Post-Olympic Thoughts

Thursday 7th of October 2021
Phases of Earth

For some weeks I have been wanting to write about a very specific idea. During the Olympics and Paralympics, I was struck over and over again by the discipline needed for those involved to maintain their training regimes and compete at these delayed games, all the more so when there have been occasions in the few months prior to them happening when it was uncertain whether they would go ahead. That was at the same time as having mixed feelings at the resources given over in various ways to these events based on competing with others in order to run faster, jump higher and so on.
I am aware that part of that is because of a level of frustration on my part that more resources are not being devoted to combatting climate change and the crisis in biodiversity. I admit that these are seen as nothing like as attractive to focus on as the four-yearly spectacle of the top athletes at the Olympics and Paralympics excelling themselves and competing against each other.
Perhaps that is part of the point. It’s an awful lot easier to see a “winner” when someone gets a gold medal in a competition broadcast across the world over a few weeks than it is when, say, a drained wetland is restored to re-create over months or even years a habitat that had been lost. There would be “winners” in the latter scenario, the wildlife that would be able to return and anyone who took pleasure in enjoying that very different spectacle. It’s therefore no less valuable a prize, just a very different type of phenomenon.
What seeing athletes competing brought home to me is that change on ecological fronts will only happen with determination, dedication and a willingness to make sacrifices for a goal. It’s not just those who are at the highest level of sport who have those qualities. I’d like to think that we can use them in this context of what people can do to play their part in what we are facing as a race.
Athletes reach the level of being able to participate in an event like the Olympics or Paralympics through years of preparation and having a certain talent. In one sense, making a contribution to fighting climate change is easier – anyone can make a difference. If we were all to see finding contributions that we can make regularly and in a disciplined way as a priority, that could be our own “Olympics”.
I’ve written before about trying to find something to capture people’s imagination around climate change. The next Olympics are due to take place in Paris in 2024. We could use that three-year period to focus our minds on what we can each do to address climate change and threats to biodiversity. It may be no coincidence that Paris was also the scene of the signing of the climate agreement of 2015. Could we talk about EarthRace 2024 as a parallel focus to the Olympics and Paralympics?
Similar to the competitors, we would need to find reserves of application and dedication; that’s not to say that there aren’t small changes which can be made relatively easily and which could collectively have a significant effect; however, some of these things do require us to put ourselves out. For example, it might be relatively easy to decide to walk to local shops rather than using a car we have access to if the weather is warm and dry, but it can be a different prospect as summer turns towards winter.
Different individuals, families or other groups would no doubt be attracted by different types of activities. Someone with a garden (or perhaps even a balcony) can concentrate on creating habitats for a greater range of wildlife whereas someone else might find a focus in reducing their carbon footprint by travelling in a different way and others could concentrate on reducing plastics use or increasing how much they recycle.
One of the things that athletes aim to do is to turn effective technique into habit. In trying to increase ecological awareness we are trying to train our minds more than our bodies, to learn to think automatically about how to lessen our negative impacts and increase positive ones. We need to find means of receiving positive feedback in similar ways to that which athletes receive from reaching certain levels in their training or from results in competition. I wonder if it would be possible to have a list of achievable changes which people could make and which could be recorded so that people can have feedback of being part of a “bigger picture”, whether locally, nationally or internationally. Would it be possible to have “medals” awarded collectively through such feedback, in the same sort of way as members of a team all receive medals? In some ways we are involved in a worldwide “relay race” because the manifestations of climate change and the challenges to biodiversity know no boundaries or borders.
Calling it EarthRace 2024 would remind us that we are dealing with something urgent, important and potentially unifying, because of the double meaning of “race”. I have even dared to imagine a logo which, echoing the Olympic logo, would have five views of the Earth from different perspectives (perhaps even phases of the Earth as in the NASA picture with this blog) to remind us both of the planet we share and our responsibility to work collectively to care for it.