Get a yellow card

You can’t learn or improve

Julie showing off a chocolatey backroll

unless you push your limits a little.

I’ve played soccer since I was eight years old and I’ve always been too nice on the field. When I was eleven years old my dad’s coaching advice was: get a yellow card. He didn’t want me to be mean or unsportsman-like, he just wanted me to play hard and stop being such a wimp. I was so proud of myself when I finally got the guts to gently nudge another girl with my shoulder.

For the last two months I’ve been learning to kitesurf in Hua Hin, Thailand. It involves learning to control a huge kite to pull me through the water without crashing it down on other swimmers, sweeping tourists off the beach, slamming it into other kites, or landing it in a thorny tree. Luckily none of these things have happened (yet), but nonetheless part of the learning process is getting dangerously close.

If there were kitesurfing referees I would definitely have been yellow carded a few times by now.

Once I could control the kite I then faced the challenge of generating enough power to get me up on the board but not so much that it launched me out of the foot straps. When that happened I would fly running through the air and drink a huge mouthful of seawater upon landing. There were also the attempts to return to land amongst tumbling waves, watching out for hits in the back of the head from my board when it came off my feet, and jumps that ended in epic blinding face plants.

Unfortunately all of these things have and still do happen to me. Each time it happens I think to myself: another yellow card for me, yessss!

I’m glad I submitted myself to the eye-stinging, nose burning, head throbbing pain that is inevitable if you choose to attach yourself to a giant kite you can barely control. I’m also pleased I put up with the intense frustration of being a beginner because after all that I have not only learned to kitesurf, but also learned that ‘get a yellow card’ is one of the most important lessons my dad taught me.

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Changes to this blog

I started this blog just before my masters in conservation as a way to reflect on environmental challenges and present the latest issues in easy-to-understand language for anyone who wanted to read about it. Now that I am traveling and looking for ways to do good for the planet while living adventures outdoors I’m going to expand my focus to include writing and photos about life on the road. It’s not going to become a personal travel blog, but it will be about bike touring, living sustainably, adventure, outdoor sports and inspiration from nature – all told through an environmentalist’s lens wherever possible.
The planet is our playground.

Uma, duas, três, Jump!
Uma, duas, três, Jump!

Principles before profits?

“Most shareholders invest for the return to them, not for the return to somebody else,”
“If your goal as a corporation is to better the environment, then you should be working philanthropically,”

These are quotes in a 2010 article that I just came across about “benefit corporations”. It talks about states in the US giving a special type of company protection against shareholder lawsuits – presumably to give them more legal backing to do good in the face of pressure to perform only to the financial bottom line.

Can companies put principles before profits? I understand the old way of thinking that companies should make profits, governments should protect their citizens and the public sector should hold both accountable to these goals. But I don’t really think it works. And I think we should promote a change in this model.

Companies can do good. Governments should protect their citizens before their corporations. And the public/voluntary sector should continue to hold them accountable.

This article highlights five companies that are making significant profits while doing good (though they don’t give their criteria – negative points for lack of transparency). Should we let companies and shareholders to decide the balance between enough good and as much profit as they can possibly make?

As a conservationist I’m always thinking about who I need to influence to get the change I want to see. With getting companies to do good, I think the pressure points could be either the shareholders, the CEOs, the customers, or the lawyers who write the laws that protect whichever one of these groups has the sense to do something good for the planet.

Where do you think we have the best chance of getting some of our most powerful ‘citizens’ (corporations) to do good for the planet?

Read more: 

  • The Ecologist magazine online has a section called “Behind the Brand” that provides thoughtful analysis of major companies’ ethical behaviour.
  • IUCN’s work to influence business
  • A programme at Cambridge that helps business leaders work together for sustainability in business

Protecting fish and fishermen: a video about California marine reserves

How should we protect the marine ecosystems we love to see and the fish we love to eat? Learn something about the debate on marine reserves.

I just watched this short video on the NY Times that is a good little snapshot of the challenges of no-take marine reserves that conservationists argue are necessary for ecosystem restoration. It’s about new protection of the California coast so it is especially close to my heart because that’s where I grew up and my childhood experiences of poking sea anemones in the tidepools and learning about kelp forests were instrumental in making me a conservationist.

Watch the video – it’s only six minutes and it is well done!

Conservation typically can take one of two forms: protect an area or protect a species. Obviously it then gets much more complicated (for example,
you might want to protect a time of year, such as a breeding season) but two of the pillars of conservation are ecosystem protection through protected areas and species protection. It’s therefore worth thinking about the pros and cons of protecting fish through marine reserves versus catch restrictions or size limits. What is the best approach to ensure that we still have fish in the sea and fishermen still have jobs?


(More videos: Another NY Times video related to fishing. All the NYTimes videos tagged as environment.)