The Big Challenge: Sheffield’s need for a message of hope

Sean Ashton
Sean Ashton

“I think I would like to see a change in the way our society measures success,” said Sean Ashton, mulling over the issue he would tackle if given a magic wand to deal with global warming.

“There are many caring and service professions where people work really hard for little reward or recognition, whereas an individual with celebrity status or a well-paid job, large house and expensive car is seen as ‘successful’.

“If we could change this emphasis and reward people properly whatever job they do, we would see a move to a fairer, more equal society. This in turn would make tackling climate change that bit easier.”

Sean - a member of Sheffield Climate Alliance’s Divestment Group and the Methodist Circuit’s Justice Peace Group - said ‘a message of hope rather than doom’ was needed, to ‘look for positive ways to promote action’.

“Although real responsibility for tackling climate change must come from government, it is important that individuals do what they can too. I think attitudes can be changed by emphasising the positive things that people can do and making people realise that they are part of a collective movement.”

Taking advantage of opportunities for outdoor sports in Sheffield and the Peak District were a way of experiencing the benefits of a well cared-for environment, while the use of electric bikes and more cycle routes would ‘overcome obstacles to cycling’ in the city.

Attitudes can be changed by emphasising the positive things people can do

Sean was inspired by the Tour de France’s visit to Sheffield in 2014. He now regularly commutes to work as a senior analyst for Sheffield Council and cycles in the Peak District at the weekend.

On the subject of transport, he added: “Although investment in the city’s infrastructure, for example an extended tram network or electric buses, is the way forward, one of the easiest things to do in the short-term would be to make bus travel an attractive and, particularly, an affordable option.

“If it were cheaper to use the bus, people would do it because the cost of something is an important factor in people’s decision making. Another quick win would be to ensure all taxi cabs were hybrid vehicles so that the engine cuts out when they are stationary.”

Sheffield’s drive to become known as the ‘Outdoor City’ could lead to investment in leisure and tourism, said Sean.

“In addition to this, I think Sheffield should aim to build on its proud heritage to become a world leader in the manufacturing of renewable energy technology. As an example, I understand that there is a large role to play for the steel industry in tidal power.”

Meanwhile, Sean claimed that the EU referendum campaign had ‘fuelled an unwelcome rise in racially-motivated hate crime’, reinforcing the need for Sheffield to promote its credentials as a City of Sanctuary.

“There are excellent local charities, for example ASSIST, that do fantastic work to make people welcome and help some of the poorest and most destitute members of our society.”

He continued: “One of the great things about Sheffield is the wealth of small and independent breweries all across the city and surrounding areas. It is important to make local produce easily available and a good example of this is Select Convenience at Bents Green which stocks goods from local producers such as milk, cheese, beer, bread and honey, among others.”

Over the next year, Sean will be focusing on the Sheffield Climate Alliance’s divestment campaign, which involves taking investments made by companies, institutions or individuals out of fossil fuels, and putting them into more ethical funds instead. A priority in Sheffield will be working with the South Yorkshire Pension Authority.

The peace group - which focuses on social justice issues - will be helping to target poverty, homelessness and climate change.

“It is important to remember that many of the poverty issues experienced in other parts of the world are driven by climate change as more frequent and prolonged droughts cause the failure of harvests. Closer to home, the flooding over Christmas in 2015 brought homelessness and hardship to many people as well as showing the best side of humanity as so many people rallied to help those in need.”