Insights from our Founder: Is anger the answer?

Emma Burlow, Founder and Director of Lighthouse Sustainability Ltd.

Part of a series of blogs from Emma Burlow, Founder of Lighthouse Sustainability.

Is anger the answer?

What a week… the sustainability sector under enemy fire from our own Prime Minister, Rosebank oil field given the green light, while 15-minute cities and segregated recycling got the red. The 2030 EV target was scrapped, then quietly reinstated for 2035. Fear seemed to be the flavour of the day and the reality of the climate emergency took a momentary (we hope) holiday.

To say it’s been a frustrating time would an understatement. Confusing at best, comical if you are already counting down to a General Election, but for me and many others, it made us very angry.

In our recent LinkedIn Poll – 70% of our voters said that they felt angry or hopeless after the recent climate policy rollback.

As things get more heated in politics, things continue to warm around us. September 2023 temperatures shatter all previous records and 2023 is likely to be the hottest year on record.

I’m reminded of one of the quotes that keeps me going when things get heated:

First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win. 

(Misattributed to Ghandi)

I feel like these stages represent the last few decades.

In the 90s when I went to Uni, there were only four Environmental Science courses in the UK. The IPCC had only just been formed. Swampy was the public face of environmentalism and business wanted nothing to do with him or it.

In the 2000s, environmental compliance kicked in, but sustainability was for ‘tree-huggers’, industry doors were still firmly closed– we were laughed at.

Fast forward to the 2020s and things seemed to be on the turn; Blue Planet fever, Net Zero and the climate emergency as a reasonable, if not imperative, topic for businesses to consider. Policies were applauded and progress was made.

Then, the fighting started. Some people realised this isn’t going their way, and what was a joke has begun to feel like a threat, and that threat needs to be extinguished.

So, you could say we’ve come a long way. We’re no longer being ignored or laughed at (so much); if fighting is the next phase, we can hold hope that it will end at some point. The most important thing for me is not that we fight until exhaustion, but that we remember why we are here, we dig in and use our anger for good.

Anger is not necessarily a negative emotion. Psychologists at Good Therapy point out that it’s embedded in our primitive need to protect ourselves. Anger drives people to be vigilant about threats and sharpens focus. It serves as a positive force to motivate and work toward our ideals. Anger is activated when our values are not in harmony with the situation we face, making us aware of our deep-seated beliefs and what we stand for. Anger tells others it is important to listen to us. It makes us stand up for ourselves and constructively challenge others. As such, anger encourages cooperation.

So, there it is. Rather than frustrate and tire us, anger might just be the very emotion we need to channel our energies and drive our work towards a safer, more sustainable future.

– Emma Burlow
Founder, Lighthouse Sustainability

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