As Greta Thunberg said, “Change is coming, whether you like it or not.” Public attitudes are slowly turning towards more environmentally friendly choices. So as a business you can either be at the head of the pack making this ethical transition, or you can lag behind and stand the risk of losing revenue. A lot of companies have attempted to use greenwashing to show customers that they care, while changing few things that actually matter. These days companies are called out for making these false claims. On the flip side, Ben&Jerrys, Lush and Patagonia were just a few of the companies that supported the global climate strikes. In doing so, they received widespread media coverage and built great PR for their brand. So instead of talking about change, be the change.
As part of my series about what we must do to inspire the next generation about sustainability and the environment, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ryan Mizzen. Ryan is the Co-Founder and COO of Nordic Cuddle, and a Freelance Writer. He holds a First Class BSc in Climate Change (Hons) from Coventry University and a Distinction in an MA in Creative Writing (via Distance Learning) from Teesside University. He spent four years working in the energy efficiency and offshore wind sectors in the UK. In 2018, Ryan was named as an Environmental Changemaker, following on from the UN Young Champions of the Earth competition, where he proposed using creative writing as an innovative means of science communication to engage a wider audience about the climate crisis. He’s had climate change articles published by The Independent, Africa Geographic, Thomson Reuters Foundation and The South African newspaper.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
I spent my childhood living in Zimbabwe and gained a deep love and understanding of the natural world. My primary school was next to a game park, which we often visited and our school trips around the country gave us an appreciation for our varied flora and fauna. We were exposed to conservation at a young age and the importance of looking after our environment.
Was there an “aha moment” or a specific trigger that made you decide you wanted to become a scientist or environmental leader? Can you share that story with us?
When I was studying for my GCSEs in the UK, we had to complete Geography coursework about climate change. The Met Office had recently produced a visualisation map of how a 4°C rise in temperatures would affect the world. I was shocked at how drastically things could change, and this inspired me to study a BSc in Climate Change two years later at Coventry University, one of the first universities in Europe to offer the degree. After which, I worked as a volunteer Carbon Research Analyst, before moving into the energy efficiency and offshore wind industries. However, I still wasn’t making as much of a difference as I would have liked and identified science communication as one of the biggest barriers that has prevented action on climate change. So I pursued an MA in Creative Writing, with the intention of engaging a wider audience about the climate crisis and the plethora of environmental challenges we face.
Is there a lesson you can take out of your own story that can exemplify what can inspire a young person to become an environmental leader?
There were a few things that contributed towards my appreciation of the natural world. The most important of which was direct exposure to nature as a child. Where this isn’t possible, documentaries and books can help fill the gap.
Can you tell our readers about the initiatives that you or your company are taking to address climate change or sustainability? Can you give an example for each?
I believe one of the biggest barriers that has prevented action on climate change, is the way by which the science of climate change has been communicated to the public. Only recently have media organisations like the BBC acknowledged their failings in this regard, but the damage has been done in the intervening three decades since Dr James Hansen made his testimony to the US Senate in 1988.
I studied an MA in Creative Writing to engage a wider audience about climate change. There is a new subgenre of fiction called climate fiction, or “cli-fi”, coined by Dan Bloom. Stories enable us to live through vicarious experiences and empathise with characters who are fighting for the future. Fiction also has the crucial ability to engage people on an emotional level, which can result in long-term behavioural change.
A lot of current cli-fi novels are dystopian and present a very bleak vision of the future. I intend to ground my stories in the present, exploring ways that we can avoid the worst case scenarios from taking place. My first children’s picture book will be self-published next year and will be part of a wider series exploring climate and environmental issues.
Can you share 3 lifestyle tweaks things that the general public can do to be more sustainable or help address the climate change challenge?
My top three lifestyle tweaks include:
1) Political pressure. The changes we make to our personal lifestyles are important and admirable. But many commentators now realise that without large scale political action in place to tackle climate change through internationally enforced agreements, the chances are we won’t be able to avoid climate breakdown. Therefore the single biggest difference all of us can make is to put sustained pressure on governments around the world to implement immediate and necessary action. We can do this by voting in governments with the best environmental policies and spurring them to urgently transform our fossil-fuel reliant economies. Alternatively, if we’re stuck with governments who disregard climate change, another option is sustained peaceful protest similar to the civil rights and anti-apartheid movements. Research has shown that to be effective, sustained civil disobedience action by just 3.5% of a population is enough to bring down dictatorships. For more than 30 years governments have dithered and delayed over climate action, so it’s now up to us to make sure they listen and act according to the science — time is no longer on our side.
2) Reduce meat (particularly beef) and dairy consumption. A large source of carbon emissions comes from raising livestock for global meat consumption. Beef and dairy products are particularly damaging as cows also produce methane, a greenhouse gas that’s 20–30 times more powerful than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in our atmosphere. Large areas of rainforest in countries such as Brazil are cleared to make way for cattle farms, so this also removes vital carbon sinks.
3) Fly less. Air travel is another big source of emissions. When Greta Thunberg travelled to the US in August, she made the journey across the Atlantic by boat to prevent emissions.
