Why we should connect our actions to the ocean every day

June the 8th is World Oceans Day! A whole day dedicated to the three-quarters of our planet covered in saltwater. A whole day to remember the source of every second breath we take. So, inhale oxygen from the forests, exhale CO2 for them to (hopefully) reabsorb, inhale oxygen from the oceans, exhale CO2 for them to (hopefully) reabsorb. Cool huh? I say hopefully, for as we well know, forests and oceans are under serious threat, and their capacity for absorbing and sequestering CO2 from our fossil-fuel intensive lifestyle is severely compromised.  

“Scientists and natural history experts the world over agree that there’s more than a commotion in the ocean; there’s a crisis.” – Natalie Fee, How to Save the World for Free (Lawrence King Publishing, October 2019). Pre-order here.

 

Protect what you love  

It’s not just ocean acidification caused by increased CO2 in the atmosphere that’s pushing the seas to their limits, it’s overfishing, it’s pesticides and fertilisers from industrial agriculture, it’s melting ice caps and of course, it’s plastic pollution.

So here at City to Sea, we welcome World Oceans Day, not just for the chance to boost awareness of the threats to the big blue, but to celebrate what we love about it too. To remind us to get out there and connect with it. Maybe that’s grabbing a surfboard and playing in the waves. Or paddle-boarding in an estuary or harbour. Or doing a beach clean, a coastal walk, learning to dive or snorkel, sailing, wild swimming, windsurfing, beachcombing, rock-pooling, sunset-on-the-horizon-gazing – whatever floats your boat and makes your relationship with the sea that little bit more personal.  

The plight of the albatross 

At this point, I should probably fess up that I’m the world’s most unlikely ocean ambassador. You may have assumed I was an ocean-loving, sea-faring woman whose love of the sea made me do what I can to protect it. But actually, I’m not. Well, I kind of am now, but I wasn’t four years ago. In fact, I was scared of the sea. I wouldn’t go on it, or in it and you pretty much had to drug me to fly over it. But something happened in 2014 that changed my life – and helped me form a real, tangible relationship with the very thing I was afraid of.

Strangely, it’s mostly down to an Albatross. A bird I’ve never seen and until five years ago never had an affinity with. I was scrolling through Facebook one day and a trailer for a film about the Laysan Albatross living on a group of Islands in the Pacific Ocean came up on my feed. But the film wasn’t about how magnificent these birds are; it was about how their chicks were dying from eating a diet of plastic. The adult Albatross swoops down from the sky to the sea to scoop up fish close to the surface – and mistakes floating colourful things like plastic bottle tops, cigarette lighters and toothbrushes for fish … which they then feed to their chicks. A third of these crazy beautiful, fluffy chicks are, starving to death in their nests with their bellies full of plastic

Connecting our actions to our oceans 

When I saw it for the first time, and every time since, I felt a deep sense of grief. It triggered a pain in me unlike anything I’d ever experienced when seeing human-caused environmental issues. And I think it was something about seeing everyday items that I used – my brand of toothbrush, ink cartridges, bottle caps – causing the death of something so beautiful – that woke me up to what I was doing … And I knew at that moment I couldn’t just sit back and allow this to happen. So from that day, I set about doing something about it, and City to Sea took shape.

Now for the weird and wonderful bit. I had a strange and unfathomable experience during my first crowdfunding campaign – a series of nine consecutive, immersive dreams in which the ocean gradually revealed itself to me. It was as if the moment I tangibly put my energy and focus on the thing I was scared of, and did something for it, it reached out back to me and did something for me too. It was life-changing, deep and profound. After that experience – a forming of my relationship with the sea – I actually wanted to get in the sea! So I started surfing and learnt to enjoy and appreciate the 71% of our planet that is ocean

 

Sea the change.  

I don’t think for a moment we are all destined to ‘give up our day jobs’ and start something new, but the reality is that we do all need to shift the focus of whatever it is we’re doing towards protecting what’s left of the environment. To make sure the 20 per cent of marine mammals remaining in the oceans recover their numbers. And that plastic pollution gets better, not worse.

Given the right conditions, oceans can regenerate. Rewilding the oceans, as well as the land, can help sequester vast amounts of CO2. Marine protected zones can help fish populations recover and thrive. And governments can implement deposit schemes, bans and taxes on single-use plastic to prevent it from polluting the seas.

