By Dr Emma Hazeldine
I have always liked to view myself as thoughtful about what I do. Raised as a vegetarian, I spent my formative teenage years becoming increasingly aware of animal rights, animal cruelty (I volunteered at an RSPCA shelter for a couple of years), animals in sport (I protested against blood sports) and made thoughtful choices about the products that I used, the food that I ate, the make-up I wore. I subscribed to various groups like PETA, the Vegetarian Society, and anti-blood sports organisations. I was angry, motivated, aware, and active about these things that I was so passionate about. I had the fire in my belly of a socially conscious (and probably nauseatingly precocious!) teenager. As a teenager, I had a strong, shouty, angry voice that sought justice and to right the wrongs of this world, and then somewhere along the line during my journey through adulthood, my voice became quieter.
It’s not that I haven’t cared about the world in the 30 years since I was 18; it’s just that…actually wait…I don’t know what happened…life distracted me, I guess. Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t stampeded my way through the years since my noisy teenage with no regard for the planet; I have tried to do things that are a bit thoughtful. I have never consumed meat in living memory, my views on animal cruelty have remained the same, I have dutifully sorted my recycling, I have patted myself on the back for buying Ecover, not Persil to wash my clothes in, and I have fed my children, (now adults) from Riverford boxes, not packets. All that time, I have thought of myself as doing good things for the planet…but I wasn’t paying attention.
Like so many of us, I cannot quite remember when but probably about 20 years ago, I had a vague awareness of a “hole in the Ozone layer”, and I knew that this was a bad thing. I knew that this was something that humans had done with “CFCs”, but that was where my knowledge and engagement with our climate crisis started and finished. Reflecting on this thought, it seems odd that my inner voice didn’t say, “Emma, this is important, you need to do something about this”, but as I said, life distracted me. What is even odder about this is that I have been running off-road and watching the weather change over those roughly twenty years. Periods of hotter and drier weather, heavier flooding, plants emerging out of traditional seasons…I had been watching the planet-warming with my own eyes, in a way that was very personal to me, and still, I wasn’t registering the significance of what was happening…but then one day, I started listening.
Maybe it was the increasing loudness of the voices speaking, but one day I found myself finally hearing the urgency of the climate change crisis. So I started listening, thinking, reading and watching, and the more that I listened and read and watched, the more alarmed, saddened, and helpless I felt. Maybe that is why so many of us do not use our voice, because we feel powerless, we feel that nothing will change, and then Greta Thunberg happened. There are so many impressive people and groups fighting for the world to engage with climate change; however, Greta demonstrated that one voice can be heard and that I really needed to find mine…but how?
This blog describes a snapshot of many years of my life, and, over these years, the very visible Extinction Rebellion (XR) have become an increasingly loud voice, drawing attention from ordinary folk for whom climate change wasn’t on their radar much, if at all. XR’s civil disobedience continues to make headline news and bring the climate crisis into the living rooms of the nation; however, I have never joined them in protest on the streets of Britain. If I am honest, the reasons why this is the case are intangible. I am not sure. I have my banner-waving, sit-in protester stripes from years hence so you would think I would be drawn to this impressive group…but I am unsure. Maybe it is because I am a lot quieter than I used to be, perhaps it is the sheer practicality of organising dog care and travel and time off, maybe it is because I find crowds of people overwhelming nowadays. Some of those could be legitimate reasons, but, being honest, all barriers could be overcome if I was really intent on getting to a large scale XR protest; I just haven’t. So XR civil disobedience set aside (for now), I needed to find a way to add my voice to the climate crisis discourse somehow. It was essential to me for it to be meaningful, to feel like I was ‘doing something’ and for it to feel authentic to me, and then Cornwall Climate Stories happened in my life.
Cornwall Climate Care has spent the last two years making Cornwall Climate Stories, documentaries that highlight the impacts of climate change already being felt across Cornwall. These incredible films are beautiful and shocking and focus on communities, businesses, research, and visions for the future. In addition, they give insight into novel climate adaptation plans being developed in communities and businesses in Cornwall. Each film focuses on a different theme, including housing, transport, health, fishing, farming and how these will be affected in the future. I am lucky enough to live close to this organisation and to be able to call the Director a friend. We had discussed our mutual feelings about finding our voices in ways that were authentic for each of us, and it was during one of these discussions that I found my voice.
The third Cornwall Climate Story, filmed in autumn 2021, focuses on coastal erosion in Cornwall. We have a lot of coast down here; in fact, most of the 630 mile South West Coast Path hugs our skinny landmass. Over the years, I have run vast amounts of this coast and seen chunks of it disappear in between runs. Sometimes these landslips have been enormous and newsworthy but frequently not; instead, I have seen the nibbling away of the old path, holes, and mini landslips. I have witnessed, firsthand, our coast eroding at an alarming rate, and so when the Director floated the idea of me presenting the coastal erosion Cornwall Climate Story, this instantly felt like the right voice for me. The film “Living on the Edge” follows my run along the Cornish coast path and uses this journey as a vehicle to tell the climate stories that I encounter along the way. I am a runner; being a runner is a fundamental part of my identity, and this was my way of bringing attention to what I see when I run. Many people know that coastal erosion is a ‘thing,’ but that is frequently the extent of their knowledge, and I am sure a lot of people do not understand the relationship between global warming and coastal erosion. I feel honoured to have presented this film, to been part of something so meaningful, to have been able to reach people who have learned something from watching this (and the other Cornwall Climate Stories). Since the documentary has been released I have received messages saying, “I didn’t know it was this bad; we need to do something”, and I have learned a lot from making the documentary. The link to “Living on the Edge”, now hosted on You Tube, can be found at the bottom of this blog, and you can follow Cornwall Climate Care, to get access to the previous and future films.
“So, how is this relevant to me?” You may think…good question. I guess what I am trying to say is that as a runner you have direct, frequent contact with our living planet. We, runners, are witnesses to the earth changing and, therefore, as runners, we need to advocate for this planet that we love so much, but we need to find our own voices. Not everyone is comfortable, confident, able, or wants to join mass protests, and that must be okay because we are all different, and different is essential. If I were asked, my advice would be to find something that feels authentic for you, but at the same time, maybe we need to step out of our comfort zone. Before 2021, you would never have imagined me presenting anything in front of a camera. I have frozen when asked about my own presentation during an online conference, so me being in an actual film…never! I am shy, gauche, awkward, and a committed introvert, but when I started really listening to the climate crisis conversation, and I thought about watching my beautiful, fantastic planet disappear beneath my feet, I found my voice again. This time I am not going to let it fall silent.
Cornwall’s Climate Stories: Living on the Edge
For more information about the work of Cornwall Climate Care: