It is perhaps cliché, but my climate journey began in 2004 when Roland Emmerich’s climate disaster film The Day After Tomorrow was released. I was merely 11 at the time, and like many, my

immediate response to the film’s apocalyptic scenes of collapsing ice sheets, monster waves and the arrival of a new ice age was that of sheer panic and despair.


The initial fear was, however, quickly replaced with a kind of apathy which most of us have felt at some point towards climate change. It just became too big, too frightening and too disembodied. I guess it was my brain’s way to try and protect me – a perfectly natural response which is so commonly seen in any climate change debate that is around us.


Over the next five years, climate change was firmly put at the back of my mind, and my journey towards being atomic proponent has not been a story of an over-night conversion, but rather one of a continuous search for one’s purpose.



I have always been driven by a passion to make a positive and real impact on the people and the world around me. I initially had my eyes set on becoming a paediatric oncologist, but having almost fainted taking my own blood for a school experiment, I realised that I might not be cut from the right cloth. A period of inevitable soul searching ensued, I ended up doing a proper volte face for someone taking specialising in science and mathematics at school – I decided to turn to the world of policy and politics as my way of making a difference.


As I rediscovered my love for nature – especially hiking in the wilderness of Scotland or my native Sweden – my passion for fighting climate change reignited. Nature’s raw beauty must be protected and preserved for future generations of all living being, a duty I believe all of us have. After all, we owe everything to nature – if we live in a way that irreversibly destroys our planet, we will never be able to unlock human potential. Having spent countless hours facing roaring winds on highland moors or climbing mountains in the rain, I gained a deeper appreciation for just how important energy is to everything we do. For many hundreds of years, we slowly started to harness the energy sources nature provided us with – be it the wind, the water, the oil, or the atom.


But in harnessing the tools nature provided us with, we somehow lost sight of where we come from, and who is providing us with the tools upon which modernity has been built. This is where my love for protecting nature, fighting climate change and finding an energy future which benefits human, animal and planet alike comes together. Unlocking a sustainable energy solution can not only combat climate change, but also fight poverty, unlock human potential and preserve our blue marble of a planet for future generations.


Finding myself as a political adviser in the Scottish Parliament during my university years, a significant part of what I did was to think about energy and the environment. Despite its many impressive features and benefits, nuclear energy struck me as being politically impossible to achieve. Nevertheless, my curiosity got the better of me and I started to dig into the world of the atom, despite (or maybe, thanks to?) the fact that few things in our world has as poor a reputation as nuclear energy.

I went into nuclear with assumptions shared by most people - that its use is nothing short of a Faustian bargain with the devil, where we get immense amounts of electricity, but at the cost of the risk of unimaginable death and destruction if something goes wrong, and by leaving waste which is believed to be lethal for eons. However, I spent years researching all aspects of nuclear power – be it accidents, the waste or the effects of radiation on human health – and slowly, but steadily, one thing became very clear. The image of nuclear power as the ultimate evil did not add up with reality.


Not only had nuclear energy been given a way worse reputation that it had deserved, but that without it we would have no real chance at both fighting poverty and climate change. It became painfully clear that the image of fear which had been built around nuclear energy robbed people of a different future – a future where it shouldn’t really matter in which country you are born, where we once and for all banished starvation and poverty. Denying people the benefits of the atom therefore becomes an act of cruelty, whereby we deny future generations the opportunity to fully realise their own ambitions and dreams.


For me, there was only really one thing that made sense for me in terms of my own future: to dedicate my life to the restoration of the atom’s public image and with it, public opinion. How do we turn something so important, yet so unloved, so fear, and so misunderstood, into the shining swan it has the potential to be?


So, for the last couple of years, I have come to regard my own battle for nuclear power, and the battle for the atom in our common future as the battle between David and Goliath. It is perhaps paradoxical, knowing that nuclear power plants are essentially but big machines of steel and concrete. Yet the atom is so small, and it is truly David, trying to take on the ultimate Goliath(s) of our time – be it fossil fuels, or perhaps fear itself?