Ok, thank you for all that. Here is the main question of our interview: The youth led climate strikes of September 2019 showed an impressive degree of activism and initiative by young people on behalf of climate change. This was great, and there is still plenty that needs to be done. In your opinion what are 5 things parents should do to inspire the next generation to become engaged in sustainability and the environmental movement? Please give a story or an example for each.
As someone who has been in the climate change field for a decade, I can honestly say that the youth led climate strikes are one of the most inspiring things that I’ve witnessed. I was proud to stand alongside them at the global climate strike on the 20th September and believe they have raised consciousness about the climate emergency to a new level. My tips for parents are:
1) Create awareness. Children are going to inherit the planet we leave behind. We need to let them know where we went wrong and how we’re going to fix things. Children can be part of this solution — indeed, the youth climate strikes have shown that children are currently leading the way.
2) Introduce children to the natural world. There is no substitute for spending time in nature, whether that’s exploring a forest or a park, or even walking along a beach. As a social species we’ve become very disconnected as we spend time alone on our mobile devices, ignoring both other people and the beauty of the natural world. Research has shown that spending time in nature has a range of health benefits. People are also more inclined to protect things that they appreciate, so exposing children to nature can help them care for it in the future.
3) Encourage children to read — environmental readers become environmental leaders. Books are powerhouses of knowledge. Reading expands the mind and introduces children to the world around them. Through books we can better understand the challenges we face and the solutions to address them.
4) Support activism. The world is currently on course for a level of climate change that will radically transform the way we live. David Attenborough warned last year that, “If we don’t take action, the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon.” We therefore need as many people on-board as possible to bring about widespread action on climate change — and if children want to be part of the solution then as adults who’ve been part of the problem, the least we can do is support them.
5) Be role models. What you say matters, but how you act is even more important. If you truly care about leaving behind a world that is safe for your children, this should be reflected in your actions. Children pick-up a lot of what adults do and say so your actions should be in line with your words, and in the case of the climate emergency, your words should be in line with the science.
How would you articulate how a business can become more profitable by being more sustainable and more environmentally conscious? Can you share a story or example?
As Greta Thunberg said, “Change is coming, whether you like it or not.” Public attitudes are slowly turning towards more environmentally friendly choices. So as a business you can either be at the head of the pack making this ethical transition, or you can lag behind and stand the risk of losing revenue.
A lot of companies have attempted to use greenwashing to show customers that they care, while changing few things that actually matter. These days companies are called out for making these false claims. On the flip side, Ben&Jerrys, Lush and Patagonia were just a few of the companies that supported the global climate strikes. In doing so, they received widespread media coverage and built great PR for their brand. So instead of talking about change, be the change.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I’ve been fortunate to meet many of the environmental leaders I look up to including Greta Thunberg, George Monbiot and Bill McKibben to name a small few. But perhaps one of the largest figures in my life has been Dr James Hansen, who brought climate change to the world’s attention in his 1988 Senate testimony. He faced censorship of his scientific work by the US government (during the George Bush years) and has been arrested for his activism. Truly understanding the scale of the crisis we’re in and how it came to be is quite depressing and at one point I even considered quitting my degree. Instead I wrote to Dr Hansen and he sent back some words of encouragement that got me to where I am today.
You are a person of great influence and doing some great things for the world! If you could inspire a movement that would bring the greatest amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
That movement is currently underway thanks to Greta Thunberg and the youth climate strikers. Aside from that, I’ve realised that I’m working in two completely separate and yet quite inter-related spaces. I’m also the Co-Founder of Nordic Cuddle, and I recently attended a health and wellness event where a speaker looked at how we’ve lost touch with one and other as a species and how that’s happened at the same time we’ve overseen the devastation of the natural world. I can’t help but wonder if our social disconnection is linked to our environmental disconnection, and if I could start a movement it would be to address this. If we spent less time indoors with our technology and more time interacting in person with each other and more time outdoors, perhaps the health of society and the natural world would be in better shape.
Do you have a favorite life lesson quote? Can you tell us how that was relevant to you in your own life?
“Nothing is impossible.” We’ve heard this so many times before, but I think it’s especially worth remembering given that climate change is bigger and more complex than any other issue our species has ever faced. We have the technology to fix the crisis, all we lack is political action and we have to change that.
What is the best way for people to follow you on social media?
This was so inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
About the author:
Penny is an environmental scientist-turned-entrepreneur. She’s worked as a climate scientist, an environmental planner, and a wilderness park ranger. Motivated by a passion to raise a generation of environmental leaders, in 2010 Penny founded Green Kid Crafts, a children’s media company that provides kids around the world with convenient and eco-friendly STEAM activities. Today, it’s become a leader in the subscription industry, with over 1 million packages shipped worldwide that have exposed a generation to think about and take a leadership role in sustainability. Penny, her husband Jeff, and her children Rowan and Declan live together in San Diego, California. She holds a B.A. in Environmental Management and an M.S. in Environmental Science. Penny has over 20 years of experience in entrepreneurship, management, strategy and finance. She’s a seasoned leader, an inspiring speaker, an encouraging business mentor, and a creative writer. You can learn more about Green Kid Crafts at https://www.greenkidcrafts.com/ and follow Penny’s stories and updates at https://www.instagram.com/greenkidcrafts/ and https://twitter.com/bauderpenny.