I Just got back from a walk in Hyde Park, headphones in, Max Richter playing, after a sweltering 30C day in London. I stopped halfway to take off my sneakers and put my feet on the grass. It’s where I often go when I need to breathe, not think.
I’ve been a nature nerd since the days of making mud pies (and weed alongside), turning over rocks to see worms and woodlice, and looking for blackberries with the other village kids. , often to make a kind of inedible fruity soup.
When I think of this special period of my childhood, I feel a visceral tug, as if I missed someone. I discovered, when I was five, that we were leaving the city to settle in the middle of rural Herefordshire, somewhere on the border of Wales and England. I remember hating the idea. But it ended up being the best thing that ever happened to me.
My background has been repeatedly described as “humble”, and it was. I have often fled my house for the calm of the greenery that surrounds it. Me and my friend Niall walked for hours, hoping to get lost, and with buses rarely appearing, we ended up knowing shortcuts through every field and hedge. The way Kerry and Kurtan often hang out in a field in [the BBC comedy] This country ring with me.
Although I did not come from a “privileged” upbringing, knowing the landscape so well gave me a bond that is a kind of wealth. From a young age, I instinctively knew that my destiny on this planet is inextricably linked to that of nature – with the fate of flora, fauna and fungi.
I felt it in my bones, and surely the era of the “tree-hugger” or “eco warrior” is now over because we are all in this ecological mess together, whether we feel a connection to nature or not. We are 100% dependent on these incredible natural systems provided in this biosphere. We know that clean water requires healthy forests; balancing carbon requires healthy seas and peatlands, mangroves and seagrasses. Nature is not just beautiful landscapes. We are nature – and we depend on it.
It seemed natural to me to start talking about the destruction of nature and, more generally, about my fears and my hopes for this incredible planet: asking questions, holding people to account, trying to open up the conversation. I called the crisis out loud – the climate and nature crisis – like many others did, but in my sector no one was talking about it. The greatest threat to humanity… and it was business as usual! It was totally absurd.
I just wanted it to be the headlines, like it always should have been. Now we are in a rather difficult situation.
I noticed that anything I said that was related to nature or the weather had an impact on me. Apparently saying out loud that I was afraid for our future was a big deal. Advocating for us to keep forests intact, for example, was treated as if I had made a huge political statement, and I began to rapidly lose social media followers. To really engage young people (rather than scare them away), I had to shift the narrative from panic and anger to ambition and optimism. Despair got me nowhere. My subscribers have increased again recently. Since I haven’t released any music in a while, maybe something is up!
In 2017, I became an environmental ambassador for the UN, which meant I had to attend scary conferences and give speeches to scientists and world leaders. Terrible. As someone with public speaking phobia and chronic impostor syndrome, this was not a fun process.
If I hadn’t had such a strong connection to nature, I don’t think I would have been able to do this. My passion also comes from how much it saved me and was there for me when poor mental health took me to a dark place. That alone has given me some kind of legitimacy to speak out and navigate my way through discussions, largely between the politicians who decide our future and that of our children.
I traveled with WWF (I have since become a WWF Ambassador) to Jakobshavn Glacier in Greenland. Witnessing the size and enormity of the glaciers and hearing the ice crack was a huge sensory overload and soberly plugged me into the climate crisis.
Essentially, what we’re doing to the planet is like pointing a hair dryer at an ice cube that’s sitting in hot water. But such analogies don’t seem to sit well with people. As a songwriter and performer, I exchange emotions and feelings, so I understand that. Storytelling is everything; how we connect, intertwine, relate, empathize.
I was lucky enough to meet the scientists – who only have science and data and nothing more, no metaphors or puns, just facts – and I really felt their exasperation. They are on the front line, providing evidence to our politicians, who then try to negotiate with him, instead of actually acting.
My tactic now is to show up as often as possible armed with posts from scientists, views and questions from people who follow me on social media. I’m always aware of who isn’t in the room as much as who is. For us nature nerds, things are finally changing for the better. The official climate process has stopped treating nature and climate as two separate issues.
At Cop26 in Glasgow last year, I spoke and met a network of incredible environment ministers from around the world, from Kenya, Costa Rica and Ecuador, who are reversing the course of destruction, sometimes in very dangerous circumstances. They support nature in ways we have never seen before. The Canadian Minister of the Environment, Steven Guilbeault, has been in prison several times for eco-activism. A lovely guy! I’m not saying this happens everywhere, but we shouldn’t discount committed and talented politicians who can move the system from guaranteeing the destruction of the natural world to protecting it.
As uncomfortable as I am, that’s nothing compared to the risks taken by indigenous communities who do most of the work and bear most of the risk. Every time I go to a summit or a conference, I try to meet young activists from all over the world. At Stockholm+50, I met young climate and environmental leaders who had escaped war zones and persecution to come to these meetings. Among them were people from rainforest regions who had traveled for days – including by canoe – just to be heard. This level of risk and sacrifice is mind-boggling.
They are my heroes and my allies. These are the people I want to represent myself. It breaks my heart to think that young people, a demographic that includes my one-year-old son, could grow up without the kind of connection to nature that I have been blessed with. That’s why I’m so relieved to see rewilding is on the radar again. The idea that we can reverse biodiversity loss, provide the ecological functions we all depend on, and create resilient local economies for ourselves and for our children – just by letting everything take its natural course once in a while – is pretty darn cool.
Nature can truly heal itself, if we let it. At the same time, if we really commit to immersing ourselves in it, it can do wonders for mental health.
I would tell anyone that by supporting Global Witness, WWF, UNEP and the ambitious goals of rewilding Europe by 2030 and protecting at least 30% of the seas, there is a youhole in the hole in ecological activism. It’s not separate from you, it’s part of you. You really do have a lot more power than you think, and there’s no better time to grab it.
Be mindful of your daily actions to be as Earth friendly as possible. Talk to your friends, create groups, join local environmental communities, plan nature walks, get stuck in. But, above all, stay in active hope.
There is still so much we can turn around. We just need to keep fighting and defending this amazing planet we call home.