In a series of articles, I will be exploring how my desire to solve one of the greatest challenges of our time - climate change - led to me devoting my life to the very smallest of things - the atom. In this series, I will discuss the importance of the power of the atom in combatting climate change.

The second half of the series will be a deep-dive into our nightmarish view of atomic energy, to look at why almost everything we believe about radiation is wrong, how we ended up here - and perhaps most importantly, the concept and consequences of “radiophobia”, which tragically enough is a potent reminder of how sometimes the sheer idea of something can be more lethal than the real deal.


Nevertheless, by the end I will show how, by conquering fear and an unashamedly optimistic view of the future, we can with the atom’s awesome power build a stronger, a more just and a truly sustainable global society.



The views expressed in this article are those of the author, and may not reflect on any of those institutions which the author is associated with.

Photographs by John Lindberg

  • Sannah van Balen


John is our third opinion piece author with his series "Nuclear energy - unsung and feared climate hero?", where he explores the role nuclear energy can play in the climate emergency.


John divides his time between doing his PhD on radiophobia jointly at King’s College London

and Imperial College and doing communications and policy at the World Nuclear

Association, whilst also trying to complete his MMedSci in health physics at the Sahlgrenska

Hospital in his native Sweden.


Having interned in Brussels, worked as a political adviser in the Scottish Parliament,

conducting cutting-edge nuclear research at leading environmental think tanks in London

and Berkeley, negotiated on nuclear power projects in northern Wales and represented both

the UK and the nuclear industry at the UN, John brings unique perspectives on nuclear

policy and politics, fuelled by a passion to build a stronger, fairer and cleaner tomorrow - for

all. His ambition is to make the debate around nuclear energy more accessible and open up

the conversation with people who usually wouldn’t even think about the power of the atom.

He gave a TEDx talk – “The Power to Change the World” – in 2017.


When not despairing over the effects of radiophobia or rambling on about nuclear energy to

any unsuspecting victim, John can often be found climbing mountains in Scotland, planning

trips to Nepal, watch cute dog videos dreaming of the day when he can adopt his own, or

drooling over the latest bit of hiking kit he’s got his eyes set on.


You can find John on LinkedIn, or on Twitter.

I have intentionally not touched upon Covid-19 because the environmental impact and the solutions we need continue to be as relevant as ever. But it has been important for me to take this time during lockdown to reflect on the impact of this crisis we find ourselves in, and our place in it.


A ‘perfect storm’

As is the case for many sectors, this one has had to hit pause: pause on production, pause on shipping and in some cases even a pause on new design. The demand for clothing has slowed down to an unprecedented level and many brands are focusing on staying afloat.[1] Because of these challenges, there has never been such a ‘perfect storm’ to spur action and new systems thinking. It is a shame that, from a fashion sustainability perspective, I have never been more optimistic.


Crises bring opportunity and require creativity. Before this crisis, the fashion sector was not changing quickly enough. Yes, many brands had signed up to industry charters that commit them to reducing their emissions, restoring biodiversity and preserving the oceans,[2] but the translation from commitment to action has been limited to a minority of leading brands. On the other hand, some of the innovations, changes and discussions we have seen in the past 2 months are things I didn’t think we’d see for years to come.


On a macro level, this is ultimately a redesign challenge, and fashion at its core is about design. We have a decade to curb global emissions and this year will be key in shaping what this decade of action should look like. The micro level should instead focus on the design of garments. As people have been buying less, brands and their designers have been forced to think: what does the consumer actually want? Do they really want to blindly follow trends, or do they want to feel inspired and build a connection with a brand and its clothing?



Digitisation


Some of the changes we have seen so far include the planned consolidation of London Fashion Week’s men’s and women’s, which will now be online-only[3], with Milan and Paris following suit. This will be a fascinating example of a low-carbon fashion week and could open up a world of opportunities for digital buying.


