So each one of us can imagine putting our own life on the donut table and asking ourselves, how does the way that I live affect humanity’s ability to come into this safe and just space? How does the way that I eat, shop, and travel affect it? Am I generating more climate change and land conversion by eating lots of meat, or by travelling all around the world without thinking about the carbon it creates? How does the way that I buy clothes and food affect people’s labour rights and supply chains? Am I buying from brands that I know respect that? But also, how is the way that I invest, that I save money, that I vote, that I volunteer?
All of these things– these daily actions in our lives– can either help to push humanity out of the safe and just space of the donut, or help to bring us into it. Where do I work, and what influence can I use in the networks I’m part of– in the company I work for, in the university I go to? How can I incrementally or transformationally shape the impacts that I have in the world? We can all make that difference. There are so many different kinds of roles we can play. Some people like to be person-to-person talking at the face with the public. Some people like to be doing analysis quietly in the back room, creating new statistical numbers.
Some people like to stand on a big stage and speak to many. Some people like to advise quietly in the ear. And a lot of this is down to personal skills, comfort, politics. Each of us can think about who am I in the world? What kind of skills do I have? What kind of role do I want to play? Because we need people playing all of these roles. They’re all valuable. Without any one of them, we couldn’t do this together. It’s a wonderful amorphous international team of people who are committing to creating a world in which we can meet the needs of all within the means of the planet.
And we can each bring our skills to do the best role we can do in that space. If there’s one thing that I hope you will take away from this course is that you actually can make a difference. I always find that in discussions about these issues that we cover when we talk about SDGs or the green economy, there is a sense that the individual can no longer make a difference. I think first of all, history teaches us the opposite. Whether it is the women’s movement– whether it is the anti-apartheid movement– whether it was the cancellation of debt– these movements all started with a few people beginning to say, “this is wrong, and I’m going to do something about it.”
Now, don’t always expect that you can overnight change the world by simply saying something is wrong, and I would like to organise a movement. Although quite frankly, everybody who is 12, 15, 18 years old today has it far easier than people had it maybe even 15, 20 years ago when they started a movement. You can communicate with the entire world today instantly. You can access information in your home, in your living room, in your school. So my point would be yes, the world is complex. Let’s not pretend otherwise. And the challenges are enormous, and in some respects, existential. But actually, our power to make a difference is greater today than it has ever been.
But you’ve got to start where you actually can influence something. It may be in your family. It may be in the place of work. It may be in your local council. It may be in the business. It may be by walking into the mayor’s office one day and saying, this is wrong. We need to do something about what’s happening in our community. It may be walking into a bank and saying, why are you not giving us better advice on the kinds of investments I could make that don’t simply perpetuate problems, but allow me to put my money where I can make a positive contribution? The possibilities are endless.
And this reminds me, in one sense, of a wonderful leader who certainly had a profound impact on my life, Wangari Maathai. She began by working with some of the most un-powerful people in the world, rural women in Kenya who could often not even read and write, because they’d never gone to school. They started planting trees. And it became the green belt movement in Kenya. And the idea of planting trees then exploded around the world. Wangari Maathai ended up winning a Nobel Peace Prize for her leadership in the way that she combined the power as an individual to act through a simple action, with inspiration to change, let’s say, the prejudice that we could not change things the way they are.
And I think these people are the ones that can both in the past and in the future, inspire us in a way to never allow people to tell us we don’t have the power to change things.