We all need to do our bit. And while we’re doing it, why not head down to the coast from time to time to rest, play and dream our way into a healthier future, for you, me and the seas.

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Tallulah Rendall releases stunning new music video in support of City to Sea.

This week, we’re excited to announce a new partnership with the stunning Tallulah Rendall, an amazingly talented singer-songwriter and sound therapist who has dedicated the video for her new single – Holding on to Love – Be The Change, to City to Sea!

 

Nominated for the Woman of the Future Arts Culture Award in 2014, hailed as ‘London’s most creative woman’ by AOL, and celebrated by Latitude Festival for her “voice of an angel” – Tallulah was one of the first artists to introduce crowdfunding in 2006 with her first EP, Without Time. She has since crowdfunded, released and toured four albums worldwide: Libellus (2009), Alive (2011), The Banshee And The Moon (2014), and now The Liminal (April 2019).

Feeling a symbiotic connection to City to Sea and their mission to prevent plastic from littering the world’s oceans, Tallulah welcomed the opportunity to collaborate, as she explains:

City to Sea invites each of us to explore our own relationship with plastic and environmental awareness through campaigning for policy and behavioural change. I love the rawness, heartfelt and sometimes even playful approach they use to engage us with this conversation. Personally, I feel passionate about supporting systemic change in our individual and collective relationship to both plastic and the environment. I believe in music’s ability to inspire change and if I can add my creative voice to something as vital as City to Sea’s mission and help more people engage with protecting our wildlife, rivers and seas then that is both an honour and a privilege.

Tallulah’s thought-provoking music video features exquisite time-lapse footage shot by 2014 Travel Photographer of the Year, Rufus Blackwell, as well as footage from the recent Extinction Rebellion protests in London. The video highlights the plight of the oceans amid the escalating plastic pollution crisis. An emotive cry to unite and make a stand, the video invites viewers to take responsibility for their plastic consumption, with a clear call to action: “You can be the change. Say no to single-use plastic, say yes to the future.”

City to Sea founder, Natalie Fee says:

We’re all about awakening active hope, championing practical solutions and inspiring positive action – and we love doing that creatively! I’m a huge fan of Tallulah’s new album, The Liminal, and we thought it would be potent to combine our voices and work together to spread the word that we can – and are – making a difference. With serious threats from the plastic industry to boost production there is a real danger that plastic pollution in our oceans could double by 2050. So we need to get the message out there, through art as well as emails, petitions and the news, that we can stop this from happening. Tallulah’s music fits wholly with our ethos – we can be the change.

 

Co-produced with acclaimed Berlin producer Aaron Ahrends, Holding onto Love, Be The Change reflects Tallulah’s intention to use her music as a conduit to inspire change, as demonstrated by previous songs such as We Don’t Want War: written in response to the Syrian Refugee Crisis, all sales from this track were donated to Save The Children.

Explaining the concept behind her new album, The Liminal, Tallulah explains: “The ‘Liminal’ is an energetic, unquantifiable space which I attune to when I meditate or create. My deepening relationship with this connection has inspired me to believe in our human capacity to live an expansive life in harmony with ourselves, the planet we live on and each other. It is my passion to inspire and support this awakening in others through sound and creativity.”

We’re super proud and excited that Tallulah has chosen to work with us, and we hope you enjoy the single as much as we do! To view tour dates and order the album visit Tallulah Rendall’s website: www.tallulahrendall.com

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If you care about climate breakdown, you should care about plastics.

More than once I’ve heard people say that climate breakdown is a much bigger issue than plastic pollution, or that plastic pollution is a distraction from the wider environmental crisis we face. Add to this a recent BBC interview with George Monbiot in which he slammed switching your cotton buds as ‘pathetic micro-consumerist bollocks’, and I’ve got myself a case for defending plastic pollution’s place at the table of environmental collapse. Sounds like a dinner party to die for. 

In his defence, George was referring to the problem of trying to solve rampant consumerism with more consumerism. And we did have a particularly fun moment when I challenged him on it on stage recently at an event. As the founder of City to Sea, the organisation behind the #SwitchtheStick campaign (which successfully got all UK supermarkets to stop making cotton buds out of plastic and switch to paper instead) I felt the need to call him out on that one.  

