I was blown away by the Adventures in Sustainability event at the Royal Geographical Society last night to launch the new Institute for Leadership and Sustainability, located at the University of Cumbria; rather than a jaded line-up of the usual suspects, five adventurers spoke about their take on sustainability. Paul Rose, the diver and polar expert compered the event. Kate Rawles, author of The Carbon Cycle, spoke of her 4,553 mile cycle from Texas to Alaska exploring attitudes to climate change en route. Ed Gillespie of Futerra spoke of his ‘around the world without flying’ trip and the challenges of communicating sustainability. Daniel Start, author of Wild Swimming, shared his favourite places for adventures in nature close to home. But it was Jamie Catto, former member of the band Faithless, who really challenged the audience with a punchy, no-holds-barred talk.
Jamie left Faithless to start a global music and film project called 1 Giant Leap. He and his team traveled around five continents recording local musicians improvising layer over layer of music over basic backing tracks to bring the idea of unity in diversity to life through music. As well as the recordings, he searched for a unity of global human experience by asking the same questions to key people he met on his travels in a search for underlying commonality and wisdom.
But his talk last night was a clarion call to strip away the pretensions and the masks that we wear, to stop trying to ‘fit in’ and instead to embrace what makes us different, what makes us stand out. He exhorted the audience to connect to their passions, to use this energy to overcome barriers and obstacles and to use excitement as your only compass in life; his experience has been that all of his greatest successes have come from the projects that were rooted in true passion and excitement. Inspiring stuff!
In the week that we pass the 400ppm CO2 mark and catastrophic, runaway climate change looms larger than ever, it’s tempting to either bury your head in the sand and pretend that nothing is wrong or to go to the other extreme and surrender to doom, gloom and passivity. At times like this we need to learn from the experience and spirit of adventurers, who overcome incredible odds and revel in laughing in the face of adversity. As sustainability practitioners, Ed Gillespie described our current challenge like being a big wave surfer – as she rides that huge wave, ten times her size, the surfer uses all her skill and determination to avoid death and injury, instead capturing the power of the wave and using it to live life to the fullest. There is a clear challenge to every one of us to step forward, stop wasting energy on hiding behind a mask and instead to connect to what excites us most. We need to use that energy to embrace the challenge of creating breakthrough innovation and new ways of being that will allow a planet of 8 million people to not just survive, but to flourish and thrive.