Interview: Josh Kirkman, CEO of Surfers for Climate
The newly installed CEO of Surfers for Climate sits down with Dan Dobbin for a chat about his new role, and what any right-minded surfer can do to initiate change.
Swellnet: You've just been appointed CEO of the ‘Surfers for Climate’, can you tell us about the organisation?
Josh Kirkman: For sure. The boiler-plate mission of Surfers For Climate is to empower and mobilise a sea-roots movement for positive climate action. But there’s much more to it than that.
The organisation itself is quite young, a bit over a year old now. It was launched by Johnny Abegg and Belinda Baggs after they noticed that there was a huge gap in the surfing community when it came to advancing the discussion around climate change and climate action in the surfing community. There have been a number of organisations like Surfrider, Surfers Against Sewage that have been talking about environmental issues for years now, but there was nothing out there that was building momentum on climate action specifically.
So Belinda and Johnny got together with a bunch of other pretty good humans and launched Surfers For Climate last year, and since then the organisation has gone from strength to strength, lobbying politicians to oppose oil and gas developments in Australian waters, and talking about climate solutions such as Sea Forest, as an example.
Pretty soon, we’re launching the Sustainable Supply Club as a way for brands and the surfing community to go deeper on the sustainability journey, and I’m really looking forward to seeing that evolve. In addition to that, we are always partnering up with other stakeholders for knowledge-sharing opportunities, and have a webinar next week talking about how the surfing community can deepen their climate action that should be pretty rad.
[Editor's Note: Posted this interview a touch too late. Stay tuned for more such webinars]
How did you come to be involved with the organisation?
I got involved as an ambassador to begin with, which was a great honour. Belinda and I had travelled together on a trip for Patagonia in Scotland a few years back, and we’d also crossed paths on the Fight For The Bight campaign too. She was launching SFC with Johnny, and asked if I was up for being involved, which was easy to say yes to.
Earlier this year, I was given the head’s up that they were looking for someone to join them part-time as Operations and Development Manager so I threw my hat in the ring and got the job. As of last week I was named CEO and couldn’t be happier about it.
Where does your environmental commitment stem from?
It goes back a long way to be honest. I remember wondering what the conditions were like in the factories in Asia when bodyboard manufacturing made that shift in the early 2000s. I was going to uni at Newcastle and taking sustainability subjects, and it was really on my mind at the time.
From there, it's been a continuous educational journey. I’m certainly not the perfect environmentalist, so I don’t want to make out anything like that, but I heard recently that if we wait for perfect environmentalists we’ll never succeed in overcoming the challenges facing us.
So fuck it, let’s go head first on this I reckon!
My commitment comes from understanding there are problems and having a sense of belief in myself that I might be able to do something meaningful and tangible about them. It won’t be easy, but that’s what’s driving me right now. Plus, I’m only ever meeting the best people on this journey, truly exceptional individuals who work like our lives depend on it.
What does Surfers for Climate aim to achieve?
In the short-term, the growth of a movement towards deeper climate action by the surfing community. Medium to long-term, the definitive conclusion of exploration for oil and gas in Australian waters, and globally.
It simply has to stop [oil and gas exploration]. We have enough production capacity to see us through the transition to lower carbon fuel technologies, and the risks are too great. It has served us well in many ways, but the lasting legacy of fossil fuels will be a calamity if we don’t smarten up.
To get to this final goal, we have to work with the surfing community and industry to build a coalition of concerned surfers who are willing to step up and be true custodians of our coastal environments. We really have to see the surfing community move past the culture of just taking waves, to taking time to protect those waves for future generations. And that means doing everything we can to make a difference when it comes to climate change.
What would you say to any surfers or bodyboarders out there who are still skeptical as to the idea that climate change is actually occurring?
You’re wrong. Happy to have a yarn about it with you.
As surfers / bodyboarders we are big consumers of petrochemical products like boards and wetsuits, how can we help have a positive impact on environmental issues?
There are many ways to engage with the issue of climate change without becoming Siddartha Gautama and renouncing all worldly and boogie temptations henceforth...
We can certainly applaud brands who are taking steps to address their supply chains and do something different. I love what Pride Bodyboards have done in this respect and they should be commended for leading on this [Pride make fins from recycled rubber, wetsuits from Yulex, and use recycled polyethylene in all their boards]. Other brands ought to follow their lead and explore ways for bodyboards to move away from petrochemicals while maintaining quality.
We can look into where our money is held in terms of bank accounts and superannuation, and switch this money to organisations that are investing ethically and not lending money to large fossil fuels developments. I’m with Australian Ethical Investment for superannuation, but there’s others out there, like Future Super that are doing great things.
We can look at how much stuff we buy that we don’t need, and try to stop mindless consumerism. If you’re bored, don’t go buy stuff, go fucken surfing or bodyboarding.
We can look at our diets and get to know products that are derived from regenerative agriculture practices. In WA there’s a company called Dirty Clean Food that is focused on this and I had a steak of theirs recently that was next level. I don’t eat a lot of meat, but when I do, I try to buy regenerative because restoring soil carbon could be the single most impactful thing we can do as a response to global warming.
We can vote for politicians who are going to do something meaningful about climate change. We know who they are, and I assure you, if we do vote in people who are intent on transitioning the Australian economy to one that is prosperous and zero carbon, we will all benefit tremendously. The alternative is business as usual and eventual decline and inequality. Easy choice.
Anything else you'd like to add..?
People need to understand that to be environmentally concerned doesn’t mean you have to chain yourself to a tree or protest in the streets. You could be a builder who guides clients into building more energy efficient homes that don’t see them slaves to energy companies. You could be a small business owner who chooses to increase the proportion of ethical goods on display while promoting the virtues of such products to their clientele. You could be a teacher, who has the most important job of all, guiding the next generation into becoming individuals who are ready to be benevolent custodians of this place, and not another generation with a blindfold on, only now peeping over the edge to see the problems for the first time and feeling overwhelmed by the task ahead.
The point is, none of us are perfect, and if we accept the science and listen to the experts who have been banging on about this for years, then we can all see that we have a meaningful part to play.