On the road to COP26
25 October, 2021
Join Dr Catriona Mellor on the road to COP26, as she provides a daily diary from Ride for their Lives, and heads on two wheels to Glasgow.
Day 1 - Sunday: And we're off!
We left granary square and Michael Pinsky’s Pollution Pods, at 9am on Sunday morning, still not quite daring to accept how many miles lay ahead.
We were split into four groups of ten and I was delighted to cycle with the two young people advocates and Diarmid Campbell-Lendrum who handed over the WHO’s COP26 Special Report on Climate Change and Health and the #HealthyClimatePrescription letter to us to take onward on its journey from Geneva to Glasgow.
There were a few hills to get us warmed up, a rider’s uncle and aunt provided a road side pitstop cake, cookies and tea for all 40 of us, and some wonderful autumnal copper leaves and bright blue skies.
I hadn't met any of the other riders except via Zoom.
But there's been an immediate sense of comfort and solidarity riding with these other people as we unite around the common goal of raising the profile of this issue: Air pollution and the eco crisis are harming and killing the children of this world and it doesn't have to be this way.
Ready to ride
A quick stop on day 1
Day 2 - Monday: People Power
75 miles felt quite long, but we were blessed with clear skies again, enjoying sun rise and sun set from the saddle. Bumpy canal paths into Stratford, big views, steep hills, oak trees and then an impressive, safe, cycle highway guiding us through Birmingham to our beds.
You can join us virtually by signing up to our Strava group as we aim to hit 1 million km by the end of the month - hoping we can hit this seemingly impossible target, if we inspire enough people.
My cycle group of eight today included an OT, a parent counsellor, a diabetes nurse, a social worker, a neonatal intensive care consultant, a Welsh paediatrics trainee, a community paediatrician from France, and a child psychiatrist.
Different hospitals, different countries, different professions, same motivation: pushing for change because of the impacts on the children, young people and families we feel a duty of care towards.
The change that is possible when people come together like this, asking the question 'where do I fit in all this?', seems to take on a life of its own.
For four perspectives on the issue see this article in BMJ Opinion.
Catriona's cycling group on day 2
Day 3 - Tuesday: Tough going
Not a great start (getting lost in central Birmingham’s traffic system and road works, 2 punctures and a slippy canal track not designed for bike tyres), and not a great end (multiple hills saved up for between miles 65-75, in the dark, and rush hour traffic) to day 3.
The middle section had some higher points, another aunt and uncle pair provided cakes and tea for the whole ride, and good company. But this was definitely a part of the ride that was more challenging and perhaps when I’m less tired can offer some metaphor for the bigger challenge of working in the eco-crisis context.
One issue that’s been coming up in conversation is about trying to engage other people in the issue, particularly overworked healthcare professionals. And something that keeps coming up in response is that starting small is enough: asking a question at an academic meeting, supporting a trainee to use their special interest time, emailing the trust you work for to ask about their Green Plan, can make a difference: it signals to other people, it starts conversation, these small ripples lead to other things.
Whichever area we work in there will be a group to reach out to for other information and links to supportive networks.
In Psychiatry there are some ideas on our EcoCAMHS resource page and on the Sustainability and Planetary Health Committee pages.
Day 4 - Wednesday: Chuffed to bits
A completely different feel to today. Lots of tough climbs through the Peaks but the swooping downhills and far reaching views of our beautiful countryside North of Chesterfield were a constant reward. Another long day, but quicker then previous overall and we almost arrived at our Premier Inn in the light.
Sheffield Children's Hospital laid on an event to raise awareness of the negative impacts of Ari pollution ; one of their young patients, gave us a moving welcome and said he was 'chuffed to bits' that we were doing this, and he thought we'd be 'chuffed to bits' when (if?!) we arrive on Glasgow.
He's so right - but from Harrogate it still seems a long way away!
The group feel great after making it to Harrogate
Day 5 - Thursday: Intent
Now that the day-to-day logistics, prep, planning and ride/rest/eat balance is more familiar I have had the time and bandwidth to reflect on why I wanted to do this ride. It is partly to bring the mental health perspective to the message we are carrying and partly as a signal to children and young people that there are many adults who understand the urgency and severity of our climate and nature situation, and who care.
I remember witnessing the first school climate strikes and seeing the distress that children and young people are feeling and I am moved by the unfairness of it.
When I hear that children and young people are dismissed or ignored if they try to talk about their concerns, and are feeling betrayed and abandoned by the adult generation, particularly powerful decision makers, my sadness and anger drives me to get more involved: To show solidarity, validate their experience, and show by our actions that we are taking responsibility for the world we have so harshly treated.
The mental health impacts of the eco-crisis are huge and far reaching, both direct (for example associated with air pollution or following a climate disaster such as flooding or forest fires) and indirect (for example associated with food scarcity, land use change, conflict and displacement). On top of this, ‘Eco distress’, or ‘climate anxiety’, or ‘pain for the world’ - is a global issue, is very real and can be overwhelming.
It is, of course, not mental illness but rather an understandable response to the threat we face. It can also teach us about what we love and are afraid of losing, and can fuel us to do things we didn't think we're possible (cycle London to Glasgow?!).
There are increasingly resources and guidance being developed to help us all navigate through this. See, for example, the this set of support options by the Climate Psychology Alliance. Accepting this support ourselves can help us to support our children and young people.
Beneath the Angel of the North
The route - not long to go now
Day 6 - Friday: Nature matters
We rose earlier than usual so that the riders and the drifting Pollution pod could congregate for an event at Newcastle Children’s hospital. Then we wound our way alongside the Tyne and climbed through the Pennines. We had an unpleasant hour into a strong headwind with rain hitting our faces so hard it felt like hail, but then the clouds rolled away to reveal the valleys of Cumbria lit by glorious rays of sunlight.
