a poster for the Time Is Now march which reads there is no planet b

The Time Is Now: Grantham Scholars at ‘mass lobby’

There have been a lot of big protests this year, like the Extinction Rebellion and the school walkouts. And they probably helped pressure the UK government into declaring a climate emergency. But a climate emergency alone isn’t enough – we need evidence-based policies and laws.

The Time Is Now ‘mass lobby’ seeks to address the need for political action. People are asked to contact their MPs, inform them of specific environmental concerns, and invite them to the march.

Interview with Grantham Scholars: Hope, despair and how plants can help

A group of Grantham Scholars will be at the Time Is Now in London, where they will meet with Sheffield Central MP Paul Blomfield. We sat down with two of them – Marta Crispo and Maria Wang – to find out more. You can follow them on the day at @granthamcsf

What’s special about The Time Is Now?

Marta: This event is organised by multiple sustainability NGOs and so captures a broad range of people. And it’s in London, which means many people can attend. Big protests like this get attention, which keeps a focus on environmental issues. Many MPs are going and this puts pressure on MPs as a whole to focus on environmental issues.

one of the posters Maria and Marta will take to Time Is Now march
One of the posters the Grantham Scholars will be carrying during the Time Is Now mass lobby
Paul Blomfield – the MP for Sheffield Central – will be there. What will you ask him?

Marta: I want to know if the government is looking at urban green areas as a possible solution to reach the new zero carbon emissions by 2050 target. 

So I’ll tell him about my research group, because we are studying the ‘ecosystem services’ that urban green areas provide. Benefits include food provision, flood and storm mitigation, temperature reduction, and conservation of genetic resources. In the UK, more than 8000 km2 are covered by these urban green areas – they have huge potential.

I’d also like to know more details about the zero emissions target. Since Brexit I find it hard to trust that MPs have actually worked out the details of how to do what they say they’re going to do!

Maria: I’d like to know what ‘climate emergency’ means to my MP. It’s important to know what people mean by it, or nothing will get done.

A ‘climate emergency’ has been declared – so what? What comes next?

How do you feel about climate change?

Marta: Every day I feel something different. Sometimes hope, sometimes despair. One person can’t change the world. But I try and live my life how I want a nation to act. I grow lots of my own food and buy organic, and I do outreach and volunteer. My outreach focuses on kids, so they know about climate change and what can be done about it.

Maria: Some days I am terrified. Especially when I read articles that set it out in great detail. When the despair gets me I have to temporarily set it aside, because I personally can’t live that way. Talking about things unrelated to climate change or engaging in hobbies gives me space to breathe. This rest allows me to get back to climate activism with renewed energy and be able to support others as well.

What gives you hope?
Maria Wang looks very happy as she examines plants
Plants help teach Maria resilience (image @_doradc)

Maria: Wanting to act for sustainability outside my research motivated me to get involved in sustainability groups at my university. I started with the University Sustainability Strategy Audit, then the Sustainability Committee, and following that the Energy Switch Campaign.

Taking practical action with visible impacts increases my sense of purpose. Working with people in these groups gives me hope – I have learned a lot from their wisdom and resilience. People always talk about young people being our hope for the future, but I’m inspired by the older people, who could be enjoying their retirement but instead they step up and fight for us!

But it’s not just people who give me hope… I work with plants and I have a special love for them. I draw strength from the resilience of plants – they nurture and inspire me. Plants will be here if humans drive themselves to extinction. They are resilient and have adapted to many different climates over the millennia – and they will adapt again.

How does your PhD project relate to sustainability?

Maria: My project aims to make tropical crops like natural rubber more sustainable. I am accounting for the costs of producing rubber to the environment and society.

People must adjust their core values to care about the environment. This is especially true of businesses. Some do – I have seen encouraging conversations among business executives involved in the rubber sustainability platform.

Marta in her allotment space
Marta’s project takes her to allotments

Marta: My project examines biochar. Biochar use is inspired by nature and could provide solutions we desperately need right now. For instance, when biochar is combined with bioenergy production there are dual advantages: carbon sequestration and reduction of greenhouse gasses. Biochar use is already going on in a few cities in Sweden, it can work!

But I worry that when working with businesses – as you need to put biochar systems in place – I would have to fight with the business system. So while I have hope, because solutions exist, and new ones can be developed, I also despair about ever being able to put them into proper practice.

Another focus of my studies is to create a picture of the bioavailability of heavy metals in urban soils in the UK. This work has shown me that pollution is sometimes very difficult to trace. It can be hard to pinpoint the sources of pollution that may be making people sick, even altering our DNA.

We are literally poisoning ourselves.

Follow Maria, Marta and the rest of the Grantham Scholars at the march @granthamcsf