Adrian Midwood, of Plastic Oceans Canada, recently presented at TEDx Bear Creek Park
Small things can make a difference.
We were about halfway between Tonga and the Lau group, a mostly uninhabited cluster of islands in the eastern division of Fiji in early September last year. We had a rough beginning of our passage leaving Vavau. Two of the five crew members were severely seasick during the first days. Another two were “uncomfortable” however able to stand watch. For myself, well I haven’t exactly been going to sea every second week as of late, so I was a little crusty to say the least.
About a month earlier, I had been sitting at the Vancouver International Airport hurriedly attempting to tie up loose ends. I delegated tasks so our small team at Plastic Oceans Canada had something to keep them busy during my 6-week shift to my old life of remote island plastic remediation expeditions and small island development. One call in particular was with part of a curation team for a TEDx that was happening about 10km away from where my family lives in British Columbia. My whole adult life has been oceans away from home and this was a fun prospect of taking the stage in my home turf.
The conference itself wasn’t to take place until Feb 29, 2020, though they were conducting auditions of sort, where people actually needed to apply to speak at their show. I wasn’t exactly taken aback by this, as I have only been directly involved with one TEDx youth conference prior. Considering that experience, they wrote me an e-mail. I politely declined as it was halfway across the world from where I was at the time.
Then a month later, I was invited to join an expedition crossing the Atlantic Ocean and the dates lined up. With this in mind, I asked if the conference still had space, and it was set. I showed up, gave a terrible talk where I gapped it halfway through from sleep deprivation and jet-leg, forgot half the speech and had to live with that video circulating the internet, in a sense being my calling card, for 4 years.
For 4 years I’ve wanted redemption. When this opportunity came knocking, I wasn’t taking it lightly. I wanted to go up on that stage and give the bestest talk possible. Urging our society to really take a step back and look at how we’ve been acting, consuming and how we ALL in general can simply do better. But the question remained…..How?
Waking up for my turn at the helm, far from land and even further from any internet or mobile reception, it came to me.
“It’ll be called Don’t be a DICK, and it will be glorious!”
I came up topside to announce this to the hearty crew, half of them were rainbow yawning off the side of the boat, the other half not too impressed with their life choices in general at the moment. Let’s say it landed a little flat, partly amused, and more so thinking I was actually joking. Who in their right mind would use their chance to take that coveted TEDx Bear Creek Park stage with that through line? In front of over 1,000 people live, and streaming to even more around the world? Then add in that there has been that 4 years of wanted, nay needed, redemption from the first time.
Well, there’s a few reasons I wanted to take this direction. Let’s take a look at them:
1) A little humour helps people relax.
We work on a topic that has finally hit critical mass, and the general public understand the implications of waste plastics in our waterways. It’s a serious problem, and often can feel TOO BIG to take on as one person.
We can all be the solution. 1 small step made by billions of people around the world at the same time has an impact. Just look at how our earth is repairing itself right now, once we gave her a chance to take a breath.
2) There was a stage where I took this job too seriously.
It ruined me. When I left the glamorous life of hosting the upper 1% around on their shiny boats to surf, scuba dive, kitesurf and sail to the most remote corners of the world, I was ready to make a change. Our footprint on this planet had shown itself to me in all its horrendousness, in places most geography majors couldn’t even find on a map.
I dove headfirst into something, gave it my all, lost everything financially, mentally, physically and slithered away a broken shell of a man.
Making the calculated decision that this was my life and I would continue to work in this realm, meant leaving my life at sea, most likely accepting minimum wage for compensation until I retire, and not working in the field making projects come to life anymore. There was going to be a lot of admin, a great deal of smiling and nodding and acting like it’s all okay. When it’s not, our oceans are dying and yes it is our collective fault.
This is a real long way of explaining if I was to stay in this fight until the end of my years, I was going to enjoy myself a little. Make people laugh and have a little fun along the way. With the hope that it would wake people up a bit to make a change.
3) I am a dick.
No seriously, when I told my mother the concept of this talk her answer was actually “You’re a dick.”
