The Reluctant Activist

This blog is supposed to be about climate change from the perspective of a complete novice, but in the interests of full disclosure I have to say that I do have some prior experience in environmental campaign work. Here goes…

I.

When I was about ten years old I was my primary school’s Junior Recycling Officer.

I didn’t ask for it, but by virtue of being a smug, conscientious little brat the gig was mine by birthright. They gave me a hideously garish primary coloured rucksack; and there wasn’t a Senior Recycling Officer, so I basically ruled the roost.

Every second Friday I stood in front of the whole school in assembly and informed all and sundry of the reasons why they should recycle, which I forget, and where they could do it, which I think is now obsolete. I learned from the first lecture to keep it brief, after my laughing headteacher regained the floor thanking me for my “thorough” introduction. Besides, by the third week I had more or less run out of content. The rest of my year in office was spent giving updates on the innumerable poster competitions that the organisers put together just to give us little eco-warriors something to talk about.

But I did (to my amazement) get through to at least one little boy, maybe six years old, who approached me on the playground. His exact words I forget, so I’ll paraphrase.

“I like your talks and I think it’s really important to recycle.”

“That’s… that’s great! So are you going to recycle more plastic bottles and cans?”

“No.”

“Oh, ok.”

“My mum doesn’t want to.”

“Ok, well, never mind.”

The Cycling Proficiency Officer didn’t have to put up with that shit.

II.

A mere eight years later I was at university, studying electronic engineering – at best an eco-neutral profession, let’s face it. Evidently the faceless orchestrators of my pre-pubescent environmental protection post can’t claim to have had any lasting influence even on the youthful instrument of their message. May they hang those faceless heads in shame.

After primary school, the first significant brush I had with environmental issues was Environmental Issues, a lecture course in my third year. Again I didn’t choose this so much as it chose me – that is to say, I did choose it, but only because the other option was even worse.

In hindsight it was a course that didn’t have all that much to say about climate change, which is way up there as far as Issues go that are Environmental. What it did have was an awful lot about landfill sites, industrial cleaning and water/energy wastage. But don’t get me wrong, it was hella fun when he made us count our toilet flushes for a fortnight.

III.

One year after that, my final year, I was talked into joining in with a group of friends and entering the Npower Challenge. I regretted it immediately and my regret increased daily. It was already a very busy year, stuffed with exams and coursework, and the time and mental bandwidth I had available was zero.

The Npower Challenge was (is?) an annual competition organised and funded, of course, by Npower. Teams of final-year students from several institutions performed group presentations on a particular topic, competing in regional heats followed by a national final in London that I desperately didn’t want to go to. That year’s topic: How would you solve the impending crisis of energy shortage in the UK?

How indeed. Other topics I was addressing around that time included: How the hell was I gonna finish all this coursework when these guys were relying on me to keep the lights on for another century? Of course the “correct” answer is along the lines of improving efficiency in generation and use of energy, prospecting for new oil sources, expanding the nuclear share in our energy portfolio, and adopting new and emerging technologies to harvest previously unreachable burnable resources (fracking). Oh and investing in renewable energy sources, because, you know, environment or whatever.

We, however, didn’t submit the “correct” answer. Instead, we strode in with a tangential idea, focusing on the energy wasted in unnecessary transport and travel. We knew this wouldn’t solve the crisis, but it would be something that nobody else would touch on. In my opinion we pitched it perfectly, finishing fourth where the top three places won a ticket to London. Just think of all the fuel we saved.

*

A further eight years after graduating, the present day. Predictably, I’m now an electronic engineer, developing microchips for radio systems. I like my job, and I love my wife and 1-year-old son. I have a penchant for stylish cutting-edge consumer electronics I can’t afford. I play guitar and video games. I like films and addictive American drama series. I eat meat and far too much chocolate. I drink single malt whiskey and black coffee. I drive a small Hyundai family car. I recycle paper and plastic to save space in the black bin. I have a short, full beard. My greys are starting to show through my Beatle-black hair. I’m just over 6 foot tall, scarecrow thin, and I never, ever think about climate change. Just like you.

But then.

IV.

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