25th November 2019
"Climate change is in my head, heart and soul ... we have to do a whole lot more"
Climate strategist Dr Gabrielle Walker has advised corporate leaders on building a sustainable, low-carbon future. Now she is bringing her expertise to the Humber for a flagship event focused on the region’s opportunity to be a leader in climate action.
She has made more than a dozen trips to the North and South poles, swum with piranhas, hooked lava out of a live volcano and climbed trees in the Amazon rainforest.
Internationally renowned climate change expert Dr Gabrielle Walker travels the world to promote the fight to protect the natural environment, avoid global catastrophe and ensure her voice is heard by the most powerful audiences.
Now, she is preparing to visit the Humber region for The Waterline Summit – a pioneering event which will shine a crucial light on how everyone can and should act now to develop a sustainable, zero-carbon future.
Dr Walker will lead a showpiece debate at the summit at Hull’s Bonus Arena on Thursday, November 28 and says immediate and collective action is essential as climate change becomes ever more visible and devastating.
“I love going to wild places, I love experiencing nature,” she said.
“I once made a series of radio programmes, looking around the world for evidence that we might be starting to see climate change within nature.
“I was really shocked because it was already everywhere. I had been talking about how climate change might get worse at some point in the future and I realised it’s already here.
“When I first started talking about climate change 20 years ago and needed to find pictures to illustrate my talks, I had to search for them, trying to find a picture of a wildfire or a hurricane.
“Now, it’s not a question of finding them, it’s a question of choosing them. There are mega hurricanes and appalling fires. Do I choose the one in Australia, Russia, Sweden, California or Chile?”
She says disastrous events such as these are shocking people out of their complacency and creating a realisation that the human race depends on nature for its survival.
“We forget where our food and water comes from,” she said. “We expect the sea to always be the same level and the storms always to be of the same intensity.”
The Waterline Summit will focus on the five “grand challenges” the world faces in tackling climate change – electricity and energy, agriculture, manufacturing and industry, transport, and buildings and people – and is open to everyone.
It will feature an interactive exhibition of more than 30 projects and initiatives addressing the need for climate action, followed by a showpiece debate led by Dr Walker.
For Dr Walker the summit promotes the broader focus and successful examples of climate action that are needed.
“I think we have made a few very big mistakes when it comes to dealing with climate change,” she said.
“One of them is that we have allowed ourselves to focus so much on the generation of energy and we haven’t really thought enough about some of the much harder to abate sectors, especially the industrial sector.
“A lot of people are now frantically playing catch-up and recognising it’s not enough just to decarbonise electricity, we have to do a whole lot more.
“In that process, there is a realisation we need to look for brilliant case studies where it’s starting to work, so others can understand what they need to do.
“That’s why I’m so excited by The Waterline Summit because this is an industrial region that’s already taking the solutions into its own hands. The Humber isn’t just looking to decarbonise within the region, but looking to showcase how it can be done for the rest of the world, and that’s hugely important.”
Dr Walker recently gave a talk to wealthy investors and pension fund trustees in Canada as part of her mission to promote action on climate change to corporate audiences around the world.
She said the impact climate change is having on the world was beginning to hit home for many, citing the devastation caused recently by Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas.
“A member of the audience came up to me afterwards and said he had a house in the Bahamas,” she said.
“He said his house and the whole region had gone and it looked like a nuclear bomb had hit it. He said ‘I used to be a climate change denier and I’m not any more’.
She also highlighted American strategist and pollster Frank Luntz, who previously advised Republican politicians to dismiss climate change as uncertain science, but is now building support for climate solutions.
“He changed his mind when he had to bundle his wife and mother into a car and flee a raging forest fire that came into his neighbourhood in California.”
Originally from Lancashire, Dr Walker began her career as a scientist before moving into media, presenting television and radio programmes for the BBC.
She took up the position of Climate Change Editor at Nature, the world’s leading multi-disciplinary science journal, became Features Editor at the New Scientist magazine, and has written extensively for international newspapers and magazines, including The Economist, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.
Dr Walker’s career has seen her work with policy makers and politicians and become an accomplished moderator of high-level debates, guiding panels involving chief executives, senior politicians and global humanitarian leaders. More recently she has been advising businesses and investors on climate change and sustainability issues.
Dr Walker’s mission to inspire people to act lies at the heart of every message she gives.
“There’s a guy I worked with in Canada who once told me important issues first go into your head and that’s interesting and fascinating. Then they go into your heart and that’s exciting, then into your gut, which is really worrying, and then into your soul.
“When it goes into your soul, you can’t get it out, no matter how much you try, and you have to do something about it.
“I think that’s what happened to me with climate change. First of all, I found it fascinating, then it was all very exciting to try and understand and see where it was happening, then it was really troubling. Now it’s in my soul and that’s what gets me out of bed every day.”
The Waterline Summit will welcome young people from secondary schools and colleges to attend, learn and be inspired to continue to press their elders to act with urgency.
Dr Walker recently travelled to Washington DC and New York, where she heard speeches by Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old environmental activist who has inspired millions of young people across the world to stage school strikes to make the case for climate action.
She also joined children’s marches in Canada and New York, ahead of the UN Climate Summit, and is passionate about to role of children and young people in creating a sustainable future.
“What I want to instil in young people is inspiration, hope and a desire for action,” said Dr Walker.
“Climate change is very, very worrying. It is a crisis. It is an emergency. But we absolutely know what to do about it. We just haven’t been doing it fast enough and now we need to accelerate action.
“That’s another reason I love The Waterline Summit because it’s saying ‘here are the opportunities, roll up your sleeves and get on with it’, and that’s what northerners are good at.
“Teenagers are becoming very worried and frightened and need to feel something can be done. They also need feel adults are doing something about it and not just burning up their future.
“Young people are bringing such moral clarity and clear-sighted vision to dealing with this, which we really need. They are saying ‘you’re taking away our future and we want it back’.
“So many CEOs or senior executives I work with have said to me ‘I’ve changed my mind on this because of my kids’. Young people are bringing a really powerful energy to this and I want to help encourage them in every way.”
The Waterline Summit is organised by Marketing Humber, the organisation that promotes the Humber region on the national and international stage. It will bring together businesses, campaigners, community groups, colleges and schools to showcase how the world’s greatest threat is also the Humber’s biggest opportunity.
Staged with event partner Yorkshire Water, the event will also build on the growing momentum behind The Waterline campaign, launched by Marketing Humber and the University of Hull, which has brought partners together from the worlds of industry, academia and research and development to pioneer decarbonisation solutions.
The Waterline Exhibition will be open to secondary school and college students and staff from 1pm to 3pm, followed by businesses and community groups from 3pm to 5pm. The Waterline Debate with Dr Gabrielle Walker will run from 5pm to 8pm.
To register to attend The Waterline Summit at the Bonus Arena in Hull on Thursday, November 28, go to www.marketinghumber.com/events/bondholder/the-waterline-summit-the-worlds-biggest-threat-is-our-regions-biggest-opportunity/