Digital design is also on the rise. Designers are using software and 3D clothing sampling processes and virtual fit sessions.[4] This digitisation is much less carbon and waste intensive than producing samples, flying them across the world and having models present them in a showroom.


Slowing down


People are buying less. Fashion is not deemed an essential industry and production has in many cases come to a standstill. [5] Helpfully, many brands have switched their production to produce things we do desperately need: personal protective equipment. Consumers are connecting with their favourite brands on a basis other than simply shopping from them. Brands have signalled their values through their response to this equipment shortage and how they have dealt with the orders of clothes they’ve made but no longer need produced.[6]


Many sector experts predict that consumers will “become much more discerning with discretionary purchasing and their connection with brands will be important, as they ‘will want something meaningful’”.[7] Not only will consumers want to buy less, the recession caused by Covid-19 will also mean they won’t be able to spend as much after the pandemic.


And brands are taking note. For example, Saint Laurent has stated it won’t be showing a collection in Paris’ September Fashion week. The design house is looking to align the release of their collections more with when the customer is actually likely to buy it[8]. Similarly, Giorgio Armani announced that in order for the sector to regain and retain resilience it needs to slow down and realign collections with seasons in stores.[9] This is a glimmer of moving to designing and producing based on demand, rather than generating demand through supply.


What do we want this new world to look like?

When we return to the shops from lockdown, let’s not celebrate being outside by over consuming and buying outfits for our re-emergence into society. Instead, let’s celebrate the clothing we haven’t had the chance to wear during this time and relish in what we already have.


If we do feel inspired to buy something, let’s think carefully about what this item will bring to our wardrobe, how it makes us feel, interrogate how it was made and, if we do purchase it, cherish it fully. Let’s move from following trends to connecting emotionally with our clothing, its origins and the craft of its talented designers.


I love fashion – I always have. And ultimately that is why I love what I do. I love how clothes make me feel and how they can empower me to portray who I am and what I am feeling to the world. I would love for us to get to a place where we can buy an item of clothing without having to filter for sustainability or to trawl the Internet to find something we feel comfortable buying. I want to feel as morally comfortable buying a garment as I currently do physically wearing it.


The time is now for brands, producers, governments and consumers to think about the world they want to live in and how fashion fits into that. Clothing should not cost the Earth.



The views expressed in this article are the author’s own as an individual.

[1] https://www.voguebusiness.com/companies/fashion-industry-crisis-deepens-amid-covid-19-chaos [2] https://www.vogue.com/article/fashion-pact-sustainability-g7-summit-emmanuel-macron [3] https://i-d.vice.com/en_uk/article/akwbm8/london-fashion-week-is-going-gender-neutral-and-digital [4] https://www.forbes.com/sites/brookerobertsislam/2020/04/13/designer-and-supply-chain-digital-revolution-how-covid-19-is-changing-the-fashion-industry/#76cb6c107ccc [5] https://wwd.com/business-news/business-features/after-coronavirus-scenarios-for-apparel-design-sourcing-and-production-1203622397/ [6] https://www.vogue.com/article/paris-fashion-week-mens-july-2020 [7] https://www.forbes.com/sites/brookerobertsislam/2020/04/13/designer-and-supply-chain-digital-revolution-how-covid-19-is-changing-the-fashion-industry/#325ac3f87ccc [8] https://wwd.com/fashion-news/fashion-features/fashion-weeks-shifting-format-amid-coronavirus-1203565669/ Gif references:

Ecoalf (https://www.instagram.com/p/B_ua6stJdHS/) Extinction Rebellion LFW (https://sustainable-fashion.com/blog/fashion-x-extinction-rebellion/) The Fabricant ( https://www.thefabricant.com) Soulland Show (https://vimeo.com/72010790) Fabric Recycle (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AjHVMhAOZa4) Psychic Outlaw (https://www.psychicoutlaw.com/) Ahluwalia (https://www.ahluwaliastudio.com/) Fashion For Good Museum (https://fashionforgood.com/) Ectinction Rebellion Cornwall (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gi-Ldj5uvtw)

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