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Three questions for us all

I got into Ned Beauman’s novels over the summer – they are sharp, funny and relevant – with the added bonus of making me feel vaguely cool, despite being middle aged. His latest novel, the brilliantly titled Venomous lumpsucker is set in a near future world of climate breakdown and mass species extinction (and the UK seems to have become, post-Brexit, the poverty stricken and corrupt ‘Hermit Kingdom’). It effectively demonstrates, in very funny ways, why the environmental crisis matters to everyone. It has plugged into some of the frustrations that I’ve been reflecting on, as I step down from my role as strategy director at Green Alliance this month.

I joined Green Alliance in 2018, when awareness of the environmental crisis was growing dramatically on the back the ‘Blue Planet II’ TV series, soon to be galvanised even further by the interventions of Extinction Rebellion.

In some ways, that feels like a different era. Overall, I do think environmental concern and, crucially, action, has increased over the past four years. But obviously not enough to make me happy. So I wanted to indulge myself (but not you, I’m afraid) by asking some questions that I think need to be answered:

1. Pandemic lessons
I wonder what happened to that feeling of the need for, and ability to, change society and lifestyles that emerged in the early days of the pandemic? We slowed down, had time to reflect and found solace in nature during a scary time. I hope we can recapture some of that feeling, not least because (and sorry to go all Andrea Leadsom on you for a moment) but, as a mother, I’ve seen the terrible price, in terms of lost opportunities, mental health and education that the younger generation have paid, largely to protect us oldies. There was a time when there was talk of taking action on climate to repay the sacrifices of the generation who are going to suffer most from climate impacts. They will be saddled with huge debts from the pandemic and now the energy crisis, making it harder for them to cope with environmental breakdown.

Q: How can we recapture that feeling we had during the pandemic that dramatic changes can be made quickly and for the good of society?

2. Climate change is happening
, as has become clear over my four years at Green Alliance, a time of increasingly dramatic and terrifying heatwaves, wildfires and floods. I, for one, am more than ever tempted to bury my head in the sand. Conversely, I’ve written before about how many of us aren’t terrified enough. We really need to keep up with this situation. Ten years ago, we could have chosen certain areas that needed to decarbonise ahead of others, but now, because of inaction, every sector needs to move quickly. ‘Winning slowly is the same a losing’, while useful for galvanising action, tends to push me to despair. We are always likely to be winning more slowly than we’d like to, but any victories are worthwhile. I find the latest IPCC narrative, that every 0.1 degree matters, hopeful and useful as my motivator, even when progress is frustrating.

Q: How can we keep the right balance of urgency without causing despair, not just in the public sphere where there is plenty of research about the use of effective messaging (see Climate Outreach and GSCC for more on this), but also amongst those of us who work on these issues daily?

3. Funding for environmental issues is growing but still tiny
when compared to other causes. Much of my time at Green Alliance has been spent searching for funding for our vital work. The good news is that the amount and proportion of philanthropic funding going to environmental causes is rising, but there is still an air of ‘Don’t look up’. It’s worth meditating on the fact that curing cancer and saving great works of art will be much more worthwhile efforts if we still have a habitable planet to live on. We have amazing experts, with boundless energy and drive to solve this problem in the environment sector. Money isn’t everything. But it is necessary to invest much, much more to grow a robust, professional, sector that is able to compete on an equal footing with the other interests working so effectively against a healthy planet.

Q: How can we channel much more investment into safeguarding our future?

Many of you will have, at least partial, answers to these questions. The brilliant Environmental Funders Network is, for example, actively working hard to resolve the last one. Let’s hope the forthcoming ‘Wild Isles’ series – the brainchild of WWF, National Trust, RSPB and David Attenborough – can inspire more of the public and our political leaders, with the help of environmental organisations, to solve the environmental crisis more urgently.

I suspect we are going to need even more motivation and resilience over the next couple of years. I hope to continue doing my small bit in my future freelance career, and by being a trustee for two great organisations: the Samworth Foundation and the William Robinson Gravetye Charity.

I hope to squeeze in a bit more reading too, with Ned Beauman’s, perhaps aptly titled, Madness is better than defeat up next.