been an amazing success. According to the 350 website, people in 181 countries have staged over 5,200 events to express their concern over climate change. I am sure that by the end of these amazing 24 hours, many more people will be aware of the number 350 and what it means.
Photo: Hemant Anant JainBut as I sat on the train on the way home, I thought about the day and whether it had succeeded. There were a lot of people there — fantastic. But there were also a lot of people NOT there, people whose Saturdays were business as usual — shopping, drinking coffee, hanging out with friends. There are 8 million people in London — why weren’t they ALL here?!
Maybe I’m just in a cup-half-empty mood — the hectic days and short nights of the book tour have finally caught up with me and I spent most of today in bed apart from the couple of hours at the London Eye — but instead of celebrating the numbers that turned up at the rally, my mind was on the absentees. My perception is that there is still too much apathy, fear and denial amongst the general public.
Will today turn out to be just another masturbatory exhibition by those who are already environmentally aware, while most people continue in ignorance of our climate crisis? Climate change affects everybody; how can we get everybody to care?
We need a shared POSITIVE vision of our green future. We need to get away from the language of sacrifice and inconvenience, and towards the language of excitement, opportunity, and potential. I am currently reading “The Great Transition,” a report by the new economics foundation, which presents a powerfully attractive picture of a sustainable world. We need more of the same. At the moment we are still focusing on the problem (climate change) rather than the solution (sustainability). And the majority of people don’t need another problem — they have enough of their own already. The sooner we make this paradigm shift towards the positive, the better.
The other speaker today was Bianca Jagger. She arrived late and discombobulated, her driver having been confused by the closure of various nearby roads and bridges, while I smugly arrived by public transport, early and relaxed …
My speech (or at least, what I wish I’d said):
I row across oceans to inspire people to take action on climate change. Something the ocean has taught me is that any challenge, no matter how huge, can be tackled if you break it down into little steps. When I rowed across the Atlantic it took me about a million oarstrokes. One stroke doesn’t get me very far, but you take a million tiny actions and you string them all together and you get across 3000 miles of ocean. You can achieve almost anything, if you just take it one stroke at a time.
And it’s the same with climate change. On a day like today, when we feel part of a huge global community, it’s easy to believe we can change the world. But there will be other days when maybe we feel alone, and that anything we do as individuals won’t really make a difference – that it’s just a drop in the ocean.
But every action counts. We all have it in our power to make a difference. In fact, we’re already making a difference — it’s just up to us to decide if it’s a good one or a bad one. Every time we switch the lights off, or choose to walk instead of drive, or say no to a plastic bag, it matters.
So we’re leading the way. Thank you all for making a difference for the better. Keep up the good work, have a fantastic 350 day, and together we’ll keep changing the world, heading towards a greener future, one stroke at a time.