Laura Baldwin

Why I am a hypocrite and other accusations, by Olympic Sailor, Laura Baldwin.

Making the decision to become an environmental activist wasn’t an obvious one for me. I have always been and still am, a law abiding citizen and not naturally rebellious. I only became aware in January 2019, how our high carbon lifestyles have pushed our climate and ecology to crisis point. It was the immense feelings of fear and anxiety for my 7 years old son’s future and for the existence of all living things on this planet that made me feel compelled to take action.

My bubble of contentment burst when I read papers to my jet lagged Canadian friend, who I was visiting in Zurich for a weekend (as you do when you have no carbon conscience), in preparation for her attending the World Economic Forum. It was like reading a script for a horror movie. Suddenly all that I had been proud of, being an Olympic sailor and two times Olympic sailing coach, having travelled the world, being a dual citizen of the UK and Australia and jetting between the two each year, made me feel immense guilt at my contribution to climate breakdown.

I’m a 1980’s girl. I grew up being told, ‘the sky is the limit’, ‘the world is your oyster’ and to ‘dream big!’ I was heartbroken realising that I wouldn’t be able to motivate my son in the same way as I had so many other kids but this is now a matter of life or death for billions of people. And then a report was released in May 2019 saying a million species face extinction, because of humans.

I read and watched everything I could about the problems and also the solutions. I was obsessed with researching. Listening to notables like; Sir David Attenborough saying, “Right now, we are facing a man-made disaster of a global scale. Our greatest threat in thousands of years. Climate change.”

If you haven’t yet watched David Attenborough’s, ‘Extinction – the facts’, I urge you to do so.

I sunk into a deep depression / hyper eco-anxious state until I accepted that I couldn’t change my past but I could do something to help change the future. I hung on the fact that the scientists say, we do still have time to fix this. The next 7 years are the most critical in the history of humanity. We must rapidly decarbonise and regain balance with and restore nature. 

I had a choice, either run away and burry my head, live off grid so at least I wasn't contributing to the catastrophe or stand up and fight. There was no way that I could ignore what I knew and carry on as I was. Because, what would I tell my son? ‘Sorry son, it was too much for me to bare thinking about, so I didn’t!’

First we switched to a 100% green energy provider at home. Then slowly each month, with each pay cheque, I made all the eco swaps at home, eliminating toxic chemicals and plastic and anything single use, as far as possible, considerably reducing my waste by ordering a weekly organic veg box that is delivered to my door by an electric vehicle. My grocery bill went down by eliminating all the packaged processed foods and it is a whole lot healthier. I pledged to only buy pre-loved items and clothes and to avoid buying things made overseas.

Then I looked to see what I could do to help my community. I lobbied Portland Town Council to declare a climate and ecological emergency, which they did in June 2019. I gained a place on PTC climate action working group. We quickly created a list of ways to reduce PTC carbon footprint and increase biodiversity and started acting on them. I learned that local Councils have limited authority and limited funding.

I set up Portland 4 the Planet, a community group through which I organised an Eco Fair and the planting of 1000 trees autumn 2019 and we have just planted 900 more in December 2020. I have 400 more arriving 7 January 2021 that I have arranged for the local youth football club to plant around the edge of their sports field. I established a community allotment during the first national lockdown and have been given permission to plant allotments and orchards on several other Council held green spaces. I have leased a plot of land from a developer to plant up and protect it as a green space. I co-organised three People’s Assemblies asking the questions; what should Dorset Council do to tackle the climate and ecological emergency and, what should we do as a community? The outcomes of the first question were submitted to Dorset Council and the community ideas have become Portland 4 the Planet’s action list. Together with two others we ran an environmental action group at Atlantic Academy Portland and I gave a number of talks to schools called, ‘Climate change, from Anxiety to Empowerment.’ 

I also gave talks sharing the scientific facts about climate change and ecological breakdown and what to do about it, to Portland Town Council, Weymouth Town Council, Swanage Labour Branch, open groups, Scouts and faith groups.

I got involved with Sustainable Dorset’s, Green Living Project, starting a group on Portland, helping people to reduce their carbon footprints in a sociable and supportive way.

But I came to realise that, none of the above was enough, not enough people are willing to make the necessary changes voluntarily, many cannot afford to. And whilst the Government are tearing down 108 ancient woodlands to make way for HS2, the High Speed Rail network to make the journey from Birmingham to London 20 minutes faster and expanding airports and building new roads and coal mines and oil wells and waste incinerators and subsidising fossil fuels and cutting feed-in tariffs for solar and not implementing building policies to ensure all new builds are carbon neutral, not banning single use plastics and ensuring a swift transition to a circular economy.. I realised it was the Government that needed targeting.

So I joined my local XR group at its initiation in May 2019 and our first action was a protest outside our County Council to pressure them to declare a climate an ecological emergency, which they did. We have kept the pressure on Dorset Council to create and act on their Climate and Ecological Emergency Strategy, starting with telling all residents and businesses the truth and why they need to be setting zero carbon goals to achieve ASAP. I have been involved in many local and national XR actions and learned many useful skills through XR training in, facilitation, active listening, de-escalation, action design, legal rights, police liaison and regenerative culture. XR has been incredibly successful at brining the C&EE up the political agenda. The media and government have fought against the movement. 

I recognise that the climate and ecological emergency needs new voices to stand up and be heard. I believe Greens could use their voices effectively and their actions could be powerful. 

The UN Secretary General announced last week that, ‘Our planet is broken. We are waging a war on nature. This is suicidal. Nature always strikes back and is doing so with gathering force and fury. Biodiversity is collapsing, deserts are spreading, oceans are choking with plastic waste..' 

The next 7 years are the most critical in the history of humanity. We must ACT NOW to rapidly reduce carbon emissions to ZERO! Everyone needs a zero carbon plan. The longer businesses take to reduce emissions, the more dramatic those changes will need to be and the less likely they will be to survive financially. The then Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney said, ‘“Companies that fail to respond to climate change will go bankrupt without a doubt". 

We can’t let a fear of being accused of being a hypocrite, stop us from standing up to the Government to call for system change. It is almost impossible not to be a hypocrite living within the current system. And as for being labelled 'middle class', please, why does a person's class mean they shouldn't be listened to? 

Let’s make the transformative adaptation that we absolutely must adopt, the most beautiful, fulfilling and connecting experience. What we need to do to fix the climate and ecological crisis is also excellent for helping people suffering from depression and anxiety. Planting trees, re-wilding land, restoring peat and wetlands, growing our own food, making our own clothes from pre-loved items, mending, making, sharing, connecting as a community, living simpler and slower with less stress and less stuff but with way more time for relationships and hobbies, close to home. Let’s make our communities offer us all we need and give our kids a future they will thrive within.

Let's force this change, this Transformative Adaptation, as a form of non-violent direct action.  

 

Laura Baldwin 

When your kids or grandkids ask you, 'what did you do to fix the climate and ecological emergency, whilst there still was time?', what will you be able to say?..