Look on the Bright Side

Words: Jack Copeland

Photos: Emma Askew

Surfing and environmental activism have come hand-in-hand for quite a long time now. It seems only fitting that a sport which revolves around the natural world would be so invested in maintaining the planet’s health. But, as some of us young and idealistic wave chasers have grown up, our commitment to saving the world has sadly started to wane.

In the midst of keeping up with the bills and trying to kickstart our careers, our commitment to cleaning the oceans and fighting the good fight has had to take an unfortunate step back. Even I have to admit that since starting university, and even a year after graduating, my mind hasn’t found itself thinking about the planet as much as it used to.

Lectures, dissertations, graduations, finding jobs, and losing jobs have claimed a firm grip on my daily train-of-thought, and they’re outright refusing to let go. Beforehand, I would often think about the world, about climate change, and about where we all might be in another ten years, and it’s sad to think that a lot of us have lost this community mindset.

Thankfully, I’ve been able to keep a small connection to environmentalism through my love of surfing. As I said at the start, surfing is inextricably linked to nature, meaning that a lot of the narratives within the surfing community have tangents concerning the environment.

In previous articles, this was mentioned when Sebastian Schieren said that he didn’t like taking planes because he “feel[s] bad about the environment”, and was also mentioned when Elizabeth Sneed said that surfing “connects us with nature.”

It’s in these brief moments, when reconnecting with the surfing community, that I can feel myself focusing once more upon ocean conservation and the natural world. It would be ideal if I could combine this passion with my career as well, but at the moment this ideal scenario is just out of reach.

However, someone who has managed to combine her dedication to environmentalism with her career is Emma Askew, a part-time soil surveyor, Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) rep, and the founder of Earth Minutes. As you might have read in the previous article, Earth Minutes is an environmental communication service which has dedicated itself to having an optimistic message.

Where most outlets usually portray a bleak view of the environmental crisis, Earth Minutes prides itself on having a hopeful one. The collaboration was officially founded this year, getting itself off the ground despite the pandemonium of 2020, and specialises in film production, social media campaigns, talks, workshops, and events.

Emma hosts a screening of the Breakwater micro-documentary at St Peter’s Primary School in Devon. (Photo by Emma Askew)

Essentially, when charities, companies, or educational institutes want to create media on an environmental issue or achievement, they can reach out to Earth Minutes in order to both create and promote this media to as wide an audience as possible.

Alongside Sam Walker, a sound producer, and Sion Roe, a cinematographer, Emma has worked on projects for Plastic Free Exeter, Proud to be Green, Sancho’s, Finisterre, Less Plastic, SAS, and the British Society of Soil Science.

Kalkidan (the founder of Sancho’s) and Becky Hughes trying on some Sancho’s clothing. (Photo by Emma Askew)

As I read more about Earth Minutes, my opinion of Emma continued to grow, knowing that she was managing a successful business on top of her two other roles whilst only being twenty-three years old (the same age as a particular, under-achieving editor).

Catching up with Emma a couple of weeks ago, I asked her how she managed to juggle Earth Minutes on top of her other job as a soil surveyor. She replied: “I started by dedicating my free time, either side of my working hours, to designing, structuring, and planning campaigns and films.

“It takes a lot of time management, self-motivation, and genuine interest. However, it was, and still is, something that I would do everything I possibly could to pursue. It’s a huge balance because, ultimately, some areas of my lifestyle (especially volunteering and other hobbies) had to be side-lined.

“But I always remind myself that this is the stage in your life, as a young person, where you haven’t got anything to lose. You can push your work and career as much as you want to, without many significant financial and family ties.”

This response reminded me of the many social media posts that you can see these days, telling people to get themselves a “side hustle” (I really hate that phrase) and to focus everything they do on making money. The only difference is that Emma’s passion for Earth Minutes seems to be less about money and more about doing the right thing.

Emma Askew, the founder of Earth Minutes and South Western rep for Surfers Against Sewage. (Photo by Emma Askew)

This became very clear when I asked Emma, who studied Environmental Science at the University of Durham, about her motivation behind Earth Minutes. She then revealed: “I’ve always been inspired by environmental research, but over my years of study I became more and more aware of the challenges threatening both people and the planet.

“After a while, this awareness became a heavy weight on my shoulders, and I felt extremely concerned and overwhelmed about the future from all aspects of the climate crisis, ecological collapse, and ocean pollution.

“I knew I wanted to help, but I didn’t know what to do or where to start, so I started volunteering at local environmental charities and organisations, including SAS, Plastic Free Exeter and Proud to be Green. I felt so extremely motivated after seeing what these organisations achieved, and I just wanted to help drive even more action.

“This completely changed my mindset and my approach, when tackling environmental challenges, and I realised that this ‘motivation-factor’ could inspire a larger-scale audience to act now. With this, I decided to curate a service which communicates environmental research, projects, and achievements with the sole aim to empower people, rather than to scare them.”

