Finding My Point
I've recently started volunteering with the 2050 Climate Group. They're a charity that aims to prevent climate breakdown by inspiring and connecting young leaders across Scotland. A primary platform the charity uses for doing this is the YLDP (Young Leaders Development Programme). The programme invites over 100 people aged between 18-35 from across Scotland to attend six educational modules. Modules come in themed climate and leadership pairs, with each pair covering a sphere of activism. The three spheres are: personal, professional, and political.
I did the programme in 2018/19, and now I'm helping deliver the next one. A week or so ago, I got to meet most of the new cohort and had been invited to do a short presentation. Told it was to be an "inspiring talk" from a YLDP alum, I racked my brain for some precious pearls of wisdom. I joked with the co-chair of the YLDP saying "a pity it's on a Thursday, I do all my best inspiring on a Tuesday!" Who was I to step forward and claim to be inspirational to a crowd of exceptionally talented and enthusiastic people? (I am sincere when I use those descriptive terms; I read the applications, they moved me.) It's fair to say I was nervous.
In my hunt for inspirational nuggets, I did a lot of self-reflection. My memory for specifics isn't always the best, so I decided to focus on emotion. I looked back over my time on the YLDP and tried to trace my outlook on the climate emergency between two poles: hope and fear.
Here is the graph I charted:
Along the x-axis is time, with the different modules marked out with dashed vertical lines. The y-axis determines the levels of hope and fear I remember feeling throughout the programme. Bit of a rollercoaster, right? The crazy bit between modules three and four was my wedding, a magical clusterfuck of emotions too complex to chart on a graph that a scribble does an okay job at conveying. The rest, however, is pretty spot on.
I was hopeful in the beginning. Surrounded by likeminded people with a tsunami of creativity and enthusiasm, I felt I had found my tribe. With each module I was learning, I was thinking, and I was taking action. The content was informative, striking just right to suit the needs of those who knew nothing about climate change and those who had their finger on the pulse. My hope was climbing. Climate change is a terrifying reality, but the YLDP declared a situation rich in opportunity. Things were looking up. There were no limits here. Then it happened.
On the 8th of October 2018, the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) released their Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C. A total of 91 authors came together to put in black and white the severity of the situation facing the planet. It's crucial that within 12-years, global warming is capped at 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels to prevent catastrophe across the globe. The kicker was though that even with this achieved, the consequence would still be dire for future generations. The outlook was bleak. Like after the drop on a rollercoaster, my stomach flipped, and I felt sick. Though unlike the rollercoaster ride, it didn't subside quickly. I was still falling.
The hope I had gained dashed, I was gripped by fear. I was feart about life. My life, your life, everyone's fucking life. Cleaning up a mess so immense seemed an impossible task. It felt pointless, too. When we cap global warming at 1.5°C, ice caps will still melt, crops will still fail, and the already despicable unfair spread of wealth would worsen. If that's still the outcome, what was the point of it all? When that question starts to get asked with a negative frame of mind, finding no answer is incredibly easy. Each time I asked it, the fear would get thicker, grip me tighter and drag me down. I disengaged with the issue and turned away from it. With no point, there wasn't anything for me to do.
Fast forward a few months and I'm sitting on the bus in January, surrounded by the common colds of the new year, reading a book. That book's title? Being the Change Live Well and Spark a Climate Revolution by Peter Kalmus. It's a book about taking personal action and how it can lead to more enormous change across society. Everyone knows that fundamental changes from industry and political bodies are required to solve the issues facing us. However, Peter believes it is personal action that will motivate us to see these grander changes come about. I would also add that being on the road to change already will make the journey a heck a lot easier than having it thrust upon you by government.
So I changed. I got off the bus and started living well for myself. I started walking to work. The journey was slower, but it was more rewarding. A six-mile round trip every day gave me a lot of time to think. From my hopeless pit of what's the point, I had taken control of something, my spirits began to lift. I was closer to the city I lived in, closer to the people who lived in it with me, I found wonders I didn't know existed, and I started to see something that could be. I began to see the potential for a better world. As I strolled confidently past queues of traffic, cut down alleyways, wandered through parks saying good morning to people, I realised the potential. My attitude was changing to something far more positive than it had been before, even before I fell into the pit.
The thing that really motivates me most is the people around me. I want to create a better world for them. What's more, I want to work with them and do it together. It's the connections made with people when working towards something better that brings me brilliant hope. Whether it's playing in the street with my nephew during open streets, guessing what veg is in someones weekly veg box, or working towards an active travel revolution with people across Scotland, it is so beautiful and motivating to be engaging with friends.
In a world waking up to the dangers of climate breakdown, it can be scary to be alone. It can be easy to dwell on what the adverse outcomes will or might be, and it can be easy to lose hope. But if you surround yourself with the company of friends who want to see a better world, the adverse outcomes turn into opportunities for change. The threats of climate breakdown become the catalyst for a better world. One that's fair, more collaborative, less wasteful, and a heck of a lot of fun.
To end, I'd like to issue you with a challenge. Go somewhere you can be alone, wherever that might be, and take some focussed time to reflect. Look back on the past 12 months and reflect on what you did and most importantly, how you felt. Find the times you were happy and feeling hopeful. Figure out what brought about that feeling. Throw all your energy into it and find that feeling again. Go and find your point.