And it’s a case in point, stopping over 400 tonnes of non-recyclable plastic, which would have most likely ended up being flushed and making its way into the UK’s rivers and seas, isn’t micro-consumerist bollocks. It’s a big reduction in fossil-fuel based plastic that sent a strong message to not just the supermarkets, but the plastic industry itself, that us ‘consumers’ don’t want 275,000 tonnes of currently non-recyclable plastic a year covering our cosmetic products, food, or anything else. And beyond that, it challenged investor’s assumptions that the plastic industry is a good bet. Pathetic micro-consumerist bollocks? More like awesome macro-systemic transformation. (I thought I made that word up, but apparently, it already exists.)  

Challenging industry assumptions of the infinite growth of demand for plastic – a plastics boom even – is exactly what we’re doing every time we as individuals refuse single-use plastic. And challenge them we must, as over 99% of plastic is made from fossil fuels, and most of us are now well aware that we need to keep that stuff firmly in the ground if we’re to have any chance of avoiding the worst consequences from climate breakdown.  

According to one study, this means leaving at least 80 percent of the world’s known remaining fossil fuel reserves in the ground, which includes more than 90 percent of U.S. coal reserves and all 100% of Arctic oil and gas. We cannot meet these goals without kicking our global plastics habit. And here’s why.  

Currently, plastic manufacturing is estimated to use 8 percent of yearly global oil production. It doesn’t sound like much does it? Yet the plastic produced from this, or our lack of effective waste management systems, has been enough to wreak utter destruction on marine ecosystems, killing hundreds of thousands of marine mammals, entangling countless others and poisoning our food chain. There are unseen consequences too; degrading plastics on beaches are releasing methane (a greenhouse gas 84 times more potent than CO2) and a new study shows that microplastics in the ocean could be disrupting natural carbon storage 

Despite this catastrophe, plastic’s share of global oil use is set to triple by 2050, increasing greenhouse gas emissions from petrochemicals by 30 percent and doubling plastic pollution in our oceans. 

via GIPHY

If the plastic industry has its way, rising plastic production will account for 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. That’s about the same as the entire current emissions of the transportation industry – planes, trains, cars, buses and all.  

And the industry push is powerful – currently, over $200 billion is being invested in factories, pipelines, and other infrastructure in the U.S. that will rely on shale gas (from fracking) to supply feedstock to the plastic industry. The need for us to push back is real, and it’s urgent.  

Yet for such a big and ruthless force, they have a major weak spot; they need us more than we need them. They need us to keep buying plastic, they need our governments to keep subsidising them, and they need investors to keep investing in them.  

You can stop buying single-use plastic. You can join a movement like School Strike for Climate or Extinction Rebellion and get your government to subsidise mass ecological restoration and renewable energy instead of fossil fuels. And you can make sure your current account provider, investments or pension funds are not funding the plastic industry.  

climate protestor holding sign Image by Jonathan Kemper

Plastic bag bans all around the world, the new EU single-use plastics directive, bans on straws, polystyrene and yes, even the plastic cotton bud, are a red flag to investors that the plastic industry is at risk – that maybe the boom they were hoping to make a buck out of is as dead in the water as the marine life they might one day have gone snorkelling with, had they not ruined it.   

So keep on signing petitions, sharing your zero-waste, plastic-free photos on Instagram, keep on creating a trend for a reusable, buy-less lifestyle and keep on refilling those water bottles. You’re creating a new story, and the more people that buy into it the less attractive the old one becomes … and, a bit like smoking, we quickly realise it really wasn’t that attractive anyway. “Remember the days we used to walk around carrying planet-polluting bottles and sipping coffee out of plastic-lined cups with virgin plastic lids? What were we thinking?”  

It’s time to broaden our perspective on plastic pollution and shift the focus away from its effects towards its cause. Yes, we still need to share photos of majestic, endangered species dying from ingesting plastic, and we also need to be talking about consumerism, capitalism and climate breakdown. Plastic pollution is a symptom not just of a broken waste system, but of a broken society, and it’s in all of our interests to fix it as soon as is humanly possible. 

Natalie Fee is the founder of City to Sea 

Feature Image provided by Bob Blob

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