If you had one sentence/paragraph to explain climate change to someone who hadn’t heard of it before – what would you say?
One sentence is hard, because it’s complex and has so many effects… but if I had to try, I’d say:
By burning fossil fuels (coal, oil, gas) to provide energy for electricity, heat and transport, we’re adding gases to our planet’s atmosphere that act like the glass in a greenhouse – trapping more and more of the sun’s rays, heating up our planet faster than normal, changing the environment for us, for wildlife and for nature much faster than any of us can adapt.
How would you explain to someone why they should care about climate change?
Because of that last bit of my first answer – ‘changing the environment … much faster than any of us can adapt’. We’re on track, if we carry on as now, to see global temperature rises by four degrees Celsius, or more. We’re already losing wildlife all over the world as habitats change. It’s becoming harder to grow important crops in some parts of the world. Sea levels are rising, threatening coastal regions and island nations. People’s health, wealth and wellbeing are at risk in every part of the world, but hitting the poorest first and hardest. We will face a very different future on Earth if temperatures rise by four degrees. Right now, we’re at a moment in our history when we know how to avoid this – we know what to do to solve the problem. But we need to act now. Politicians and businesses don’t do things if people who vote for them and buy stuff from them don’t care about it. So, care about it – and make clear you care about it.
How important is it to have prominent figures such as Ellie Goulding taking up the mantle of climate change?
It’s hugely important because Ellie’s voice is heard by so many people, very many of whom might not hear WWF’s voice, never mind my voice! And the fact that she’s so passionate about it makes her voice even more powerful. If you want to mobilise people to a cause – to change their behaviour, to influence their friends and family, and to tell political leaders to act – then passionate, articulate voices help spread the word.
How is your work at WWF helping to conserve their natural habitat?
Firstly, our campaigning and our work to influence governments and businesses here in the UK, and around the world, help tackle climate change. For example, just a couple of years ago, WWF-UK played a key role in influencing the government to commit to phasing coal out of our electricity generation by 2025. Coal is the dirtiest fuel; stopping burning it has a huge effect in cutting our greenhouse gas emissions. If we can tackle climate change, then we slow temperature rises and we avoid or minimise some of the worst effects of climate change.
The Arctic experiences some of those worst effects with temperature rises there outpacing global temperatures. This has led to dramatic losses of sea ice – with less and less of it in the Arctic each summer as it forms later in the year and breaks up earlier. Polar bears rely on sea ice to hunt for food for themselves and their cubs. Although they can swim fairly fast and for quite long periods, they rely on being able conserve energy and rove further to hunt using sea ice – swimming between stretches of it, and hunting from the ice. The less sea ice there is, the harder it is to hunt – and already, they tend only to succeed in catching food in around 2% of their hunts! If the hunting gets harder, then it threatens their ability to raise families and so keep population numbers high.
Polar bears are a crucial part of the Arctic ecosystem and we don’t want to lose them. This is why WWF works with scientists in and around the Arctic to track bear populations and understand as much as we can about them, their habitats, movements, breeding etc. The more we understand, the more we can track what is happening to polar bear populations – and the more we can then do to protect them. At the moment, we face losing nearly a third of polar bears by 2050.
What is one small thing that everyone could start doing tomorrow to help fight climate change?
Care about it and talk about it.
Your basic fact that you want to influence is that we should use less energy (for driving, lighting, heating, flying, producing food – whatever it is), and that the energy we use should be clean (renewables like solar and wind).
If businesses – the sort of businesses we use every day, like shops, hotels, restaurants – know you won’t buy goods or use services that damage the environment or contribute to climate change, then they’ll stop trying to sell or do those things. If politicians know you care about climate change, then they know that they need to be clear what they’re going to do about it to get your vote. If friends and family know you care about it, you can help them to care about it too – so they can influence others in turn.
We all love a good Netflix binge. Are there any documentaries / shows / films you would recommend we watch to educate ourselves about climate change?
How much time have you got…?! Our amazing national treasure David Attenborough, is the place to start. Planet Earth 2 and his series on The Great Barrier Reef are the most recent, but any of his amazing, breathtaking BBC documentaries over the last few years will give you a strong sense of the threats that face all forms of wildlife and nature. But they also give you such a vivid picture of the wonders and beauty that we risk losing if we don’t solve this problem.
Leonardo DiCaprio and Al Gore have emerged as powerful international voices on climate change. They’ve both made films about it.
Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth gives you the basic, central information about climate change. His new film, An Inconvenient Sequel will give you more info about what’s been achieved since that first film – like the ground-breaking Paris Agreement in 2015, where 195 countries agreed to work to keep global temperature rises to 1.5 degrees Celcius. But it also gives a sense of where we haven’t made enough progress.
DiCaprio’s Before the Flood is a really interesting look at the problem and the solutions with some heartbreaking moments – such as the leader of the small South Pacific nation who talks about having bought land in another country to relocate his people from their drowning home.
And if you want a good read to get you fired up, then Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything is a good place to start.
There are so many different ways to support the fight against climate change. What would your elevator pitch for WWF be when asking people to support you specifically?
WWF is the world’s biggest conservation body with a powerful and trusted brand, recognised worldwide – 1,300 projects in over 100 countries. We’re respected by governments and businesses as a knowledgeable, principled, science-led organisation. Our conservation work on the ground and our campaigning and advocacy work with decision-makers have a huge impact. Our work with tigers has seen population numbers rise and we’ve brought the giant panda – our iconic logo – back from the brink of extinction. Supporting our work – donating, sponsoring an endangered animal, becoming a member, or even just shouting about what we do – helps increase that impact. We want to create a world where people and nature thrive, and we demonstrate day in and day out that we can deliver results that bring that aspiration closer.
"Climate / renewables science presents us with some exciting opportunities for the future."
Is there anything upcoming that you & WWF are particularly excited by?
The opportunities for clean energy – the silver bullet for climate change – are huge and exciting. In this decade we’ve seen solar and wind power mushrooming – from nothing, to supplying over a quarter of our electricity in the UK – as its costs have plummeted. We’re already witnessing the death of coal as an energy source in almost all parts of the world. And in the next decade, we’re likely to see the surprisingly rapid death of the internal combustion engine as petrol and diesel cars are displaced by zero-emission electric and hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles. And the technology to control and manage it is important too – smart technology to manage demand for power up and down to make the most efficient use of every energy source, all the time. Huge opportunities and there’s money and jobs in it for the companies and countries that seize those opportunities!
And finally a bit about you, we like to get to know the people behind the cause!
How did you become involved with WWF and their work on climate change?
I’ve always cared about these issues – about climate change, wildlife and nature – but I haven’t always worked on them. Until last year, I worked for the UK government – most recently, on climate change and renewables. But I was lucky enough to find my dream job at WWF last year and haven’t looked back! I’m so proud to work for an organisation packed full of clever, passionate, committed people who are all here to change the world!
Tell us about a moment in your career that made you realize the impact your work was having.
If I’d been here longer, I’d say the moment that the UK government committed to ditching coal – but that was before my time. So I’d have to say standing next to Emily Shuckburgh – a brilliant climate scientist – at the Science Museum, talking to hundreds of people about climate change after showing Leonardo DiCaprio’s Before the Flood. That was part of the campaign leading up to WWF’s Earth Hour in March this year – a moment where millions worldwide demonstrate that they care about this planet and shout at their political leaders that they want action on climate change. I’m proud that nine million people here in the UK took part in that and made their voices heard. More of that and we make governments stand up and take the urgent action we need.