A work of fiction: news from the coalface - part 3

30th May 2024

Disgraced environmental consultant Peter Lovebrother is another month nearer retirement…

I welcome feedback as much as anyone else, but a message received regarding my previous article took me by surprise. The reader implied that, by resigning in response to the culling of my recycling project, I had ‘given up’. They went on to argue we can achieve more by remaining inside organisations, driving the necessary change from within, instead of (I quote) ‘…petulantly throwing our toys from the pram at the first hurdle.’

Mixed metaphors aside, and despite the initial endorphin rush of knowing I had a reader, my immediate reaction was to take this as criticism. The usual hot flush of anger and self-loathing arrived soon after (note to self: do not check work emails when not at work). The following morning, boarding the 0830 from London Euston to Penrith for a weekend of hiking, I was still feeling cross. Despite my best intention, I do not take criticism gracefully.

As the packed train slid slowly from the station, the interminable stream of announcements regarding the full taxonomy of snacks and hot drinks available in the buffet car – which would remain closed until Milton Keynes - did little to help my mood. An hour later, the arc of my frustration peaked when the steward refused my reusable coffee cup due to ‘health and safety reasons’.

It was only after Macclesfield that I began to calm down. A glimpse of the Peak District - its carboniferous limestone laid down three hundred million years ago, encasing unsuspecting organisms within - was a helpful reminder to keep things in perspective. Simple creatures: one day going about their business, the next entombed forever as mere geological signatures in Earth’s visitor book. It was a similar story for the fossils.

Next morning on the steeply sloping southern face of Blencathra, I was out-of-breath but bursting with energy. A majestic temperature inversion had created a sea of cloud that lapped the base of the mountain, and my thoughts swirled like the mist creeping over the woodland below. Had my resignation been rash? The financial impact had been bruising, despite my mortgage provider’s uncharacteristic lenience, and it had taken some time to find a new role. So why take it so far, Peter, why the self-harm?

As I gained altitude, I recalled an anger management course I had attended in the 1990s: ‘criticism is an opportunity to grow’. Okay – so why not try on the reader’s point of view for a new perspective, open my eyes to see things I may have overlooked or never considered. In hastily resigning, had I been impatient, immature…petulant? Had I failed in my professional duty? Had I…got it wrong?

This novel and rather disconcerting thought percolated in my mind as I approached the summit via a flattening ridgeline. Having read that one in six UK adults now suffer from a ‘chronic fear of environmental doom’ (Transform, September 2023), I wondered if my bad-tempered departure had been driven by an early onset ‘eco-anxiety’? Its manifestations of low-level grief and nascent irritability were certainly familiar. To complicate matters, I had at that time sensed a vague loneliness, and in desperation had reluctantly agreed to accompany friends on a skiing holiday. The guilt and shame I felt at my hypocrisy – the skiing environmental consultant - had been distinctly uncomfortable.

Surveying that past emotional landscape, it was obvious I had just buried those feelings: far easier to plough on regardless, to blame colleagues and invent a smokescreen of budget cuts to hide behind. Lift the lid on my emotional distress to examine what was really going on? No thank you, nothing to see here.

Lost in thought, I had stopped walking but had started to sweat. I ripped open my jacket and took a long slow breath. In the distance a square of sun moved across farmland, framing individual fields and their stone-wall boundaries.

Driving change in organisations is hard, and banging the sustainability drum can be exhausting. Cynicism, resistance and long-term frustration would, at times, undermine my efforts to exert influence and was fertile ground for self-criticism: a minor set-back could trigger fruitless analysis of my professional skills and experience. The energy I wasted would power a medium-sized office block for months.

At least I’m not alone, and there are ways forward. The Transform article suggested fixes for eco-anxiety: make changes to your lifestyle that reduce your environmental impact; talk with friends and family about the changes you are making; take a break from reading the news; and spend time outdoors.

Turning to face the sun that was burning through the lingering cirrus, I walked on along the ridge. At least I was doing one of them (and I won’t be going skiing again).

Read part 1 here: A work of fiction: news from the coalface – part 1 - IEMA

Read part 2 here: A work of fiction: news from the coalface – part 2 - IEMA


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Transform articles

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David Symons, FIEMA, director of sustainability at WSP, and IEMA’s Lesley Wilson, tell Chris Seekings why a growing number of organisations are turning to nature-based solutions to meet their climate goals

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A system-level review is needed to deliver a large-scale programme of retrofit for existing buildings. Failure to do so will risk missing net-zero targets, argues Amanda Williams

31st May 2024

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