Synchronicity Earth Trustee Catherine Bryan describes how her perception of the world around her has shifted since she moved into the environmental sector eight years ago, and explores the capacity we all have to help bring about positive change for nature.
Giving nature space
Writing during this summer’s unprecedented heat wave, I sat in the shade in my garden watching the butterflies dance through the long grass that was once a closely cropped lawn. Earlier in the year we delighted in finding another orchid, in addition to the two that have flowered in previous years, in the same area of unmown grass. I wonder how many other people are now allowing a more ‘untidy’ approach to gardening to make space for wildlife? I can only say how much I have enjoyed seeing what happens when you give nature space to thrive, even in a small area, so how do we do that at larger scale and how do we work together to really bring about change?
Appreciating what is around us
As I’ve learned over the past 8 years in the environment sector, imposing our controls and impacts on nature plays out across all areas of our life and I have never been more aware of it. The longer I have worked in the environment sector, the more the world around me looks different. I have learned so much about what healthy and vibrant habitats look like, and the ingredients needed to achieve these, so now, when I look across any landscape, I try to pick out wildlife habitat; hedgerows, trees, flower-rich grassland, and streams. As I walk through any urban landscape, I look for the trees, shrubs, and flowers – the green spaces that research shows make us happier and support good mental health, that clean the air we breathe and bring wildlife into the places where an increasing number of us live. We know so much about why our natural world is continuing to shrink and become less resilient and we are recognising the impact this can have on our health – both physical and mental – and our wellbeing. In many cases, the good news is, we know what the solutions are.
Wildflowers in an urban environment. Image: iStock
Eco-anxiety taking its toll
Working in the environmental charity sector since 2014 has been a deeply formative experience. My perception of the world has changed so much and at times, like so many others in this sector and beyond, the future has looked very bleak. And this isn’t just affecting those of us working in the sector: a 2020 survey of psychiatrists working with children in England, published in the British Medical Journal, highlighted that more than half of them (57%) are seeing children and young people distressed about the climate crisis and the state of the environment. ‘Eco-anxiety’ has become a term that is regularly used for the deep concern felt by so many people, not just the young, for the continuing climate and biodiversity crises and the lack of action being taken to address them by governments around the world. However, so much of what I’ve learned is about how change takes place and how each of us can play a part.
Barriers to change
A key issue is shifting policy and regulation in the context of extensive corporate lobbying (see Influence Map reports to understand the extent of this on climate change) alongside relatively short electoral cycles that don’t align with tackling systemic challenges. Governments rarely lead change. They often adopt policy and regulation only when they see there is support in their electorate. That’s why a wide range of charitable organisations spend so much of their time campaigning on issues like halting deforestation, improving air quality, or trying to halt and reverse the degradation of freshwater systems around the world. They are seeking to win over hearts and minds so that politicians see the wide public support for the structural changes that need to take place in our economies.
It is often NGOs who lead campaigns on issues such as deforestation, air pollution and water quality. Image: iStock
Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) matter
My respect has only grown for the many organisations that produce really engaging campaigns and develop well-considered policy proposals that come together to deliver the shifts we need: this might be Dynamique des Groupes des Peuples Autochtones campaigning for the rights of Indigenous Peoples in the Democratic Republic of Congo, ShareAction convening shareholders to demand that UK banks align their banking activities with the Paris Climate Accord, or the High Seas Alliance campaigning for effective governance of our ocean, so that we scale back overfishing and protect some of the most precious and magical habitats on Earth. It is also true of the many charities working on the frontline of climate impacts and biodiversity loss, protecting incredible and diverse habitats around the world and working with the most impacted people to improve their lives. There are so many outstanding organisations I could mention. Progress is being made and so much good work is underway, however – we still need more people to be part of the change.
Changing hearts and minds
An interesting example of a fundamental shift in perception, thanks to lots of hard work by a wide range of organisations, is Deep Sea Mining (DSM). In 2014, Synchronicity Earth gave a small grant to a Papuan charity to oppose deep sea mining in the species-rich waters around Papua New Guinea. At that time the impacts of DSM were not widely understood, there was very little focus on this emerging threat to deep-seabed ecosystems and no regulation covering it. Fast forward to the UN Ocean conference in Lisbon in June this year at which three government delegations, island states, Palau, Fiji and Samoa, called for a moratorium on deep-seabed mining supported, amongst others, by President Emmanuel Macron. This is a great example of where campaigning from many charities and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) around the world over the intervening 8 years has shifted this from being an unknown issue to mainstream recognition with credible action now looking possible. It could not have happened without the many generous donors who decided to make a difference and backed the change-makers.
My generation (born in the sixties) grew up during a period of very effective blocking of information on the climate crisis by the fossil fuel sector. We travelled the world without climate guilt, bought a wealth of consumer products without a thought for environmental impacts and were able to eat any food product at any time of year without thinking about food miles, unsustainable water-use, or deforestation. That’s no longer the case and we can’t ignore what this has cost all of us and the challenges ahead. My generation and those following are now in decision-making positions across government and our economy and hold much of the power to deliver change. So how can each of us have agency and take action to get those solutions underway?
How to bring about change
We can all change our behaviour to reduce our carbon footprint and our impacts on species around the world, but it’s even more important to contribute to movements for change. We all have more impact when we work together and support the change-makers. The expert conservationists and policy developers, campaigners, and data scientists who are producing the many strategies that can deliver a better future for climate, nature, and people. Friends of the Earth took a humorous look at what we can achieve on our own as we try to do the right thing, compared to the impact we can have by supporting organisations and movements – it will make you laugh, and humour has an amazing ability to make us think – please take the 1 minute and 20 seconds to take a look:
Their message is spot on and tells all of us that the best way to bring about real structural change is to support the organisations working so hard to do this on behalf of all of us and there are so many to choose from, whatever your area of interest. Through my work as a trustee at Synchronicity Earth and the Environmental Funders Network I continue to learn and hear every day about inspiring examples of change. Solutions are out there, and they need more support, so get in touch with either organisation to find out more.
My perception of the world around me has changed so much since 2014 when I took my first tentative steps into environmental work. The intervening years have been truly formative and transformative for me. Many people’s perceptions have also changed during that time. Each of us can have agency in our individual workplace and private life, so don’t ignore those opportunities, but we can magnify that many times over by funding the organisations that are protecting precious ecosystems and those that will bring about systemic change to produce the regenerative economy that our children need if they are to enjoy a world where they and nature can thrive.
If you are interested in supporting environmental conservation, but don’t know how, get in touch and talk to us about the work we do protect overlooked and underfunded species, regions and ecosystems.