Like Oceans, We'll Rise

I recently found myself lost for words when someone asked me, ‘What nourishes you?’

It’s not something I ever take the time to think about. Instead, Instagramming, WhatsApping, Netflixing, music, socialising or reading takes over... Does all of that nourish?

Certainly not all of it. For me, the answer is in something more grounding. Elemental. On reflection, I turned to nature. To wilderness. To water. To the ocean. Sea swimming. The coastline. Standing at the edge of it all.

Growing up, we’d spend hours jumping over waves, making sandcastles and digging holes (big enough so that when you stand in them only your salty-haired head sticks out the top). The seaside has always remained a constant refuge. Jumping into the Atlantic or visiting the countryside at weekends is the stuff that reminds me of who I am - not only of where I come from, but of my place in this universe. The ocean makes you feel, all at once, tiny, unimportant and yet unquestionably free, and ferociously alive. That is what nourishes me.

When I look out at the sea now, it is an ominous reminder of the things we all take for granted. A reminder of plastic pollution. Of rising sea levels. Of warming waters. Of drowning land. Of delicacy. Of life. Of death. It is a reminder of how we are all connected, and how everything is changing.

Change is a constant. The space between the way things are now and the way things could be, or will be, makes our time on earth gloriously unpredictable. But the kind of change on the horizon is spoken about in even more mysterious ways. Because, as Einstein put it, no problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.

And we have a problem. Living, as we know it, is endangered. In 1988, TIME magazine named “Endangered Earth” their “Man of the Year”. In 2017, the American Psychological Association validatedecoanxiety as a clinically legitimate diagnosis, and BBC’s Blue Planet II brought significant mass attention to the planet’s fragile state. Now emergencies have officially been declared, scientists are shedding tears in desperation and schoolchildren are ditching their classrooms in growing numbers to have weekly mass protests, illustrating their urgent desire for change.

We can’t yet comprehend the scope of what’s happening to our planet, but we have been promised that it’s worse than we think. Naomi Klein articulates it best: “climate change isn’t an “issue” to add to the list of things to worry about, next to health care and taxes. It is a civilizational wake up call. A powerful message - spoken in the language of fires, floods, droughts, and extinctions - telling us that we need an entirely new economic model and a new way of sharing this planet. Telling us that we need to evolve… [This crisis] changes what we can do, what we can hope for, what we can demand from ourselves and our leaders. It means there is a whole lot of stuff that we have been told is inevitable that simply cannot stand. And it means that a whole lot of stuff we have been told is impossible has to start happening right away.”

Our problem is us. The ways we’ve chosen to live. How we fundamentally think about the world, is being questioned. This is both weird and wonderful. Weird, because our biggest existential threat is actively growing because of our presence. Wonderful, because it forces us to wake up and appreciate life as we know it, in order to save it. It forces us to rethink our rewrite.

We are part of this endangered ecosystem. We are nature. Some have referred to the challenge ahead as the moonshot of this generation. We managed to put spaceships up in space and we’re trying to put people on Mars. Why can’t we preserve life on this planet? It appears that the choice in front of us is urgently stark. Do nothing (or little) and allow climate change to disrupt our world in unimaginable ways, or unlearn and rebuild the principles around the way we choose to live and work.

To put the well-being of people first, sounds like a simple thing. But in many cases, this is rare. We often fail to stop to consider our collective needs, or how we could nourish.

It’s not the right time. We’re running out of time. There’s no time left. It’ll take too long.

Because we are living through a period of such rapid change and complexity, the notion of time can be uncomfortably overbearing. We are all vulnerable to it. We spend our lives measuring time. Seven (point five) hours a day, five days a week. Countdowns to 2020 or 2050. Six month, three year, twelve year plans. Our horizons are getting closer, which can appear to limit the possibilities of our action.

But we landed on the moon. We’re in the business of striving for brilliance. We carve out time to find that magic ‘sparkle dust’ to pour over clever creative ideas and make them the very best they can be. We have so much to give. It’s just that we don’t always have a common purpose behind these actions - something that considers the fundamentals of humanity and existence - at the heart of our work.

Our collective journey toward a renewed way of living together that is dedicated to true collective wellbeing, starts with rethinking how we treat our time, and the right kind of storytelling. Because, as writer Rebecca Solnit observes, key to the work of changing the world, is changing the story. And we’re pretty good at stories. As marketeers, we’re professionals at using them to poke and provoke. We measure our success at how good we are at selling stories.

I believe David Orr put it best with these words: The plain fact is that the planet does not need more successful people. But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every kind. It needs people who live well in their places. It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world habitable and humane. And these qualities have little to do with success as we have defined it.”

We are all a work in progress. Imperfections are a part of life that keep us marching. They form the basis of healing narratives that help us to evolve and nudge humanity forward, in the hope that our story continues.

A sea of change is at our fingertips. Because this brilliantly blue planet is our home. It nourishes all of us.

Laura Costello, Senior Strategist, Purpose & Planet.

Laura recently undertook a 6 month-long training course with “Reclaiming Agency.” This is a pioneering purpose-driven leadership course, designed to provide a new generation of agency leaders with the frameworks, skills and tools to successfully navigate our changing world. It brings together best in class thinking from sustainability professionals, systems thinkers, change agents and intrapreneurs, to address pressing problems in society and the world around us.

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