There is a way for young people to save our planet.
That’s the message from Pat O.Brown, CEO and founder of Impossible Foods.
Last week, I made it to COP25 to host a fireside chat between Pat and Chief Learning Officer of the Global Landscapes Forum, Salina Abraham. This was his advice to us and other budding change-makers.
But first: what makes a change-maker?
I know what it feels like to be young, with grand visions of the future, but little life experience to back you up; to question how you might ever lead the change, much less the seismic kind engineered by ‘Giant Disruptors’ like Impossible Foods.
It’s too easy to feel that people who are amazingly successful were somehow born that way — predestined for greatness. The truth? They started out as any typical young person. Like you or me. They made themselves exceptional, just as anyone can if they have the burning desire to do so.
The secret is simply… to take action.
The only difference between a giant like Pat O.Brown, and someone who does nothing, is that one took action, and the other is still thinking about it. Action which at first involved tiny steps and lots of mistakes, but which over time grew and grew; attracted supporters, and became a massive contribution to the future of our planet.
There are lots of “top tips” from people who would like to affect change.
Here, for a change, are five from someone who actually has.
Don’t wait for the UN to solve climate change: make it your job. “A lot of people who care about a huge, complicated, global issue like climate change demand that global institutions and governments clean up their act. It’s not an effective way of getting things done. Those institutions are not going to solve it.” (All quotes from Pat O.Brown.) Put it down to vested interests, bureaucracy, or being too big to change; it’s clear that we cannot depend on these incumbents to lead the way. We must step up to the challenge, as individuals. People aren’t born to become leaders, they decide to make themselves responsible.
You don’t need to be an expert. “I’m no expert on food, I wasn’t an expert on climate… I just decided this was something I wanted to do, and taught myself. A big thing that holds back initiative from highly engaged and motivated young people is that they think, “Oh well, I’m not an expert, so how can I do that?” Well… just decide to do it.” Even now, I doubt Pat would claim to be much of a foodie — but he didn’t need to be to start Impossible Foods. He was propelled by the challenge of eliminating one of the greatest drivers of environmental devastation; how we make meat. All of our leading environmental heroes started out the same way; committing to the challenge and embracing their lack of knowledge. They quickly became experts at asking the right questions and honing skills they didn’t know they had.
Think smart and be subversive. “Subversion is an underemployed strategy… [the food problem] is not going to be solved by telling people what to do, it’s not going to be solved by shaming them or educating them about what a terrible problem this is. […] You have to find a subversive way of doing it.” There’s always a place for banner-blazing — yet as you seek solutions, be subversive. When you identify a problem, don’t just ask, “What’s wrong here?” but “How could we do things different? How could we do them better?” You won’t achieve anything by shouting at people. Respect the people you’re trying to influence, work hard to understand what they care about, then consider how you might invite them to a new way of doing things.
You are the solution. Take the initiative, carry your ideas forward, and keep moving. “There’s a huge need for lots of people to take their ideas, really take them forward; some of them will fail, some of them will succeed. […] The minute you decide to do something and take action, you are way ahead of the pack. Initiative is what matters.” Since it was humans who created the world’s problems, we can also solve them. Don’t expect to build Rome in a day, anticipate failure and resistance, it’s an inevitable part of the process. What matters is how you choose to respond. That you never give up.
Know that this is a solvable problem. “This is a solvable problem, we have maybe 15 years to massively turn back the clock on climate change — so it’s an urgent problem, but don’t despair. Solve it.” I’ve long-believed the biggest challenge with climate change is simply our mindset. The problem is only insurmountable — if we believe it is. My invitation to young people who feel that sense of overwhelm, is to zero in on the one single challenge, the injustice that most riles you up in conversation, that ignites a fire beneath your skin. Then have the courage to commit. How do you eat the proverbial elephant? (Presumably one made from plant-based Impossible Meat!) One bite at a time. Thinking about getting from where we are today to where we must be tomorrow can seem like trying to jump the Grand Canyon. But that’s only fear at work. Be brash enough to assume that you will realise your goals, and expend your energy not on pessimism, but experimentation. Motivation ramps up dramatically once you find yourself taking action. A small step today becomes a giant leap tomorrow. “This was not my job to do. But I just felt ‘no one else is doing it’, and that’s why I got into this. […] No one is going to ask you to step up. But it might as well be you.”
You can read more from Pat and how Impossible Foods is turning back the clock on climate change here: https://medium.com/impossible-foods/meatisheat-and-plantsarecool-wecandothis-turnbacktheclock-5a63176ebe8c And watch our panel session in full: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tCv6ZIZF1UE&feature=youtu.be
[from left to right] Pat O.Brown, CEO & Founder of Impossible Foods / Salina Abraham, Chief Learning Officer of Global Landscapes Forum / Clover Hogan, climate activist and founder of Force of Nature.