EOV Wellness Project: Climate Change and Us

“We fought apartheid. Now climate change is our global enemy.”
– Archbishop Desmond Tutu

“When I’m taking action, I don’t feel like I am helpless and that things are hopeless, because then I feel like I’m doing everything I can,”
– Greta Thunberg

The second most-used term on news channels today, after ‘COVID-19’ is ‘climate change’. Everywhere you turn, climate change is being discussed – not just by scientists and activists, but by governments, shoemakers, policy makers, car makers, burger companies and schools.
This isn’t surprising – it’s an urgent issue, we share a common planet, and there really isn’t another one in our neighbourhood or the galaxy next door that we know of that can support human life. In 2020, the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report listed climate change as the biggest challenge facing humanity. It’s clear we need to act.

It’s important to continue to do one’s best to make a difference by avoiding single use plastics, recycling, consuming consciously, biking rather than driving to reduce your individual carbon footprint. But because of the enormity of the situation, and because most of us don’t know what impact we (tiny specks in the universe) can have on it, this can quickly lead to ‘eco-anxiety’ or ‘climate doom’.

In 2021, The Lancet published an innovative study conducted by a group of researchers comprising psychologists and environmental scientists from the United Kingdom, Finland and the United States. They surveyed 10,000 people aged 16-25 from ten countries about climate anxiety and its relation to government action. Seventy-five percent of these young people said the future is frightening and that climate change negatively impacted their daily lives including their ability to sleep, study, and enjoy relationships.

Dr. Stephanie Collier, an instructor in Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School says that climate anxiety is not in itself a problem, but actually a very healthy and normal response to an escalating civilizational threat. It does become a problem however, if it results in feelings of complete helplessness and people start to lose their ability to function. Some psychologists encourage us to view these intense feelings as a healthy sign that we care deeply about things that matter, and to channel them into a kind of motivational superpower to help create a better world. The answer may lie in Greta Thunberg’s words: “When I’m taking action, I don’t feel like I am helpless”.

The truth is, we need to take action with the full knowledge that no one action alone can stop climate change. It will require many people working at an individual and collective level to make the major shifts in human behaviour that are called for. We have learned a lot about working together during the COVID-19 pandemic. At an individual level, we contribute by maintaining social distancing, hand washing and wearing masks indoors, or helping an elderly neighbour with a grocery run. At a collective level, scientists have come up with vaccines, governments have worked on delivering them to people, and on regulating travel or large gatherings. Change works best when all of these things are done in conjunction with each other.

What is also worth noting is that climate change is not something that happens ‘out there’ it is directly linked to our personal health. Dr. Aaron Bernstein, Director of Harvard C-Change has very strong words on the matter: “The separation of health and environmental policy is a ​dangerous delusion. Our health entirely depends on the climate and the other organisms we share the planet with. We need to bring these communities together. Some progress has been made in addressing the risk of pathogen spillover from animals into people. But largely we still view the environment, and life on earth, as separate. We can and must do better if we want to prevent the next infectious pandemic. That means we must combat climate change and do far more to safeguard the diversity of life on earth.”

So what is climate change, and what do we do about it? We thought it might be helpful to refresh the meaning of this term. The United Nations defines it like this:

Climate change refers to long-term shifts in temperatures and weather patterns. These shifts may be natural, such as through variations in the solar cycle. But since the 1800 s human activities have been the main driver of climate change, primarily due to burning fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas. Burning fossil fuels generates greenhouse gas emissions that act like a blanket wrapped around the Earth, trapping the sun’s heat and raising temperatures. Greenhouse gas emissions come from using gasoline for driving a car or coal for heating a building, clearing land and forests and from garbage landfills. In short, energy, industry, transport, buildings, agriculture and land use are among the largest emitters.

We are also beginning to connect the dots and understand the links between human actions, greenhouse gas emissions, climate change and many other environmental and social issues the world is facing. For example, several parts of the world have been seeing severe weather incidents – whether destructively heavy rainfall (or ‘atmospheric rivers’) on the West coast of Canada, or heat waves in Europe, or forest fires in Australia, these are all linked to climate change. Along with this comes depletion of ecosystems – the 2019-2020 bushfires in Australia burned through an area larger than Portugal, killing 3 billion animals, and may have caused a 14% increase in the number of threatened species. Climate change is often a key factor even in socio-political issues – such as mass human migration. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says extreme weather events such as heavy rainfall, droughts, sea-level rise and cyclones cause 20 million people to leave their homes and move to other areas, and sometimes other countries each year. Some recent wars have been linked to pre-existing conditions of drought and resource scarcity caused by climate chance. The UNHCR says “climate change can act as a threat multiplier, exacerbating existing tensions and adding to the potential for conflicts.”

