Eco Hero: Pat Thomas
Richard Lemmer | 21.06.12
This week we are proud to feature Pat Thomas as our Eco Hero. A journalist, author and campaigner, she is a former editor of the Ecologist and a long time advocate of sustainable living. In the UK, she helped to launch Paul McCartney’s Meat Free Monday campaign, led Compassion in World Farming’s award-winning campaign against the Nocton mega-dairy and is involved in a variety of sustainability projects for Neal’s Yard Remedies. Pat Thomas has recently launched an interactive personal development game called Infrequently Asked Questions, full of engaging and provocative questions. You can find her website here.
What inspires you?
Passion, integrity, honesty, a willingness to follow your own path and do what needs to be done, even if it isn’t popular. I still feel a little tingle of pride when a friend or colleague or one of the interns from the Ecologist really find their feet. The more people who do that, the more we are all lifted up.
What makes you angry?
Small thinkers. People – and this is very common in science and politics – who plough their own little furrows and refuse to look up or open their eyes long enough to see who or what else they are intersecting with and what the consequences of their actions will be a few years down the line. Selfish, cynical people drive me crazy.
If you were Prime Minister, what would be the first thing you'd change?
I honestly can’t imagine a more awful job than being Prime Minister – or President. In a perfect world these people would be actual leaders but so often they are followers of market trends who have a vested interest in things remaining the same. In the fantasy world where I am Prime Minister I would deconstruct our economic system in a way that was fairer to everyone and tackle our addiction to growth.
Can individuals really make a difference?
Yes. But they make more of a difference when they work together.
What’s more urgent: changing things from the inside or starting a revolution on the outside?
External change is simply not possible without internal change. For decades we have been encultured with so many damaging and unworkable beliefs, so many ‘shoulds’ about how the world works. We are so busy focusing on ‘what is’ that we’ve forgotten to ask ‘what if?’. This is where our best ideas and inspirations come and where the energy to put those ideas into practice is born. Viva la inner revolution!
Can you describe a typical work day?
I’ve been self-employed for many years and I like being involved in a variety of different projects, so I don’t have too many typical days. I have been blessed inasmuch as I have always worked with people who understood that they get the best out of me when am given some freedom to organise my own schedule. Writing, in particular, is a very inwardly focussed activity and I find it easier when I have a lot of space to wander in (in my head, but also in my environment).
I’ve never been convinced of how healthy our culture’s approach to work is. There’s now a lot of research to show that that daily commutes, sitting for long hours in one place, feeling as if you have to put on a ’game face’ just to get through the day, are very bad for us physically and psychologically (so maybe the second thing I’d do as fantasy Prime Minister was insist on more humane, flexible working conditions for everyone!).
What challenges to you currently face?
As an environmentalist I think the biggest challenge I face is, ironically, relevance. That sounds crazy in a world where environment would seem to be on everyone’s agenda. But this really is the point. When everyone, every politician, every newspaper and every major corporation has a ‘green’ agenda, it can be hard to make yourself heard amidst the clamour.
The only way to do that is to know what you stand for, to have the courage to be honest about that (even if it places you outside the mainstream), to be true to the people and principles that are important to you.
How do you define success?
I think as a woman in particular I am always walking a line between the desire for success in the conventional sense of making money and having influence, and the desire for satisfaction. When my son was young, for instance, I took the decision, even as a single mum, not to take on any work that took me away from home. I have not had a conventionally ‘successful’ career – my bank manage can confirm this! – but I have been able to be part of some very rich and varied projects that have taught me a lot, brought me into contact with some really interesting people and made me feel like I was actually contributing something relevant. In the end that kind of satisfaction equals success for me.
What’s the best advice anyone’s ever given you?
Trust your intuition. We live in a world where the so-called rational mind has been deified above all other forms of knowing. I like to think I can draw on many different kind of intelligence, though in my day to day life I tend to operate very intuitively and it can infuriate people who want ‘proof’ for everything.
What is the best meal you’ve had in your life?
What makes a meal ‘best’ is as much the context in which it is eaten as well as the actual food. I cook a lot, and when the season is right I often use foraged ingredients. I still get such a kick out of going out and harvesting some chickweed, nettles and dandelion leaves and making a fresh meal, then sitting down to enjoy the fruits of all this the same day with loved ones.
I regularly attend ‘secret kitchen’ dinners that a friend of mine Anna Colquhoun, The Culinary Anthropologist, hosts. The meals are based on fresh organic ingredients and often themed on the season. I have more fun at these than just about anything and the food (and drink) is always a revelation.
What’s your favourite book or film of late?
I read all the time. More so since I took the plunge and purchased a Kindle. I enjoy good science fiction and I was in the middle or re-reading Fahrenheit 451 when Ray Bradbury died. I had forgotten what an exciting piece of fiction it was. I finished it on a train and found myself gasping out loud at some points. When was the last time a book made you do that?! For new(ish) fiction I have just finished Last Man in Tower by Aravind Adiga and The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes.
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