I think it is fair to say that most impassioned environmentalists feel, justifiably, that climate change and other serious environmental issues should be on everyone’s lips and minds. Yet, a kind of lethargy seems to have permeated the green movement – at a time when it could not be more important. It is not uncommon to hear climate change spoken of as a war, one in which we must unite if mankind is to have a chance of survival – and the analogy is not unfair. It is also becoming apparent that over population, climate change and the food shortages caused by it and other environmental damage (such as the pillaging of the seas), may well be the cause of future wars. The forecast could not be more bleak – and yet it is not at the top of most peoples’ agenda. It would appear, that as long as they do not feel directly affected, people do not feel as though the situation has relevance to them.
With this in mind, and using a grass-roots up approach, I was recently involved in adding an eco-theme to a local event, the “Blackbuoy Perpetual Cup”. This swimming race is held in the sea off the little port of West Bay, Bridport, in Dorset. The race is known to have been swum in 1907, when the seas were still bountiful and climate change was a concept yet to be recognised. Having become inactive in 1985 – members of the local swimming club decided to reinstate the race in 2007 – and, until this year, it has continued to be swum. Taking place in the beginning of September, the swimmers run down the pebbly beach, into the frigid waves, swim to the Blackbuoy (which is now orange) and back to shore, a distance that is fondly described locally as, a ‘Bridport mile’. For some local people, it has turned into a family affair, with parents competing against children (minimum age 14) – or attempting to emulate relatives of an earlier generation who had conquered the waves back in the heyday of the race. Spectators gather and watch over the sea-wall as the swimmers make their way out to sea and back again – spectators we identified as a ‘ready audience’.
As a seaside town with a fishing tradition, where nets full of mackerel were once hauled up onto the beach and where residents would abandon their work to help land the catch, we felt we could try to impassion the local people about the state of the oceans. In addition to commentating on the race, the organiser had agreed to read out, over a loud speaker, information about the “Common Fisheries Policy” (currently being reviewed by the European Parliament), information about Sharkwater – the breath taking documentary which reveals that over 100 million sharks are killed each year (making them one of the most endangered group of species on the planet), about the dolphins killed for their toxic meat in Taiji Cove, Japan, and about the damage done to the ocean environment by littered plastics. In addition, ‘did-you-know..’ boards had been set up, listing a few of the headline facts about the environmental problems faced in the oceans. Articles on relevent subjects were printed to be put on information-tables, as were lists of organisations sympathetic to the cause. We also had a couple of Greenpeace volunteers, including a First Mate of the Rainbow Warrior, home on leave, who would encourage people to sign letters to David Cameron about the CFP.
Maybe the climate had different ideas however because, for the first year since the race was reintroduced, continuously adverse weather conditions meant it had to be postponed for two successive weekends and finally cancelled on the third. But the plans are now in place to make next year’s race an environmental success as well as a local success and I believe the enthusiasm will also remain. If we are to get people talking about the environment again we need to put it back to the top of the agenda. We need to make it current, relevant and accessible and one of the initial ways we can do this is with a grass-roots approach, informing the ideas of local people.