The days have blurred and time has taken on a strange quality. We sleep, eat, cycle, eat, cycle, eat, cycle, eat, repeat. We talk to the motivated, interesting people who cycle alongside us, we absorb the beauty of the scenery and receive whatever weather comes our way.
Another part of my motivation to join the ride is in response to a deep grief I have for how our current way of living and consuming is exploiting and destroying Nature, in a collectively suicidal manner. I feel the need to make some space to mourn what we are losing as well as contributing what I can to saving and restoring what has not yet been destroyed.
Repairing our relationship with our natural surroundings as well as remembering our place within and as a part of Nature is a central theme in several of the nature based and ecopsychology trainings available. And in taking part in these trainings I have seen how vital this is for our human health and wellbeing and for the way we treat our human and other-than-human relations who share this home of ours.
- The University of Derby’s Nature Connectedness Research Group’s resources
- The Outdoor Teacher’s forest-school based resources for practitioners in mental health
- The Natural Aademy’s NatureWell training
and of course, the RCPsych's Nature Matters webpage.
Day 7 - Saturday: Welcome to Scotland
We got very wet in the morning after leaving Carlisle thanks to heavy rain and some inconsiderate drivers who in overtaking us propelled an arching wall of water over our heads and down the necks of our waterproofs (twice!). Our faith in folk was restored as a hotelier gave us free tea and coffee despite being in the throes of running a wedding, as we were cold, wet and miles from any other refreshments. The views are opening up and the landscape is getting wilder as we travel North, with more and more wind turbines majestically positioned over the hillsides.
Our ride has been like fast forwarding through the seasons. The green leaves around London turned to golden leaves swirling in the wind in Yorkshire and a more wintery chill to the air as we travel through Scotland.
Flooding, and weather untypical of the season, remind us as we cycle of the urgency of the message we are carrying: Climate change is not about other people and places in the future, it’s already affecting us here and now, even though we are as yet much more protected than those in more climate vulnerable countries.
Without drastic, just, climate and nature action this decade, even the most cautious of scientific predictions about the near future are terrifying in their implications.
I think one of our roles as the grown ups living at this time is to face this reality, not give in to despair and feelings of helplessness, nor allow ourselves to be distracted, as difficult as that is in our busy, stressful lives. We need to inform ourselves about what we (collectively) are setting our children up for. And, as if our child had been diagnosed with a life-limiting illness, (collectively) stop at nothing within our power to maximise their chances to thrive and survive.
Day 8 - Sunday: End of the ride, start of the action!
“If working apart we are a force powerful enough to destabilise our planet, surely working together we are powerful enough to save it… We are the greatest problem solvers on earth. We know how to deal with this problem” David Attenborough, at COP26.
We had all relaxed by the end of day 7 as the final day into Glasgow on Sunday was so ‘short’, at 37 miles.
However, the REALLY wet weather, hilly terrain and another puncture had us worried we wouldn’t reach the final event in time. Luckily, the skies cleared, the 'Heron Farm Shop and Kitchen' appeared as if by magic for an injection of energy and the latter half of the ride was mainly downhill.
So we all made it! Welcomed by a samba band and inspiring speeches from, amongst others, the Young Person rider, Toby Hancock, Fiona Godlee and Robin Stott. My family were there too – I am so grateful to them and others, especially Alan and Nick, for the support they have given me to be able to do the ride.
We have delivered the message to World Leaders on behalf of the 45 million healthcare professionals whose organisations signed the #HealthyClimatePrescription letter, and they know we are watching them closely. There is a continuing strong health care presence for the next two weeks, including input from RCPsych.
I’m writing this from home as the rest of Sunday ran away with me. As I look ahead I ponder something else David Attenborough said to those in the audience younger than his 95 years.
So what to do? Some suggestions:
- Carry on doing what we do: show we care, speak up when we feel something is wrong, share difficult times and new learning, look after ourselves, each other and the natural world around us. I think remembering what we need for our own and our communities’ emotional resilience will be increasingly important.
- Find out where what matters most to you intersects with the climate and nature crisis. Then make a conscious commitment to live and work by weaving this climate and nature perspective into what you do. ‘People noticed when doctors stopped smoking. They will notice when we take climate change seriously’. This can be in many ways – one little step at a time. Supporting sustainable choices at home and in the workplace is important, but much easier to do as part of a group. Also, perhaps even more importantly, challenging systemic structures and signalling to the world’s most powerful that we want things to change for the better - for example by how we vote, what we buy, by switching to a renewable energy provider, or switching to an ethical bank.
- Put pressure on whichever organisations we work with to, for example: raise the awareness of these issues across the workforce, to ensure any investment they make is ethical, to produce climate risk assessments and mitigation protocols.
- Seek out training and join groups of other climate aware practitioners to increase knowledge and confidence. This helps in those moments when we feel the need to step back from pushing for change because we think we don’t know enough, aren’t green enough ourselves, or are too busy.
- There is a specific role for those of us who work with children and in mental health. The intergenerational injustice and the emotional toll of living at these times calls on us particularly.
All these ideas are meant to be helpful but I know the sheer choice can also be overwhelming. Probably the best place to start is by finding a group of people to talk to.
Please reach out to us in EcoCAMHS and/or RCPsych Sustainability and Planetary Health Committee . We would love to hear from you, without any pressure to commit.
As I said goodnight to the kids last night I imagined other parents saying goodnight to their children too. The world that the eyes of these children see each day when they wake up in 5, 10, 15 years time will be determined by what is done in the next handful of years. And whether we see it as a blessing or a curse, we are some of the people with the power and influence to shape what they see.
The triumphant but tired team are given a warm welcome
The group with the Healthy Climate Prescription Letter for world leaders
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