The national Trust u3a Countdown to COP26 group invited its members to tell their ‘climate stories’. Some were present at COP26 in Glasgow in November 2021.
Nick (Ruthin u3a in Wales) comes from a family with strong intergenerational involvement. Nick says ‘My career and that of my three adult children all relate to environmental issues and in particular climate change’. Nick worked in various environmental organisations, including the Welsh Government. All his family are all involved in caring about the future. Nick’s u3a ‘Sustainable Living’ group evolved from a discussion with his son Sam about how daunting it is for the individual to do something effective about climate change – he said that if you can influence others and help them to make appropriate lifestyle choices, then they further ‘spread the word’, increasing the impact that an individual can make.
A slightly different perspective comes from Sue (Carlton and Gedling u3a, Nottingham): ‘I have been concerned about the atmosphere for all my adult life. I remember talking about choosing not to use aerosols at interviews for university in the late 70’s! We know so much more now, but there was information out there then which was ignored. My love of the natural world has been a constant in my life and consider it whenever making decisions’.
‘I’ve enjoyed learning more about the climate crisis through the u3a but feel better for also becoming actively involved with my local Friends of the Earth group. Local actions as a litter picker help me feel I’m helping a little’.
Some members found inspiration when travelling and working abroad. Peter (Helensburgh and District u3a) says ‘In late 1973 I was working for a UN Agency in Ethiopia, and I travelled through Wollo Province where the first great Ethiopian famine of 73/74 was beginning. As we drove along, we saw increasing numbers of starving children on the roadside begging for food. The famine was not known at that stage in Addis Ababa but within a few weeks British film crews made powerful documentaries on the ‘hidden famine’ in Ethiopia and it became world news. It gave me first-hand experience of what drought and famines can be like for local people and it set me on a journey of greater awareness of the fragility of our agricultural and food systems especially in poor countries.
The extreme and changing weather has certainly been on the minds of some members. Hazel (Redbridge & District u3a) comments: ‘“There’s no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes” a quote from British fell-walker and guidebook writer Alfred Wainwright. Very soon though that won’t be the case, it will all be bad weather (for bad, read extreme, unusual, unseasonable) and its effects won’t be mitigated by simply adding or removing a jumper. I am heat intolerant: I must stay out of high temperatures (24-25c and above). This used to be easy in drizzly, overcast Britain. Now extreme temperatures are increasing, lasting and humid: I’m imprisoned indoors sometimes for days trying to keep my body temperature regulated. My situation helps with understanding how people will feel, living in places where rising sea levels and extreme weather patterns are going to ruin their lands and make basic living difficult or impossible’.
Several members expressed concern about our impact on the environment: Clive (Odiham and District u3a) has been influenced by Extinction Rebellion (XR) which made him realise the impact humanity is having on the planet. His immediate reaction was to stop eating beef, followed by all other meats, as these cause the worst effects on the climate and the natural world. Flying is no longer a viable option. To encourage others to act Clive joined XR Farnham and instigated a Climate Change Group in Odiham u3a.
As Clive says, ‘We must, together, seek out ways to reduce our carbon footprint, campaign for actions from government and business and spread the message that the world needs to cut consumption’. As a fellow u3a member recently said, “The best way to keep the lights on is to switch many of them off”.
Neil (Trust u3a Bath) writes: ‘Books about global warming lay on my bookshelf, untouched. Pressure of work, providing for family and looking after myself took up all the time and energy I would have needed to take on board what the books were saying … and respond. I was dependent on convenience. My children have shown me how to take a stand against the system – and why it’s vital to do it. It wasn’t immediately apparent to me how to live sustainably in those days. Looking back, I could have done more, much more. But it didn’t feel easy. It still doesn’t’.
‘My gratitude for the younger generation is matched only by the hope that there will be the change I’ve always wanted to see in the world; and that humanity will adapt to what’s happening by fulfilling its true potential for resilience, compassion, humility and reconciliation.
Hillary (Edinburgh u3a) contributes: ‘In 2019 my wife and I got to the high Arctic – to Svalbard. In the Channel 4 phrase: ‘it’s probably not all right’ that we were able to reach almost 80˚ degrees north in an unreinforced vessel; when we hiked up a mountain near Longyearbyen, the glacier was turning to slush as we descended. The rising Arctic temperatures were so obviously ‘the canary in the mine’ about global warming. Why on earth were the politicians not doing anything?’
‘Our children both followed me into engineering, and are now wrestling with, among others, the challenges of carbon capture and storage and sustainable aviation fuel’.
‘Reflecting on 1970, when I left school, gives us a 50-year perspective on how some things change beyond recognition and other things stay the same. Having grandchildren gives us a much longer perspective into the future. This inspired two friends and me to envision the kind of Scotland we would like our children and grandchildren to be living in and describe it in the book Scotland 2070 – Healthy | Wealthy | Wise – an ambitious vision for Scotland’s future – without the politics.
‘There’s work to be done. Our young people have the energy, the enthusiasm and the brains to do it. It’s our role to help them acquire the skills and understanding and create the opportunities. Hopefully they’ll have a good story to tell their grandchildren in 50 years’ time’.
Read more stories from the COP 26 Climate Change Group in our Part 2 of this article.