In your role, you must be inundated with various facts and figures linked to the challenges our planet is facing. How do you select which issues to focus on and campaign around?
There certainly isn’t any shortage of data and evidence about how we are damaging the planet, the impact on the poorest across the world, and the immense harm that we will do to future generations unless we mend our ways. Friends of the Earth can’t solve this alone, other civil society groups, purpose-driven businesses, social and technological innovators, and investors all have critical roles to play.
Friends of the Earth has to identify where we can make a difference, based on a hard-headed assessment of our power and influence as well as the opportunities to influence. More and more we need to be focussed on making solutions happen and less and less on opposing bad stuff, although there will always be a need for some of the latter.
Has the Covid-19 pandemic affected the way that you look at the climate emergency?
The pandemic has shown that in times of emergency politicians are able to throw away their ideological rule-books and do what is necessary to protect people. While this creates a helpful precedent, we are a long way from politicians across the political spectrum truly seeing the climate emergency as an “emergency”. Although climate change is now recognised as a very serious problem that must be addressed, which is progress, many politicians still see it as an issue that can be put on the back-burner or as an issue of secondary importance to the economy. The reality is that more needs to be done to highlight the urgency. Many businesses are way ahead of politicians on this issue.
In the wake of the pandemic, Friends of the Earth has launched a campaign calling for a green and fair recovery plan. How do you see banks and financial services playing a role in this?
Covid-19 has highlighted yet again the environmental inequalities in society, particularly regarding access to green space and nature. For decades Friends of the Earth has seen looking after people and looking after the planet as two-sides of the same coin. In fact, that’s why I joined the organisation way-back in 1989 as a volunteer.
Politicians still control the main levers for addressing the climate and ecological emergency but the world has changed considerably and other players now also wield huge amounts of power, whether that’s the social media giants, the banks or others in finance. The finance industry particularly shapes the future world we live in through what it chooses to invest in and what not to invest in. These are deliberate choices and moral choices. The industry is now too big and powerful to abdicate responsibility for the choices it makes. Those like Triodos that put ethical considerations dead-centre of decision-making will be thanked for doing so, those that don’t will be held to account one day.
How do you ensure that your research is inclusive of the Black community and other communities that have been marginalised by the environmental movement in the past?
The green movement as a whole has a journey to go on to be more representative of society, and particularly of these most harmed by environmental degradation. Friends of the Earth has a long record in highlighting environmental justices in our work, and I remember the father of the Environment Justice Movement Bob Bullard speaking at our annual local groups conference in the 1990s. But highlighting environmental injustices in the UK is not the same as campaigning side by side with those suffering. There is a lot of evidence to show those from BAME and more deprived areas are impacted more significantly than other communities around environmental degradation. Working to improve the diversity of our staff and local groups is a top priority, but there is not a magic wand and building relationships and changing perceptions is a long project.
What piece of research or policy are you most proud of?
That’s not an easy question because I’m long in the tooth now and I’ve covered a lot of terrain. But I guess I’d have to say the Big Ask Campaign that led to the Climate Change Act. The idea for the campaign wasn’t mine but I did have the pleasure of leading a small team of brilliantly talented people to deliver a major campaign win.
What research focus is next?
I want us to do more on using data to help empower people locally to deliver and push for change. I think we’ve scratched the surface with our ‘How climate friendly is your community?’ tool. But I’m also particularly interested in how we can better highlight the unfair burdens we are putting on young people through the foot-dragging on climate change and nature degradation, and how putting young people’s interests centre-stage could be transformational. But these are both ideas in a scoping phase right now, so watch this space!
You’ve described yourself as an optimist, what gives you strength and hope when dealing with the environmental and ecological emergencies on a daily basis?
I suspect my optimism is partly a psychological safeguard to stop me ploughing into a slough of despondency. That said there are grounds for optimism. Young people have found their voice and not just in the streets but also their work-places. There is a vast army of academic innovators across the world driving forward progress on everything from batteries to restoration of the coral reefs. And purpose-driven business are no longer fringe but mainstream as companies across the world reject the idea that money is everything. Campaigning for change is a lifetime occupation and resilience and belief are key.
Refer a Friend and support Friends of the Earth
Did you know that you can now refer your friends and family to Triodos Bank and benefit Friends of the Earth at the same time?
If you already bank with Triodos, then we'll donate £25 directly to Friends of the Earth for each new Triodos Current Account customer who joins on your recommendation.
And what's more, your friends can choose to donate £60 to Friends of the Earth too (so a potential donation of £85 between you). Alternatively, they can choose to receive a gift voucher when they open an account with us. Eligibility, terms and conditions apply.
Together, we can change banking for good and provide more power to Friends of the Earth’s vital campaigning work.