Liz Courtney is an award-winning social entrepreneur, documentary filmmaker, and philanthropist who has made her life’s mission environmental sustainability and social change. Liz is blazing her trail with passion and purpose because she believes we only have a narrow window to save our planet from irreparable disaster.
Speaking to InProfile’s Giulia Sirignani, Liz explains why we need to care about the natural world; the peril of doing nothing and how we can make a difference every day with “one little thing” to reduce our carbon footprint.
Read on to hear about Liz Courtney’s life-affirming work or you can watch the full interview below.
Liz Courtney likes to ask this question to everyone she meets: “In 20 years’, time, what will you be able to say that you did to reduce CO2 emissions on the planet?”
And like any person authentically engaged in walking her talk, Liz is living her answer.
“I hope I’ll be able to say that I raised awareness and consciousness of people to help make behavioural change that contributed to slowing down our rate of carbon consumption,” says Liz. “If I can play any role in that, I would be so grateful, because we have a carbon debt that we can use up this century. That carbon debt is to keep us under a certain operating system threshold for the planet. At the rate we’re going, we will use up that carbon debt by 2028, which leaves us in it quite a perilous situation.”
“I believe that if people truly understand the little things that they can do in everyday life to make a change, people will step up. We just need to give everybody the tools and we need to help them a little bit, like a Fitbit coach watch, we need to help people make those changes. I don’t think that we should be saying just business, government, they need to be part of the change, but each individual person has a role to play.”
Liz believes a reduction in CO2 emissions is about everybody doing one thing – one little thing – from which real change is born.
Giving a talk to scientists in Britain at Exeter University, Liz threw down the gauntlet, challenging them to find one measurable way to reduce their carbon footprint.
“You have to give me something, I just want one thing,’ Liz remembers asking them. “So, when I called them a month later, they said ‘we got everyone together, we did the data and we know what we need to do.’ If each person could reduce their carbon footprint personally just by 5% that would put a huge break on our carbon usage this century and help us stay under 2 degrees (global warming). I thought wow, it’s that simple a solution!”
Liz and her family have their “one little thing” which became common practice after Liz returned from filming in the Antarctica where she was struck by the beauty, fragility and interconnectedness of our natural world.
“When I came back from Antarctica, I asked myself what the first thing is that I can do. I have a busy household with kids playing soccer and always on the move, yet, I decided to disconnect the (clothes) dryer. I said we’re not using a dryer anymore and they said ‘you’ve got to be kidding!’ To this day that dryer has never been turned on. We set up a system in the house where we washed at night, put the damp clothes in a room that was very warm overnight. That’s my short personal note.”
For Liz Courtney, climate action is deeply personal. She radically transformed her own life to be the difference she wanted to see in the world. Liz left behind a successful and safe career in marketing and communications to pursue her dream of full engagement in climate action, translational science and social entrepreneurship. Liz is candid in sharing what it took to overhaul her safe and comfortable life and head to Antarctica to make the film Cool School Antarctica.
“It takes a lot of tenacity I have to say, facing your own fears,” says Liz. “When I went to Antarctica, I decided that I was either going to live my life with regrets or not, so I decided to make that leap of faith and take that step. I went through a fairly tough trip coming back from Antarctica on the Drake passage, and when I got back on dry land, I thought, if I can survive that, then I can do anything.”
“The other thing I find really helpful is creating a vision board. There are definitely days where I have a wobble, or think what am I doing and will it make a difference? Then I just come back to my vision and my purpose. Even if I can move the needle the tiniest bit, I know that in the years to come I’ll look back and be grateful to myself that I actually had the courage to do it.”
While Liz is writing a memoir about her life story, her latest film project again showcases her bold engagement in a sustainable future. She’s filming a four-part series in Asia, Europe and America on tomorrow’s resilient cities.
“I’m really looking forward to getting a glimpse into what our future is going to look like and how we are going to best live,” says Liz.
“In the last 100 years we’ve built more houses or housing than we have in the last 6000 years. From now until 2050 in the Asia region we must build another 2.5 billion new houses. It might be that everybody thinks, well we have plenty of materials to build cities, but when you think about it, we don’t have an endless stream of material. What materials are best to use? How are we going to design buildings that are going to be a carbon zero footprint? And how we are going to look at introducing nature back into the equation and building cities that are going to be resilient, not just to climate change, but to sea level rise, to coastal hazards like typhoons and tsunamis?”
Liz is heading to Portugal in June to speak at the UN Oceans conference while also raising funds for the new series: Beyond The Tipping Points. This work comes 10 years after releasing her ground-breaking The Tipping Points.
“I really wanted to understand how climate was actually a system and how that system worked together and what elements were really at peril to change a very stable system that’s been like that for over 10,000 years.”
A decade later Liz has a new thesis in mind. “Now, I’m curious to know what elements of the climate system are really close to tipping or may have already tipped. So, for me I want to go back with the scientists that I explored the tipping points of our climate system with, and really have a look at what has happened in the last ten years.”
Does Liz think we still have time to stabilise the climate system, or are we too late?
“I would never say we’re too late, but I would say that we are in a very narrow window,” says Liz. “We need to understand truly how much time we have left to make the major changes. I think we also need to look at what it’s going to take to make behavioural changes that each individual person needs to make.”
“This might be the most critical time in the history of the entire planet, and we’re literally walking, living, breathing in it. Do we recognise that? Maybe not. How can we recognise that? I think it’s by really listening to the science, looking at the data, and then all working together to make the changes we need to make.”
Although Liz Courtney doesn’t want to cause eco-anxiety among youth, she does have complete faith in the planet’s future custodians.
“I actually think the next generation will be the game changers. If Obi Wan Kenobi was around, he would say ‘you guys are our only hope!”