IGNITING THE URGENCY FOR CHANGE
Introduction: Our world is teetering on the edge of a catastrophic environmental collapse and the need for immediate and dramatic change is undeniable. Around the globe, passionate individuals are raising their voices, expressing their concerns and advocating for a sustainable future. Peaceful protests have become a powerful tool for these activists, commanding attention to stress the urgency of the situation. I am increasingly asked what I think about these campaigners and their tactics and methods. While we often seek simple answers, the complexity of these questions requires deep contemplation, vigorous debate and, ultimately, personal choice.
Supporting the Cause: It is crucial to wholeheartedly support the cause of environmental preservation, climate action and a restorative way of life. For far too long we have been plundering the planet and, if we do not swiftly change our ways, it will be too late. The sacrifices made by climate protestors deserve our gratitude. They demand change and call for us all to act. Disruptive protests, although they may not align with everyone’s preferences, have a proven historical impact in driving transformative change. Movements such as civil rights and gay rights, as well as campaigns against political conflicts and wars, have reshaped our world. It is unlikely we will achieve the change necessary to protect and improve the environment without passionate activists leading the way.
A great recent example of this is the incredible efforts of Surfers Against Sewage (under the leadership of Hugo Tagholm) and the Rivers Trust, as well as wild swimmers, kayakers and celebrity advocates from across the nation. Together, they have achieved an extraordinary feat: obtaining a formal apology from Water UK for their failings in preventing sewage pollution. Additionally, Water UK has pledged substantial investment aimed at enhancing the water quality in our rivers and bathing areas.
This is a fantastic achievement, albeit they are realistic that this is a small step in the right direction and their cause continues.
Disruptive Protests and Divisiveness: It is important to acknowledge that protest, by its nature, disrupts the status quo and often leads to division. However, our appreciation should be directed towards the vast majority of environmental protestors who choose peaceful means to convey their concerns. Unfortunately, these brave individuals often become victims of aggression and violence. However, their resilience in the face of such challenges only reinforces the urgency of addressing environmental issues; that they are willing to continue to fight the good fight despite the significant personal cost.
It is true that a small fraction of protests have unintentionally disrupted public services, including ambulances, and caused inconvenience to people’s lives. Such consequences are regrettable, and we must continuously strive for more effective and considerate ways to raise awareness and demand change. However, we must not lose sight of the bigger picture. Whether peaceful or disruptive, these protests have undeniably drawn attention and media coverage to the urgent challenges we all face. They have spurred conversations, ignited public discourse, and pushed environmental issues to the forefront of political and social agendas.
While I personally may not choose the same methods, if I were faced with the choice between standing on the front line alongside peaceful protestors or suppressing the calls for change, I would unhesitatingly align myself with the cause of change. When my children ask me what I did when the planet was burning, I want to be able to say that I tried…
The Role of Business Activism: Critics may argue that recognising the problem without actively joining the fight makes one a hypocrite. I don’t disagree, however I firmly believe that everyone has a unique way of contributing to the fight against climate collapse and the biodiversity crisis. As an environmentalist and entrepreneur, I have chosen to become an activist within the business community. People yearn for change, for a future on Earth and, above all, for hope. Through our business, we strive to deliver positive environmental and social impact, generating profit as a result of what we do, not the purpose. We are determined to show that business can be a force for good.
One of the most impactful business activists is Yvon Chouinard, the founder of outdoor apparel company Patagonia, who has been a vocal advocate for environmental sustainability for decades. Patagonia has implemented various ground-breaking initiatives to reduce its ecological impact, such as using recycled materials and telling people not to buy their clothes on Black Friday to raise awareness of overconsumption. In 2022, Patagonia literally transferred ownership of its company to the planet by placing 98% of its equity into a non-profit called the Holdfast Collective with the mission to “use every dollar received to fight the environmental crisis, protect nature and biodiversity, and support thriving communities, as quickly as possible”. This is a radical example of environmental corporate leadership which will have huge impact.
The Need for Activist Leaders: To effect transformative change, we must become activist leaders — individuals and teams with resources, influence, and an unwavering commitment to drive positive impact, urgently.
Whilst divisive in his approach, especially following his purchase of Twitter, it is inarguable that Elon Musk has revolutionised transportation and awakened the world to electric vehicles. By building Tesla into one of the most valuable companies in the world, Musk has played a key role in popularising and advancing battery technology and rapidly accelerated our transition away from petrol and diesel fuelled cars.
Oxygen Conservation, founded with the goal of being the world’s first conservation-focused unicorn company, stands as a testament to our drive for positive impact, urgently. Over the past two years, we have acquired nearly 30,000 acres for conservation and deployed capital approaching £100 million in the fight against climate collapse and biodiversity loss. Yet, our greatest impact lies in being a catalyst for Scaling Conservation and growing the wider natural capital economy. We aim to inspire others and mobilise resources by demonstrating that investing in natural capital can become the world’s biggest alternative asset class. Only through the collaboration of campaigners, activists and business leaders can we mobilise the trillions of dollars necessary to protect and enhance our natural world.
A Personal Choice: While I am grateful for the courageous activists sacrificing their civil liberties for the sake of change — I have chosen a different path. I believe that my role lies in creating change through the growth of natural capital and mobilising investments for the protection and improvement of our natural world.
I can only hope to stand on the shoulders of giants like Sir Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin Group, who has been actively involved in environmental initiatives for decades, but who also highlights the many contradictions and compromises associated with sustainability with his involvement in Virgin Airlines and today with Virgin Galactic. Notably he launched the “Carbon War Room” organisation, which works to accelerate the adoption of clean technologies and reduce carbon emissions. Branson has also committed to investing billions of dollars in renewable energy projects, committed future profits from Virgin Air & Rail to the fight against global warming as well as personally championing conservation and species reintroductions projects.
However, my plea remains the same as the activist and business leaders highlighted in this piece: let us all unite in demanding an end to our dependency on oil, to deforestation of incredible ecosystems across the globe and to the pollution of our oceans, seas and rivers. These are some of the most pressing challenges we face but all can be achieved with individual and collective will. How many more wake-up calls does our planet need to give us before we realise that our current way of living can only lead to absolute catastrophe?
Conclusion: In these dire times of environmental crisis, our world yearns for leaders who will rise as passionate activists for change. Whether through peaceful protests or innovative green businesses, each one of us has the power to contribute to the journey toward a sustainable future. Let us inspire others, mobilise the necessary resources and fight relentlessly for the conservation, protection, and growth of our natural capital. Together, we can create hope and secure a promising future on planet Earth for generations to come. And perhaps, with our collective efforts, we can give others the confidence to lay down their superglue and orange paint, as change becomes an unstoppable force for good, reshaping and restoring our world for the better.