Knowing the key contributors to climate change tells us we have a huge opportunity to make major changes to certain areas, to yield the maximum benefit. And some of these benefits can be felt by us immediately, while also contributing to long haul gain. Air pollution is a case in point. Air pollution is associated with 7 million premature deaths every year. A study funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) in the United States indicates that reducing global greenhouse gas emissions could prevent millions of deaths due to air pollution over the next century. The study strengthens the case for mitigating global greenhouse gas emissions by highlighting additional benefits to air quality and human health. The study is the first use of a global model and realistic future scenarios to estimate benefits for air quality and human health.

We live in a time when we have unprecedented amounts of information and data to measure the negative and positive effects of our actions, and the ability to communicate these widely and inspire others. All over the world, inspiring and innovative people are coming up with climate change solutions that can deliver economic benefits while improving our lives and protecting the environment.
Here’s an example we found on the west coast of France that allows you to enjoy the good things in life while keeping your carbon footprint small.


Grain de Sail is a small company in Brittany, France who have found an earth-friendly way of of bringing wine and chocolate to customers around the world. The company was founded by twin brothers who are experts in renewable energy. They shared the same audacious vision: to select, produce and sell gastronomic products to cross-Atlantic consumers using the world’s first modern cargo sailboat.
First, they needed to raise 3 million dollars to purpose-build a cargo sailboat. They began by selling two commodities that they knew they could find customers for: coffee and chocolate. In a few years, their products were wildly popular, and found in hundreds of stores in France. It took them five years to finance their cargo sailboat dream.
In November 2020, the ship left the shipyard and set sail for its first transatlantic crossing. The initial project was to import organic cocoa and coffee from Central America and the Caribbean to France, but to do that, they first had to cross the Atlantic from France. They decided not to make the trip empty handed, and to carry with them something from France that people on the other side of the Atlantic may want – organic French wine. They outfitted the cargo sailboat to be the first ever-purpose built floating wine cellar.

Now they take 20,000 bottles wine on each sailing from France to New York, taking 3-5 weeks to make the crossing. The wine is sourced from small organic growers across France, including family businesses like the Achillée winery in Alsace who store their wine in a completely natural bioclimatic wine cellar made from from straw. The straw cellar enables a storage temperature of 15°C all year round and as a matter of fact, is the largest European building made from straw to this day!

Once in New York city, the Grain de Sail ship picks up twenty pallets of humanitarian supplies and medical equipment from an NGO working in the Caribbean, and sails this much-needed cargo over to the Dominican Republic.

In the Dominican Republic and on another stop in Latin America, the crew picks up the organically grown, forest-friendly cacao they need to make their legendary chocolate back in France, where demand far outstrips supply. In this way, their boat makes two transatlantic trips a year, working around weather conditions, cyclones, the timing of their supplies. Their entire supply chain, work and delivery cycle must work in harmony with the winds and climactic conditions. As their captain says: “We know when we leave but not when we arrive.”. This is inherent to the concept of transporting goods with a sailboat, a way of transportation that is almost 100% carbon neutral, and reduces ocean noise pollution and collision with sea life. As of 2022, Grain de Sail has a transport certification to now offer their transport service to other companies willing to decarbonize their exports on commercial routes across the Atlantic and in Europe.

A business like this is a collective enterprise, and builds an ecosystem of relationships between climate-conscious suppliers and climate conscious consumers. Their work addresses and minimizes the climate impact of some of the key greenhouse gas emitting sectors: transport, energy and agriculture. As a consumer, you may well eat another bar of chocolate that tastes just as good, but whose production involves large amounts of greenhouse gas production. It takes a little commitment as a consumer to investigate the origins of the products you buy, and to support companies that are taking the extra time, investment and effort to minimize their environmental impact. Such choices on your part sends a signal back to the market, that it is economically viable and desirable to create climate conscious products.

Another inspiring example comes from a completely different part of the world, and home to nearly a fifth of the world’s population: India. The Navdanya movement was created by legendary eco-feminist Dr. Vandana Shiva 30 years ago. Dr. Shiva is the recipient of the 1993 Alternative Nobel Prize for putting women and ecology at the heart of discussions on modern development. Navdanya’s work defends Seed and Food sovereignty and small farmers around the world. They promote a culture of food for health, where ecological responsibility, economic justice and the common good are a foundation for a renewed sense of community, solidarity and culture of peace.

When India allowed the entry of global corporations selling genetically modified (GMO) seeds, Navdanya pioneered the movement of seed saving and seed freedom. They created ‘seed banks’, gathering and saving seeds for indigenous crops that were naturally drought resistant, for example. Then they created a biodiversity conservation farm and a learning centre called the Earth University, offering training in agroecological farming to farmers across India as well as for citizens’ organizations from across the world. At the same time, Navdanya is actively involved in lobbying government to support agroecological ventures and offer the kinds of subsidies and programs that they give large scale industrial farms. They partnered with the Chief Minister of the Indian state of Sikkim to convert 100% of that state’s agricultural production to organic farming.

