So how does a self-confessed travel junkie fit in with green jobs and sustainability as he flies around the world with his signature Shemagh scarf and his wide-eyed curiosity?
Well. Simon Reeve was championing the cause of travelling as a way to open eyes and borders, and pointing out that our need to journey, is the “essence of our species”. “Us travelling gives an economic incentive to protect and preserve” …for people to protect their nature reserves, their marine parks, their country and ways of life. But more than this (he stabbed the air at this point).
“We need to travel responsibly, with our eyes open, to understand more about the light and the shade.”
To see how others live, and the interconnected nature of our lives, and to share the benefits for the traveller, and the countries we travel to. Eco-tourism is transformational for many countries, working at the intersection of social, economic and sustainable change. It brings us closer to a ‘Star Trek’ collective force for humanity, and our planet as a whole.
I was at the Green Shoots event in Truro cathedral, watching Simon Reeve. The UK’s most adventurous journalist with a panel made up mostly of women debate Cornwall’s role in ‘Growing the Skills for a Sustainable Future’. We broke into workshops and discussed everything about green skills. How to be a green business, what green really meant, what does the green jobs market look like, how green technologies fitted in. There were many expert and passionate voices sharing ideas and knowledge. Simon Reeve, as seen on our TV screens, was the key note speaker.
Simon Reeve is one of the most personable and honest role models, despite a troubled start in life.
There is a separate, but intertwined thread, to this event. Anyone who has felt at rock bottom, who is a young person who might be feeling as low as Simon once did “with no ambitions, no hope, bouncing along the bottom for a long time” can find a glimmer of light here. Watching him leap out of helicopters, try bizarre food, or well up with tears as he talks to families in the grip of desperate poverty, gives us that sense of hope, of inspiration, for ourselves as well as others. Simon managed to turn his fortunes around from a misspent youth, via a job at the Times post room, at the bottom of the ladder of investigative journalism.
“I worked hard, I volunteered, I said yes.”
He said yes. He managed to transform himself from a suicidal teenager to a confident young adult. Very interesting. I will be buying his autobiography Step by Step to find out exactly how he did it, in the hope that I can bottle up the recipe and give it out to everyone, and anyone, who needs it. But I wonder … was it a friendly manager, a work mentor or a family fairy godmother. Was it a call to adventure, or something lighting his fire that put him on this path? Was it just luck, or a realisation that he could create his own luck?
Or was it the long, painful journey of introspection and enlightenment where he balanced on either side of his redemptive journey, gathering up his courage (and his scarf) to believe in himself, and his true calling in life. To find experiences, with meaning, with light and shade. His own adventures if life, whatever they may be. Simon firmly believes in the role of travel. It’s what makes us human. For anyone who is struggling with mental health or a troubled life for any reason, in the UK or overseas, Simon had this to say.
“This is why travel is needed . . . they need to know there is a better life out there.”
Having clearly sorted himself out, he is now on an adventure to sort out the world.
He touched on the impact pollution was having on some of the many indigenous people he’d met, travelling over 120 countries. The effect on tribes in Africa, on the ancient Kogi tribe of Columbia. All experiencing the catastrophic effects of climate change and our destructive industries changing their patch of the planet. The floods, the fires, the pollution, the devastation of our natural ecosystems. “They call us Big Brother and themselves Little Brother” according to Simon, who has met many different cultures and people in his travels.
“They are horrified about what Big Brother is doing to us…”
The biggest issue now, is how we are destroying our environment.
Simon and the expert panel were however, clear on one thing. It’s not all bad. In fact, Simon believes it’s never been so good, in the UK at least. And he may just be right. We had the head of Cornwall’s new Spaceport, Melissa Thorpe, and Madelaine Constance, a geothermal expert, explain how green innovation and green skills were transforming their business sectors.
“Heat makes up around 50% of our carbon demand” said Maddie. “We can decarbonise heat with green technology”. Melissa revealed how the Spaceport uses satellites to monitor data, “helping the polluting industries to become carbon neutral”.
Chris Hines, eco communicator and co founder of Surfers Against Sewage pointed us all out in the room. And called many of us out, in the millions of pounds we have spent, and will spend. As consumers, we have “the power in our pockets”. Responsible, ethical, sustainable consumerism. The circular economy.
“Cornwall has an opportunity to respond. not just on a local level, but to provide a (green) blueprint for the UK to follow”
I love a nature metaphor and Anne Vandermeulen (Federation of Small Businesses) created a bit of a buzz for me by saying that this planet could be carbon neutral, if led by the small businesses that are proliferating in Cornwall.
“Small businesses are just people, and as people, they can be like little mosquitos, making a big noise”.
Back in the 18th century, Cornwall was a leader in innovative mining technology, exporting its know-how all over the world (move over Aussies). Could Cornwall do the same for the green industrial revolution? Truro & Penwith College hosted this event, with its young people engaged and informed about green issues. The college’s bid for DoE funding had only just recently being approved to create a Green Skills & Technologies Hub. Education and business trailblazing the green revolution.
So do we have more home-grown Simons or Simones in Cornwall ready to boldly go? Simon gave us a clear call to action in his final message.
“2020 is the decade where we take on our biggest challenge. Our own behaviour. To protect our biodiverse, spectacular ecosystem. So, we can look to the future with confidence.”
With his responsible travel hat on, Simon also noticed the shade amongst the light.
“Whilst there are mosquitos in the room, there is also an elephant . . . and that elephant is leadership.”
Back to our nature metaphors. Leadership is the opportunity elephant for Cornwall. To take our home-grown talent and nurture it, as it will attract more. To take economic, social, sustainable and green advantage of our human capital and our natural capital. To blend the amazing potential of young people, the unique natural heritage of our coastal landscape and green potential to transform lives everywhere. And this isn’t just for young people. Bethany from our Growth & Skills Hub leant in here. We need mentors, friends, role-models, people who can pass green skills knowledge on, facilitate, signpost, collaborate, encourage and empower others. To champion natural resource management, to create rewilding projects, to run business in the community sustainability initiatives. To do green stuff.
Is this our collective purpose in life?
If anyone is searching for more meaning in life, or for their ikigai (reason for being), we need look no further. This is it. A response and responsibility to share the care for humanity and for our amazing planet. If I had this opportunity, when I was at college, I’d be beside myself with ambition, with hope, with uncertainty maybe, but with an adventurous spirit. To be able to create a life we all wanted to live, and a life to all be proud of.
So yes, I’m a little bit green with envy. But envy can be transformed into motivation, so this is our chance to all get more involved, become green shoots ourselves, and help grow skills for a sustainable future. This is our adventure now.
Truro and Penwith College hosted ‘Green Shoots: Growing the Skills for a Sustainable Future’ conference at Truro Cathedral on Wednesday October 20, with Simon Reeve as the keynote speaker.
An expert panel, chaired by Cornwall Chamber chief executive Kim Conchie, featured Ann Vandermeulen (FSB), Bethany Allen (Growth and Skills Hub), Chris Hines (A Grain of Sand), Madelaine Cherie Constance (geologist) and Melissa Thorpe (Spaceport Cornwall).