The Big Challenge: On song in Sheffield to bring about change

Langsett Cycles team get some hillclimb practice at High Bradfield
Langsett Cycles team get some hillclimb practice at High Bradfield

When asked if Sheffield residents should take more responsibility to become more eco-friendly, Isobel Thomas offers a considered response, stressing the importance of clear communication.

“We can all do a bit more to reduce our impact on the environment, from switching to green energy tariffs to eating less meat and dairy as these industries contribute significantly to emissions that cause climate change,” said Isobel, a volunteer for Sheffield Sings Out For The Climate.

“But one of the most important things we can do is talk about it with our friends and family, so that discussing climate change and doing something about it becomes normal.”

The Sheffield Sings group comprises local people who ‘want to raise awareness about the risks of climate change and have some fun’, she explained.

“We’ve done things like hold a singing flashmob at Sheffield railway station.”

The inspiration came from a Belgian initiative organised in 2012. More than 380,000 people were filmed performing a song called ‘Do It Now’ that was shown to some of the nation’s chief politicians, including the Prime Minister and the State Secretary of Environment.

The leaders later committed themselves to measures on climate change. The Belgian clip was later shown at a meeting of the UN Climate Conference in Doha, where an agreement to extend the Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gas emissions was reached.

“Our priority is to hold fun and engaging events to get people thinking and talking about climate change,” Isobel continued. “Since my involvement with Sheffield Sings Out for the Climate, I’m most proud of the film we made of many different people and groups singing the ‘Song for the Climate’ which we sent to the UN Climate Talks in Paris in 2015.”

If she was offered a ‘magic wand’, Isobel said she would make fracking and any other fossil fuel extraction illegal, ‘anywhere in the world’.

“Then I’d invest massively in renewables. We need to keep fossil fuels in the ground and invest in renewable energy if we are to stop average global temperatures from rising above two degrees Celsius.

“We need to do this if we are to avoid the extreme chaos (huge rises in sea levels, extreme weather, mass migration) that a rise above that level would cause.

“I want to be able to look my children in the eye when they are my age and say that our generation tried and succeeded in bringing about the change needed.”

Increasing the popularity of cycling in Sheffield is entirely possible, she believes, given more funding and better development. “We need to get out of our cars,” said Isobel, who has just started commuting by bike.

“I’ve recently taken up cycling to work. The main barrier to me cycling in Sheffield has always been the hills.

“But earlier in the year I bought an electric bike. I get to work faster on my bike during rush hour and now I would rather cycle than drive. And I love the exercise.

“We need to find ways of making this possible for many more people and this needs good urban planning and more investment in things like bike loan schemes and decent, safe bike lanes all over the city.”

Sheffield has many strengths it can tap into, Isobel believes. She said the city has often united to create transformation in the past.

“I think the city’s history of collective action - of people standing together and taking action to bring about important change - is a real strength. That’s why I think that we can build a strong climate movement in Sheffield that will help deliver a secure future for our children and grandchildren. I’ve lived in Sheffield for 13 years now and I love so much about the city, from the size of the city centre which makes it walkable, to the access to parks and open spaces, to the richness of the local dialect – where else do people use words like ‘scopadiddle’?

“I also really love the local independent shops that provide an interesting alternative to the big brand names found on every high street in every town and city in the country.”