Again, I found myself being quite astounded by the maturity and the work ethic coming from someone my own age. Like Emma, I found myself taking a keen interest in pollution and climate change when I was young and, to this day, I still feel a sense of panic and dismay at the way our ecosystems continue to fall apart.

Curious as to how I might get past this, I asked Emma how she manages to keep a positive mindset. She said: “I use ‘hope’ and ‘optimism’ purely as a tool to keep my motivation alive. When I let that distressing and overwhelming mindset takeover, I find that my environmental action hits a point of burn-out, making it short-term and ineffective overall.

“With Earth Minutes, I’m particularly strong-willed about telling empowering stories, because I want to build a robust community that will fight for a better future, despite the uncertainties and despite the distress.

“That being said, it’s also important to relay the truth, and not to ‘butter-up’ the challenge, because it can have the undesirable response of getting people to relax. This is why a more hopeful message needs to be addressed, but with the same sense of urgency for change.

“I read something the other day which describes this particularly well: ‘hope is a discipline’.

“I actually find it extremely hard to stay hopeful and positive, and this quote captures the importance of why ‘hope’ isn’t just about happiness. It’s more of a practice to help frame your environmental activism for the long-term.

“Importantly, when keeping this ‘hope discipline’, I remain very critical of the news sources which I read, and I’d recommend looking into the resources provided by Project Drawdown and Global Optimism, which continually feed my inspiration for hope.”

The Earth Minutes office. (Photo by Emma Askew)

Thinking back to how I use surfing as link to environmentalism (and also because this is a surfing magazine, so I’ve got to link it back somehow), I wondered if this was a similar story for Emma. After all, she is a representative for SAS, and there’s ‘surfer’ right in the name of that.

She stated: “I’ve grown up with surfing, across North Devon, as part of my lifestyle, which has definitely given me a unique appreciation for the connection between human well-being and nature.

“Since joining SAS in 2018, the surfer crowd has become an extremely important part of Earth Minutes, as an active audience who listens and supports my work whilst also serving as a major inspiration. I’ve found this because surfers have such a genuine connection to the ocean, which gives them a deep-rooted incentive to protect what they love.

“If everyone had that same connection to nature, the environment would be prioritised significantly more than it currently is, through policy, business, and education. Ultimately, I aim to inspire others to care about the planet on the same level that the majority of surfers do.”

There you go folks, surfers are perfect.

I’m just kidding, but this is a recurring theme that I’ve come across in both my time as a member of the surfing community, and even over the course of the seven other articles that I’ve published on Northern Surfer.

Recently, Emma and Earth Minutes have announced their newest project, the ‘Now Series’, which is a social media series that has been commissioned by the Dixon Foundation. The ‘Now Series’ takes a look at various environmental issues, which are currently being neglected by the mainstream media, and encourages environmental learning beyond the classroom.

Going into more detail, Emma revealed: “We’ve invented a new genre of documentary, called the micro-doc, which are concise, fast-paced films under ten minutes long. This series consists of five micro-docs in total, covering the topics of Plastic-Free Periods, British Farming, Fishermen’s Kisses, Slow Fashion, and Climate Optimism.

“Importantly, each film is led by the ‘Generation of Now’ (the people driving environmental action), including Cal Major (world record expedition stand-up paddle-boarder and the founder of Paddle Against Plastic), Joe Rigby (former SU President for Exeter University and a conservationist himself), Becky Hughes (the founder of The Nifty Thrifter and a slow fashion campaigner), Adam Cook (the founder of Adam Talks Wild and a wildlife biologist), as well as Daze Aghaji (a regenerative culture coordinator for the Extinction Rebellion Youth UK National Team and the youngest MEP candidate in the UK).

Emma Askew, the founder of Earth Minutes, with Daze Aghaji, the youngest MEP candidate in the UK. (Photo by Emma Askew)

“Across the Series, we explore the work of many incredible organisations and companies, including City to Sea, Finisterre, the National Farmers Union, Global Optimism, the Cornish Plastic Pollution Coalition, and Extinction Rebellion.”

Having already watched Earth Minutes’ previous micro-doc, named Breakwater, I can’t help being excited for this latest addition to the company’s portfolio (but also because I’m familiar with the work of Cal Major).

As a person trying to kickstart their career amid the catastrophe of the COVID pandemic, I’ve found the outlook to be, as I said earlier, particularly bleak. But knowing that dedicated people like Emma can start their own business, and can make the most of this by fighting for a worthy cause, has given a much-needed shred of hope.

I’m not entirely sure that this is the hopeful message that Earth Minutes intended to convey, but it’s just one amongst their many positive messages.

To book a free virtual screening of the ‘Now Series’ and to find out more, click here to visit the Earth Minutes website, and start your own journey to having a more optimistic outlook.

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