The climate is right for action
Belinda Baggs has served a long apprenticeship.
Two decades ago she was one of the world’s best competitive longboarders with victories at national and international level. Then she doffed the coloured vests and became a surfing stylist - a timeless noserider and avatar for feminine grace - and also a travelling ambassador for Patagonia.
Surfing fame taught her media skills, but it was from within the Patagonia fold that she saw how those same skills could be focussed elsewhere, on a subject other than one’s self. The Pata stable is not just full of good surfers, but good surfers who stand for something. Mobilisers more than mouthpieces. The lessons were many as Belinda played a supporting role in various projects.
Late last year Belinda and good friend Johnny Abegg attended a climate conference in Queensland. Like anyone with an internet connection, she’s aware of the peril of unchecked greenhouse gas emissions, but she returned from Queensland shaken (“I was partly terrified”, admits Belinda) but also motivated to act on what she’d learnt.
A week or so later, Belinda called Johnny for a debrief and the pair were surprised to find they’d arrived at the same conclusion.
“I told Johnny, ‘I think we should start a group called Surfers for Climate Action’,” says Belinda. “Amazingly, he told me he’d had the same thought, he’d even registered the name Surfers for Climate.”
They decided to stick with the more succinct Surfers for Climate and begin the not-insignificant task of creating an action group. For Belinda, her apprenticeship was over, and now was the time to make good on what she’d learnt.
The mainstream is full of climate action groups, but Belinda sees Surfers for Climate as filling a different role. “There are so many organisations out there already working on these issues,” says Belinda. “We don’t want to be in competition with them, however there are issues, conversations, that are exclusive to surfers and Surfers for Climate can be the vehicle for that.”
When it comes to other surfing environmental groups, and there are a few, Belinda admits linking up with them was a consideration. “We think we can all support each other,” says Belinda. To that end, the Surfers for Climate website includes an ‘Allies Hub’ which is a list of groups working in either specific regions or on specific causes. By pooling numbers they can help each other’s causes, and together they can also make a difference at the political level.
And this is where it’s all leading. Belinda makes no bones about the need for individuals to make decisions, admitting that taking stock of her own carbon footprint was a motivating force, however for lasting change they need to be more ambitious and force systemic change.
“The goals of Surfers for Climate are very clear,” says Belinda. “We have four, one of them being to make ministers representing surf communities take action on climate change.”
The other three goals are pragmatic, indeed they read as clear and sensible objectives, yet the science of climate change has long since left the building and it’s become an active front in the culture war. Considering the heat in the argument - boom, boom - are they prepared to face the various differences of opinion?
“Yeah, I am,” says Belinda. “People could point a finger at me and some of the things I do, but on many levels I’m making choices that I think make a difference, and also, for some matters, we don’t have much choice at all.”
“That’s just the way things currently are,” says Belinda about a world built upon a base of fossil fuels, before swinging towards an answer that justifies their movement, “but it’s the reason we’ve started Surfers for Climate: to drive change.”
To kick things along, a three-way collaboration between Surfers for Climate, filmmaker Jack McCoy, and one-time Beatle Sir Paul McCartney was released this week. 'Wine Dark Open Sea', with Belinda surfing, can be viewed here. Yeah, it costs five bucks, but all proceeds go towards 'Allies' Surfrider Foundation and Seed Mob, so you're not really paying to watch a video, you're chipping in for the cause.