Be the change you want to see

Cat James

The schoolgirl sits quietly at the back of the high-performance yacht. Her stillness contrasts with the perpetual motion of the churning Atlantic swell behind her. Her unblinking eyes are hard to read. Is she staving off tiredness and nausea, or contemplating her astonishing year which will shortly culminate in a platform on the world’s stage?

So begins the film I Am Greta, a documentary about teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg. Her journey – politically and physically – is shown in intimate detail. From her solo “Skolstrejk för klimatet” (“school strike for climate”) outside the Swedish parliament, to her speech at the UN Climate Action Summit in New York via that sea crossing. As her notoriety grows, so do the invitations from the High Foreheads: politicians, presidents, the Pope. But despite her informed and impassioned pleas, nobody in power has the inclination to Do Something about the climate emergency; instead using Greta for their own self-promotion via selfies and photo opportunities.

Time and again, Greta appealed to the grown-ups. But they weren’t prepared to be the architects of the change she sought.

Skip forward a year and the climate emergency has not gone away. However neither has the Covid19 global pandemic, which rudely usurped the uninhabitability of the earth as a topic of immediate concern. The viral threat to people’s personal continued existence was suddenly more pressing than humanity’s longevity.

This particular strain of coronavirus shows no signs of easing despite our compliance during the first lockdown. As the clocks sprang forward, the nation sprang into inaction. Stay at home, we were urged; save lives and protect the NHS. And, like obedient citizens we did the right thing. We believed our politicians, who were listening to their scientific advisors. The trajectory of the virus’ curve was reversed and to celebrate we were urged, nay practically paid, to go to the pub throughout the summer.

Yet all the sloganeering, podium filibustering, and discount meals have not ‘controlled’ the virus. Yesterday was the start of a second lockdown.

But the virus could have been kept in abeyance. With both the climate emergency and Covid-19 we all know what needs to be done. We don’t have to wait for our leaders to use a massive legislative sledgehammer to beat us into compliance. When we do, we face being controlled by fear and fines, central monitoring and the tools of totalitarianism. Instead, we could choose to act responsibly under our own volition; use less, keep safe, be considerate.

As Greta discovered, politicians are mostly working to their own self-serving agenda. So, rather than expect those in power to instigate change, instead, like an amoeba, we could create that movement from the edges. We can all Do Something, tiny incremental steps, whether to save the planet or protect other humans.

The Isle of Wight has done a magnificent job in keeping its community safe. Let’s carry on regarding Hands Face Space and also continue to Reduce Reuse and Recycle. We can be the change we want to see.

This article first appeared in print in the Isle of Wight County Press on 7 November 2020, and also online.

Cat James

Graphic designer, creative director of Pinkeye Graphics, Isle of Wight County Press columnist, Cat out of Matt and Cat

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