getting skin in the climate change game

Last Friday I did something that I don’t think I’ve ever done before. I went to a protest.

I joined the Climate Strike.

What I was striking from is moot as I largely choose my own hours but I went to be a part of it and observe.

I’ve been speaking with friends recently as there are a number of big issues that seem to require some sort of action. For instance, there’s the general Brexit bullshit, which I won’t discuss from a political standpoint. It’s more the inaction or resignation of people to things that appear unjust that interests me.

Many people will talk about things and not actually do anything. This is fine in most cases. I might think Arsenal played shit on the weekend and complain to my friends about it but I’m not going to make a video rant and post it anywhere.

Brexit is similar - I’ve watched people tune in to news broadcasts and listened to people discuss it ad infinitum but I suspect most of them haven’t actually done anything. I signed some sort of online petition but I knew that it was essentially futile.

Essentially, I have misgivings about the process but I’ve done the bare minimum in response.

Many people won't even have done that. They talk but have no real 'skin in the game'. Their opinion may be valid but it's pointless.

Anyway, I see Brexit bleating and jostling as wildly unimportant compared with the climate crisis which is why I decided to actually take a step and join a protest. Recently I’ve had some fascinating discussions around climate and what we can do on a personal level to address it.

Looking from an ‘emissions’ standpoint, it’s widely agreed that having fewer or no children is the best way you can contribute to the environment. Human consumption is the problem, and fewer people takes pressure off our finite resources. This is something people don’t like to hear.

I personally believe in taking high leverage actions. Why spend a lot of time and effort doing something that won’t move the needle? For instance, why overhaul your family’s diet, causing a lot of stress and anxiety around all your food buying decisions, when you could just not take one flight per year and do more for the climate than eating only the grass that grows outside your house?

Basically, our contribution to rising CO2 levels comes from our consumer decisions. This is sort of obvious but seemingly overlooked by many people.

How many of the climate strikers will be wearing fast fashion? How many will enjoy taking drugs on the weekend, an activity that costs actual human lives? How many are overweight, a physical manifestation of overconsumption and excess, supporting processed food businesses and overburdening our creaking health service?

Many of the decisions we make when we buy things have unseen knockoff effects. Who owns that food company that you buy biscuits from? What palm oil products do you have in the house? The answers are probably more insidious and disturbing than you think but it goes even further. Where’s your money invested? If it’s invested in petrochemicals, one of the most profitable ways that it could be invested, you aid and abet greenhouse gas emissions every second of your day because you’ve divorced cause and effect completely.

We’re all culpable in this. To attend the protest, I drove my car into town and actually head some new Adidas trainers turning up at the house while I was out.

It's easy to feel cynical about the utility of protests. Will gathering in town, blocking traffic, singing and taking photos do anything? How are all the participants compromised by their actions, as I was by driving there and buying new trainers?

To me, the Less But Better argument is the best one. Eat less food but better. Buy fewer clothes but buy ones that you love, that do better by the world and the people that made them. The Good On You app helps you see whether clothing brands do these things.

Fly less but make it an event when you do.

Do you have less children but provide a better life for the ones that you do have? That’s a thornier question.

Greta Thunberg made the point that it’s about reciprocal action. When people see others taking an action, they take one themselves. Making small changes yourself encourages others to do the same.

I made my small change by going to the protest. What I found there was a moving and beautiful experience.


I've rarely felt a sense of community like I did stood outside the Guildhall, watching the waving of banners and listening to the chanting of schoolchildren. The fact that they cared enough about anything to demonstrate was inspiring to me. At their age, I'm pretty sure I cared about reading books, running round in the garden and not much else besides.

A common argument against doing anything is that there are bigger contributors to the problem. The 'there's no point in me doing anything if they continue to...' and so on. Here it's interesting to consider Vincent Graham, explaining how even his political preferences change with scale and context:

‘At the federal level I am a Libertarian. At the state level, I am a Republican. At the town level, I am a Democrat. In my family I am a Socialist. And with my dog I am a Marxist — from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.’

He describing the decreasing level of trust that occurs as groups become larger. With your family you share, with strangers you take before they take from you. It's a natural way of feeling when you think about it.

What I saw at the protest was a real sense of something bigger than ourselves and our immediate wants and needs. It seemed like a real communal sense of action, that people were prepared to have less in for the greater good.

This could be wild optimism from me but an old friend, helping me with some career coaching questions, said to me that I'd retained ‘a genuinely high opinion of people. It keeps you open minded and positive when it comes to other human beings and there aren't a lot of smart people in the world who've managed to maintain that.'

I took this as a great compliment, obviously I would given my innate belief in being positive, but I do like to believe in the essential goodness of other people. We all have our selfish moments where we fail to deprioritise ourselves and how we feel in the here and now to think about someone or something else.

Thinking intelligently about the wisdom of the crowd leads you to Graham's libertarian outlook. Look where that's taken us.

To my mind, we need a return to localism in some respects. In what we eat, in our regard for our communal spaces but also on the biggest scale possible. Not only do we need to use and consume less for our planet, we need to do more.

In terms of high leverage actions, I have no children. That's that one gone. I don't take too many flights, although I could take fewer, and I almost never buy from fast fashion outlet, partly through snobbery but the effect is the same. Even my Adidas trainers aren't too harshly regarded by Good On You.

What I'd like to do is to contribute to tree planting. Apparently it's one of the best ways that we can contribute as individuals to taking carbon out of the atmosphere. The UK needs to contribute 1.5 billion new trees by 2050 to meet emissions targets and obviously the sooner the better.

I’m thinking that the way forward would be to make a regular personal contribution to a climate focussed initiative, as well as additional donations for every client project that I complete. The organisations I'm considering are listed below. Please let me know if you know of any other worthy causes or if you want to do something similar. Let's get some skin in the game.

Ben Mercer