Actions Speak Louder Than Words: How Do I Make a Difference?

Adopting a ‘business as usual’ approach, in any area of life, is much too easy. A lot of the time it’s other people’s ‘usual’ and we get consumed by trying to be what we think they want us to be: not upsetting the apple cart at work; posting carefully crafted social media statuses.

We suppress what’s important to us instead of championing what we’re passionate about.

For that reason, finally expressing myself about climate change - instead of bottling up the fear and concern - has been a liberating experience. That shouldn’t be a surprise, but it is. Only now do I realise how not having the courage of my convictions meant I also lacked the articulation to properly express myself.

Sunrise over the Staffordshire Moorlands (picture by Paul Forrester)

Saying all the right things

Writing without accountability is easy. By which I mean, I can give voice to the issues, authentically and genuinely, on behalf of clients in the construction industry. But because that writing is usually a marketing-led activity, it’s hard to find evidence that anybody is truly inspired to act on the information.

I don’t control how or where most of my words are distributed and consumed. My inherent pride in writing, to the best of my ability, about the design and construction of buildings is frequently tempered by wondering about its impact.

Simply put: do I actually change any hearts and minds?

The typical ‘writer facing a blank page’ scenario.

Even architects, who shape our built environment, need reminding that they are agents of change, not keepers of the status quo. As this excellent article asks: What can you do differently today?

We preserve our routines because it makes life easier, and because we don’t see the effect of inaction clearly enough. When it comes to expressing my own view, finding the voice is a start but it can’t be the whole thing. In which case: what’s next? What can I do differently?

How much action should I take, and how much am I prepared to take?

An arresting thought

These questions have taken root recently, but they began sprouting when I read this piece by Chris Herring, a green building professional whose work I respect and admire.

If I achieve a fraction of Chris’s professional accomplishments in my own career I’ll hold my head high. To read about him moving into activism and peaceful protest, in order to reconcile with himself that he did everything he could to make a positive impact for future generations, was a stark reminder of the reality we face.

Equally stark, it made me question my own willingness to make a point.

I was brought up in the mindset of ‘don’t make a fuss’. Even as my faith in many of our politicians deteriorates, I’m still likely to trust institutions and systems because I don’t know anything else. When Chris talks about taking a radically different approach, and says:

This … may be why I might be arrested too

… I suddenly realise the extent to which I ‘don’t make a fuss’.

The movement he writes about - Extinction Rebellion - recently disrupted a Brexit debate in Parliament. The metaphor was not difficult to decipher - and is explained thoroughly in this article - but the idea of it causing Brexit-absorbed MPs to ask themselves what they could do differently today is, alas, fanciful.

Emergency. Emergency. There’s an emergency going on.

While we’re on the subject of doing things differently, local authorities up and down the land are declaring climate emergencies. Making such a declaration doesn’t actually commit the authority to a particular course of action, but it signals a certain amount of intent that was previously missing from policy-making.

Combined with confirmation that the National Planning Policy Framework allows local authorities to set energy efficiency targets better than building regulations, there’s a cause for cautious optimism that climate action can be driven locally, in the best interests of communities.

That assumes your local authority declares a climate emergency. My district council, Staffordshire Moorlands, has so far not taken such action.

When I get sufficiently worked up by something to want to make a fuss, my go-to approach is a stiffly worded letter (and now you can see why the idea of arrest is such an alien one!). And in trying to find out who I should write to at the council about declaring a climate emergency, I came across a petition organised by the local branch of the Green Party.

Nailing my colours to the mast?

One of the few politicians to conduct themselves with dignity through the shambles of Brexit is Caroline Lucas, the Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion. Her voice of reason, together with my inherent interest in climate and sustainability, is a compelling argument for getting involved with the local group beyond adding a signature to a petition.

In my head, though, I go back and forth on the merits of the idea. Shouldn’t action on climate change should exist outside of party politics? Movements like the school strikes and Extinction Rebellion appear to stimulate action precisely because they transcend any single political persuasion, and even national borders.

It’s criminal that the day-to-day business of the UK Government is so tied up in the pointless distraction of Brexit when our leaders should be pulling together to tackle the real issue threatening future prosperity. The failings of a two-party-dominated system are exposed by the fact that more voices don’t speak about the issue across the spectrum.

The centre of UK Government

From that point of view, contributing to the one party standing up for the issue I think most about, and speaking sense about how to resolve the Brexit debacle, would be the obvious thing to do. And, locally, the Green Party is at least making itself visible (even if it’s not entirely clear why there needs to be separate Staffordshire Moorlands and North Staffordshire groups).

The simple answer would be to attend a few local meetings and see what I think; if it’s not for me, I can always back out. But there’s another, simpler cause of my ongoing internal debate: that age-old favourite, the underlying anxiety about taking a step into the unknown, fretting over what has the most chance of being effective, and - yes - overcoming the fear of doing something different today.

A coda

As a two minute summary of why our current systems are not fit for purpose, and what personal actions we can take to make a difference, this clip could not have been timed better for inclusion in this post.