This work now extends well beyond India and is inspiring movements across Asia, Europe, South America and Africa. Working with Biofermes Internationales Inde, Navdanya and Dr. Shiva promote exchanges between small-scale farmers in France, Senegal and India, and aims to improve their work by allowing them to pool their experience in order to learn, and to share simple solutions that can be replicated on a local level.

Navdanya’s work is a testament to how work can be rooted in local grassroots contexts, ensure the livelihood of small farmers, involve community, as well as have an impact on local and international government. There are multiple ways to be involved with an enterprise like Navdanya – from supporting their work as a donor, a volunteer, or spreading the word about their work. When you support in this way, think of yourself as an extra pair of hands lifting this work, or an extra voice to the chorus, making it grow. You become part of the collective action.

One important part of collective action is to make our voices heard to our governments and elected representatives. Almost every crucial social and systemic change in history has required the loud and collective voice of people to make demands of those in power. Many seemingly impossible situations have been overcome through collective action. It was a large-scale, peaceful protest led by Gandhi that resulted in India’s independence from 400 years of colonial rule. It was the efforts of suffragetes led by people like Emmeline Pankhurst that resulted in women winning the right vote in Britain and other countries in the 20th century. The cruel system of apartheid and racial segregation in South Africa was upheld by law and military force, suppressing all criticism until local protests, international pressure and leadership from activists like Nelson Mandela resulted in it being overturned in the early 1990s. All of these seemed like situations that were impossible to change, and yet it was the will of people that made them change. Sending strong signals to leaders in business and government to tackle climate change urgently is one of the most effective things we can do now. We see examples of students successfully pushing their universities to divest their endowment investments in fossil fuel companies. Climate action requires significant financial investments by governments and businesses. But climate inaction is vastly more expensive. We already see some governments beginning to understand this cost and make unprecedented commitments to tackling climate change.

At the level of local government, this can take the form of a simple and effective experiment that a group of villages made in the Alsace region of France. The mayors of several villages (responding to the request of their citizens) agreed to turn the streetlights off at night. This simple act resulted not only in huge energy savings, it allowed people to be more aligned with the natural rhythms of night and day, to see the stars in the night sky, sleep better, and allow insects and animals to have a natural nocturnal life, a necessary part of balancing the local ecosystem.

The regeneration of Howe Sound, on Canada’s West coast, is an example of how environmental damage can be reversed. In the 1970’s and 80’s Howe Sound was an industrially damaged area. Its waters suffered decades of metal contamination from of one of Canada’s largest copper ore mines. Added to that was carcinogenic effluents from a nearby pulp mill. But awareness and concern from local people led to what geological scientist Bob Turner describes as a “an ecological recovery and a human psychological recovery,”. Residents and environmentalists became increasingly aware of the rare natural gift they live next to, and became more inclined towards action to ensure its well-being and longevity. They put pressure on local business and governments to clean up the pulp mills and to capture and treat the leakage from the mine, which was achieved over a period of years. They went further – the estuary that feeds into the waters of Howe Sound was designated to become a major coal port. Residents pushed for a major environmental review which concluded that the estuary was an ecological jewel and ought to be designated a Wildlife Management Area. These three major changes have now led to the return of herring and plankton, which in turn have brought with them salmon, grey whales and white sided dolphins. Resident Norman Hann speaks of the change metaphorically: “Here you get this hopeful feeling. It’s almost like you are watching a person come back to life who has been really sick for a long time and they are getting stronger and stronger. I think that’s a really amazing experience to be a part of—to be at the front end of.”

Change is beginning to happen at the political level in some of the world’s largest contributors to greenhouse gases. In 2021 the European Union has committed to a goal of zero net emissions by 2050 enshrined in a climate law. In 2022 the United States Senate voted to pass the Inflation Reduction Act, which includes nearly $400 billion over 10 years in funding for climate and energy related programs. A lot more needs to be done, but this is a start. We have to remember that elected officials and successful companies rely on us to get them where they are. Enough people coming together can collectively determine the government officials and companies that serve us.

Working together and influencing each other marks out our species. It has given us the ability to create extraordinary things – from symphony orchestras, to telescopes that can see distant galaxies, to great works of architecture that thousands of years. We are also a highly social species, and the ripple effect of even one person’s actions on those around them are significant.
Working together will be our best chance at solving one of the biggest issues facing us today.

And as individuals, we must make sense of the grand challenges in front of us in a personal and individual way for it to be meaningful for us. We must realize, that our actions, small as they are, will be cumulative and have a ripple effect in ways that we cannot comprehend. Especially when faced with uncertain odds, we have to gamble our hopes and our actions on the notion that we have a future worth fighting for, and living in.
The great human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu describes collective action beautifully. He says, “There is a word we use in South Africa that describes human relationships: Ubuntu. It says: I am because you are. My successes and my failures are bound up in yours. We are made for each other, for interdependence… Who can stop climate change? We can. You and you and you, and me.”