Lessons from Thinking Bigly

Ben Yeoh is an investor, a playwright and chair of the board for Coney, the UK theatre company I work for. We bonded over conversations about systems theory and climate change, and in 2018 he invited me to be a co-presenter for his Thinking Bigly performance lecture.

The show takes a bird’s eye view of the climate crisis from an economic and policy perspective, and then dives into the big question: What can we do?

This is much more in Ben’s wheelhouse than mine. I work a lot with climate scientists and researchers, but these questions of policy and solutions are well outside my understanding. But Ben wanted some help creating some interactive sequences in the show, and I jumped at the chance to be involved – partly to get to perform with him (Ben is a powerhouse & a big inspiration for me) and partly because I was pleased to be pushed out of my comfort zone and forced to grapple with these issues through a very different lens.

We’ve performed the work about 10 times now, in theatres (the Pleasance, Theatre Deli), museums (the Museum of London), for private businesses (pwc) and community groups. Ben’s also presented a solo version a few times, on his travels as a sustainable investor.

Doing the show has been educational for me in the best possible way. It’s forced me to grapple with climate policy and economics, to examine my own lifestyle, and to reflect on where best to put my energy.

The show keeps developing and evolving with each performance, and it wasn’t until a few months in that Ben produced this slide, which sums up the show beautifully, and which I love so much I’ve adopted it as my go-to for how to tackle the crisis in my own life.

Lower One Impact
Pick one impact you’re having on the planet and work on lowering it. The idea here is that rather than trying to transform your lifestyle to become completely carbon neutral, pick one particular area where you’re having an impact and work to reduce it.

Start by calculating your impact – the WWF footprint calculator is a good start. Identify one area where you can make a significant difference. For a lot of people, that’s likely to be flying, eating meat, or driving a car. Work on bringing it down. Then when you’ve reduced it or eliminated it, turn to the next thing and address that.

Support One Innovation
Ben uses the word ‘innovation’, but I’d say ‘solution’. The point here is that climate change is intersectional – it cuts across every facet of our lives and society – but that means that the solutions are intersectional too.

There are so many places you can start to make a difference – there are countless charities and NGOs out there striving towards climate solutions. Pick one (or two, or three) and support them, either financially or with your time.

If you’re in a wealthy economy, use your money to support NGOs and organisations working in the developing world – your money goes a long way, further than you think. Support small and diverse orgs.

Project Drawdown is a breakdown of 100 different climate solutions. Have a flick through this list and see if any of them resonate with you. If so, find an NGO working in this space, get behind them. Support education for girls. Donate to the clean cookstoves initiative. Help Indigenous groups fighting for land rights.

For real, learning more about a particular climate solution and supporting a particular organisation or project will genuinely make you feel better.

Start One Conversation
We need to talk about the massive changes happening to the planet more than we do. Be willing to start that conversation. Don’t lecture people or just dispense depressing facts, talk about it.

Try, ‘I’m scared about how I’m going to live in a decade or two. How about you?’ Or, ‘What are your plans for when the crises start to escalate?’ (I mean, pick your moment, obviously, don’t be weird.)

Be vulnerable, be curious, be open, be compassionate, be a human with other humans in the midst of big global transformation.

Write One Letter
In terms of effort vs reward, writing letters is the most impactful thing you can do politically. When did you last write a letter to a politician? Or a CEO?

For me, writing letters to politicians is a slightly unnatural thing to do. It feels weirdly private, whereas posting something on social media feels public. You don’t get the same immediate feedback – you do sometimes get a letter back, but it takes weeks or months. But the facts bear it out: this is the most powerful thing we can do to effect political change.

I’m trying to make a routine of writing one letter a fortnight, to a politician or to a CEO. When I have the impulse to put something on social media, I’m trying to convert that urge into writing a letter. It’s counterintuitive but honestly if we could convert a fraction of the time we spent tweeting about climate change into letter writing, we would swamp politicians’ mailboxes and they would have no choice but to take it seriously.

These are my reflections on some of what I’ve learned from researching and co-presenting Bigly. I highly recommend getting this from the source, tho – come to a performance of Thinking Bigly (though I warn you, they tend to sell out as soon as Ben announces them, he has a following), or at the very least, get on Ben’s mailing list. Well worth your while.