Let me tell you a story about a sportsperson.
He grew up with a range of opportunities at his fingertips. Athletics in early age, with dalliances in racquet sports and archery, ultimately settling on basketball as his team sport of choice. Through his school-age, he trained regularly, playing on two teams and building his confidence and skills.
He never dreamed he’d be an Olympian.
At 14, he was pictured in his local paper, ball proudly held in hand. His success in the school team had led to an exciting phone conversation and signing up to one of the better teams in his league. His parents never questioned their decision to invest in a basketball hoop on the driveway, even though it meant parking the cars awkwardly and the incessant thunk of the ball on the pavement. Still, no-one thought he was destined for greatness. It was just the thing the kid at the end of the road did. He played basketball on the driveway. But now, years later, I think you’ll recognise his name.
OK, pause the story for a bit. This is meant to be a post about climate change.
I have been pretty down on climate change lately. It seems so far away from my everyday life in London, so bound up in the incestuous and disconnected world of policy and politics, so polarised and filled with bile or false assertions from both ends of the ideological and belief spectrum.
But for some reason, I can’t stop thinking about it. It’s something I do. I know that I’m not going to be the best thinker on climate change, or the most effective activist, or the most persuasive writer. But I am trying to live a relatively carbon-friendly life, I am making my voice heard in whatever ways I can, and I plan to keep doing these things. It’s because I believe it is morally right, it could benefit me and those I care about, and because it feels good. It’s mentally stimulating and makes me question myself and my understanding of how the world works, and I like that.
Similarly, I do physical exercise. Over my lifetime, it’s taken many forms, but the result is always the same: some kind of activity that makes me push my personal boundaries, lets me set and achieve goals, and has a positive impact on my health and social life. My sporting career has been varied and has never been anywhere close to successful in an organised way. Athletics, a bit of badminton and archery, basketball through my high school years, bodyboarding and now bouldering. Sound familiar?
… ta-da! The mystery basketballer is me. I’ve never been driven for Olympic glory. No-one has harboured dreams of me in the NBA. Basketball was fun, and did a lot of good things for me, and I still like to play it when I get the chance. You weren’t reading an underdog’s unlikely success story, because unlike what the movies and TV sell us, sport is not about ‘being the best of the best’ for most people. It’s all the other things we get out of it. I’ve learned that lesson, and it hasn’t dulled my competitive spirit, but I can see where sport fits into the picture of my life. It’s important, and I will keep at it in some form for decades to come, but it doesn’t define me.
Now, my patient reader, draw a big, thick line between the two main points I’ve made. When I did, not long ago, I realised that I had the reconciliation to my troubled thoughts. Climate change can’t be about winning and losing. I can’t ‘solve’ it. I will never score 60 points in an NBA game, and I will never ride a 5 metre wave at Teahupoo, and hell, it’s not just sport, I probably won’t nail the cover photo on National Geographic either. I will not sign into law a global, binding treaty for all countries to equitably and effectively, equitably and dramatically reduce their carbon emissions over the next 30 years.
But I still go to the climbing wall a few times a week. I still pine for the waves I plaster on my wall and lug around a heavy camera. I still write about climate change, think about the environmental impact of my decisions, and encourage people to do play along and do the same.
I do these things because my past experiences, my values, my skills, just what makes me tells me it’s the right thing to do. And I’ll look at each new discussion created, each new seed of thought planted, each letter to an MP or public transport journey taken or slagging off Top Gear for blindly worshiping blatant irresponsible wastefulness, as a little milestone, a success on the path of my life.
If a basketballer quit because she missed a shot, or a guitarist bunged a note in a solo and walked off stage never to return, the world would be a boring and desolate place. The idea of giving up on climate change activism has bumped around in my mind with every failure I’ve seen and heard about. But so far they haven’t been my failures, and if they do happen to be, I’ll have to take that in stride, learn from it and act again.
Let’s make positive action on climate change something we all just do. We’ll have different reasons; some might do it for their children’s future prospects, others might do it because they are concerned about its impact on the environment, others see it as a failure of rational thought, others see it as an opportunity to build a society on positive ideals of social cohesion and a healthier relationship with the world we live on. And others might do it because it’s cheaper to live that way, or it’s the law, or gets them laid more often, or because their friends are talking about it.
The reasons matter less than the actions, but let’s do our best to make sure both our reasons and our actions are the best we can make them. Remember – liberal or conservative, Western or Eastern, rich or poor, X or Y or Z, we are all on the same team, and we all have goals we can reach every single day.