So much of the news around the damage that humans are doing to our planet is negative – and it’s important that it is, because it’s the truth and we must understand the gravity of the situation, so we act. But all that negativity can lead to fear and anxiety, and that can lead to paralysis. A combination of both the cold, hard facts and some positivity and inspiration is crucial. That’s why here at The New Ism we are such big fans of The Earthshot Prize, which rewards five winners each year for their contributions to environmentalism.
Alex Matthews: We often talk about the importance of being constructive and positive. There’s so much bad news about the state of the world – it’s important to share the truth of what is going on, but we risk making people feel hopeless if all they hear is negativity. That’s why The Earthshot Prize is such a brilliant initiative – it focuses on the great initiatives and ideas that are being worked on around the world, and celebrates and amplifies them. Not only does that help those organisations continue their great work, but it also inspires normal people around the world to do something positive to save the planet.
Mel Young: One of the big challenges for environmental activists and those of us who want to save the planet is that we have to tell everyone about the bad news first. To get people’s attention we have to be the merchants of doom because it is true, unless we change our ways then we will destroy the world. But people can get overwhelmed with bad news. Everywhere you look there are stories about rising sea levels, bad air pollution, the destruction of our ecosystem, oceans being gummed up by plastic and so on and on and on. Thow in horror stories about the pandemic and you suddenly want to shut out the noise. I agree with you that we must get into a positive mindset but how do we do that when the future outlook is so potentially negative?
AM: It’s a matter of balance I think. We have to share the doom and gloom with one hand, and share the solutions with the other. Costa Rica was one of the winners of The Earthshot Prize, for the work they have been doing to protect forests, plant trees and restore ecosystems. President Carlos Alvarado pointed out, when accepting the award, that they are just a small, not particularly wealthy country making a real difference: if they can do it, then surely we all can? I think that’s the key – these positive stories show that it’s possible to make a positive change, because that’s what we need to do – on an individual and societal level. Do you agree?
MY: Yes, I agree. I think most people now understand that the future does not look so healthy but they are not quite sure what to do. The scale of the problems are so massive that they feel disempowered I think. But if we can change the narrative into something much more positive and exciting then I think people will join in. Costa Rica is showing a way forward. We have to make this future exciting and fun in a way so that people can become engaged, particularly young people. We should have a global competition for school children to come up with ideas for example and make it fun but with a serious outcome. A mini Earthshot, if you like!
AM: I love that idea – it would get children excited and involved, and create a mindset that will last into adulthood that the earth needs to be protected and looked after. Perhaps we could have something similar for more societal issues – awarding great ideas about how to look after people and drive equality.
Speaking of equality – or even inequality – Prince William, who’s one of the founders of the Prize, made a very good point. I’m paraphrasing, but he pointed out how ridiculous it is that people like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos are participating in a ‘space race’, spending huge amounts of money to go into space. That money and all that intelligence could go so far if it was focused on fixing the earth’s problems rather than finding a new place to go once the earth has died. I completely agree with him, but many people I’ve spoken to think it’s great that we are finding ways to go into space – it’s the next frontier, very exciting etc.
MY: Well maybe it is the next frontier and maybe it is exciting but let’s leave the pair of them to head off into space, while the rest of us concentrate on working out how we are going to save this uniquely beautiful planet and doing it in an innovative and fun way at the same time. I like that better.
AM: I agree, but we could do with their money in doing so!
MY: Again maybe we could do with their money but there is other money out there and indeed if we all contributed something small then we would have a lot. There is something strong in all of us doing this together across the world. We will build communities in the process and build our collective mental wellbeing. It’s the way to go and we should encourage it by promoting the Earthshot Prize and creating new ways in which people can be engaged.
AM: You’re absolutely right – there’s so much power in motivating people behind common goals and around unifying ideas. The Earthshot Prize is brilliant and I really hope it grows and grows, and that it inspires innovation across all the fields that need it.