Reaching net zero: challenge and opportunity

Innovation may cut agriculture’s impact on the environment

Watching industry leaders discuss climate change has become a far more encouraging activity of late.

Ten years ago, it was widely seen as ‘something that someone else should do’.

Much changed after the UN Paris Agreement of 2015. Paris required governments to work to limit the average rise in global temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and to keep any increase below 1.5 degrees Celsius. To achieve this, global emissions would have to reach ‘net zero’ by 2050.

At the COP 26 summit in Glasgow in 2021 governments will showcase progress made towards decarbonizing their economies.

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A woolly tale of reincarnation

Breaking news logo in front of a Woolworths high street store

 

Pick’n’mix is back! Or so said the news media as they reported claims by a random Twitter account that the defunct UK stores group Woolworths was making a comeback. 

Journalists rushed to file their stories, egged on by editors keen to be first with the news. 

Oops.

As later reported, the entire story was the invention of a 17 year old schoolboy who had put the fake tweet out as part of a study into digital marketing. The news media picked it up and what happened next will likely be the subject of media studies degrees for years to come. 

The scale with which the story spread ought to sound a loud alarm about the quality of the editing process at many news organisations. 

How did we get here? Well, in the 2000s as websites proliferated, media owners looked for savings and saw the subs bench – as it was known – as an easy target for redundancies. 

Sub editors were dispensed with and reporters were left to type their copy directly into a content management system before hitting ‘publish’. It’s quicker and cheaper.

When mistakes do happen, they can be corrected later. ‘Not wrong for long’ is the maxim. And we are all worse off for it. 

Years ago, one of the first stories I filed attracted the ire of a subeditor, who loudly summoned me over to his desk for a public earbending. My crime? I’d got a key fact wrong.

I gulped. Colleagues had been fired for less.

I recall opening my mouth to plead my defence.

The subeditor raised his index finger.

I paused. Wisely, it turned out.

“Always, always check your facts,” he growled. “And then read your story aloud to yourself before you file. You’ll be surprised at what you find you’ve missed.” 

I felt humiliated. Though not as much as I would have been had we gone to press with my error. I had learned my first lesson – and the subeditor’s job was done. 

This week’s Woolworths story is a salutary reminder of their value.

Crisis? What crisis?

Competing in the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge, mid-ocean Rowing 3,000 miles late last year across an ocean is the toughest thing I have done so far. With just over four months left to the start of this year’s Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge, I know how fortunate we were not to have had our training disrupted by a global pandemic. Yet the crews I know taking part this time have adapted well to cope, spending more time on their ergometers, pumping iron in their home-made gyms and honing the navigation, nutrition, and boat maintenance skills that will keep them alive when circumstances change. 

The nineteenth century military strategist Helmuth von Moltke maintained that no plan survives wholly intact after contact with the enemy. It’s a lesson we kept in mind during our row as key pieces of equipment broke, our power failed, and promised breaks in the weather failed to materialise.

It’s also a lesson I’ve applied in my day job as a communications director. Crisis communications strategies have to be flexible enough to cope with the unexpected, adaptable even in the heat of an apparent disaster, and honed through rehearsal. Persuading senior executives to take time out to prepare, to role play, stress test, and to learn with you, is vital.

Company directors and ocean rowers alike will do well to consider that crisis management isn’t just a manual to pick up and dust off when things go awry, it’s an approach and a mindset that will determine whether you succeed or fail. 

Atlantic rowing: what it’s like

A short film detailing our participation in the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge is now out! It’s an amateur effort, but gives an idea of the scale of the task we faced.

Rowing 3,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean as Team Margot Atlantic Rowers was an epic experience. It’s hard to begin to describe it without lapsing into an adjectival soup.

We took 39 days to get from La Gomera in the Canary Islands to Antigua. And there were many highs and lows.

Our crossing was marked by astonishingly bad weather in the first 48 hours, huge waves that tested our surfing skills, strong winds, several days of flat calm and painfully slow progress, plus numerous remarkable encounters with wildlife. We never tired of the view – we saw the Atlantic in all its majesty, and it was always a sight to behold. So too was the night sky which, free of any light pollution, allowed our minds to absorb the miracle of life itself.

On a more mundane level, we suffered along with the rest of the fleet: various injuries, foot infections, bruising, chafing, extreme fatigue, hallucinations, seasickness, mood swings, equipment failure, electrical problems and occasional despair when we doubted our navigation advice and managed to row further than anyone else in this year’s race. But all this paled into insignificance when set against the magnificence of crossing the Atlantic to reach Antigua.

So were we changed by the experience? For Martin, Hamish and me, rowing the Atlantic was the culmination of a 20 year ambition. Sadly, with the Covid-19 crisis now enveloping the world, it has been hard from our respective lockdowns to gain the perspective from which to judge how we feel about it.

It has, however, confirmed the maxim of my other half which is that if you really want to do something, you need to work out how to go and do it. And don’t let anyone else tell you that you can’t!

We took part in the row to raise awareness of the global Stem Cell and Bone Marrow Register. You can find out more at www.werowyouregister.org – please, please sign up…you could save a life!

Braced for the adventure of a lifetime

The team, the boat, the team manager
So just two days to go before my crew mates and I leave the UK for the Canary Islands – ready for our bid to row across the Atlantic Ocean.

Colleagues have questioned my sanity, perhaps unaware that rowing the Atlantic in a small boat is ‘a thing’. Admittedly, more people have climbed Everest than have rowed the Atlantic. But it’s also part of our bid to raise awareness of stem cell research, a field of science that is saving lives and could save so many more if only people knew how important it is.

So what’s the purpose of our voyage?

What we’d love is for people to become aware of what the Stem Cell Register is, to click through and consider signing up. It’s easy, it’s safe, it can save lives and help families in terrible predicaments all over the world. You can find out more on the team website at www.werowyouregister.org Continue reading