When I posted this on my Facebook page, it erupted with a colorful collection of banter, laughs, some claims of calling the kettle black and thankfully, enough “You’ve earned its,” to decide this was it.
Full disclaimer, I’m not actually a mean person, just a hermit by nature who dances to the beat of my own drum, always have. Though, apparently I have a “tone” that comes across nasty to those not in the know….who knew?
4) Originally I wanted to make this a drinking game/talk.
True story, you have a lot of time at sea, and I was thinking “how do you get as many hits as possible on the video?”
What’s going to grab people, make them watch the whole thing and pass it around? “Make it a drinking game!” simple.
The plan was, every time I said DICK you had to take a sip, every time I quoted the movie Point Break you had to take a shot. At the end, the intention was you had a good time, relaxed a little and thought to yourself. “You know what, I’ve been a dick, I can do better.” Then, you would do betterer moving forward.
So, this was the plan, from an overworked, under-financed boat captain moonlighting as an Executive Director of a charity.
We did eventually make landfall and returning home I made the pitch in person to the team from TEDx Bear Creek Park. Let’s call it mixed reviews. When I wrote my application and performed my audition, again, not the warmest reception. Mostly nervous looks around the room, checking with others if it was alright to laugh?
Taking it to my board of directors, same story. Colleagues, other Plastic Oceans people from around the world, it was all a little hesitant. In closed quarters everyone was supportive, in public, it was another story.
My first draft bombed at rehearsal. It was terrible, my drinking game idea was quickly abolished, and dick was abruptly turned into an acronym to soften the blow. Quoting Point Break? Are you crazy!?
The script I had wrote and re-wrote with suggestions and expressions of concern was torn up and it definitely wasn’t fun anymore. Was this truly what I wanted my legacy message to be?
“Why not talk about all the projects you’ve worked on?””
“Why don’t you talk about how we can solve this issue?”
“It’s simply not going to fly.”
Were just some of the reactions, but you get the gist.
Well, I’ve worked on those projects, expressed for years how we can solve this issue, and listened to all the people who told me before “you can’t say that in your position.” The time had come where I felt there was only one way to get the point across. You guessed it, that was to let everyone know we’ve all been acting like dicks.
Over consuming, living an indulgent lifestyle in an age of convenience that just isn’t sustainable no matter which way you look at it.
So yes, with a lot of tweaking, and a MASSIVE effort from my coach, Tania Ehman (who might I add, actually had my back through the whole process no matter how much kickback we got), we found a talk that worked for both parties.
I got to be me, cause really what’s the point in life if you’re pretending anyway, and we came up with a user-friendly digestible version of what needed to be said.
Sadly, almost immediately after our event, North America (we were a little behind Asia and Europe) started feeling the effects of COVID-19 and public events started cancelling.
First it was trade shows, then TEDx conferences were delaying their plans, concerts, sporting events, wait what’s happening!? Schools, businesses, restaurants, pubs, beaches, ocean activity and yes THE GLOBAL ECONOMY!
And here I am realizing I just called everyone dicks with my 15 minutes……..
We all came to a grinding halt. Everyone was told to go home, and those of us in Canada were assured measures would be put into place; we could all apply for and collect an emergency relief package that should cover the basics. Other nations were not so lucky.
It’s uncertain when this time will end, and how everything will work on the other side. What is for certain, is that we can all agree there is no possible way it just goes back to business as usual.
Climate change skeptics always say it’s uncertain what our actual footprint on the world looks like.
Well, take a look around. Oceans, rivers, lakes and canals are repairing themselves. Cities are smog free; you can actually smell the roses, birds and wildlife are roaming free, returning to urban areas with reduced human impacts.
THIS IS A GOOD THING.
No one wanted it to take a health pandemic of global proportions to instigate this change, but it happened. And here we are.
So, I implore you, if you are reading this, you are most likely already on our team ready to fight the good fight. We need a change coming out the other side of the current COVID lockdown. Please use this time to asses our personal footprints, talk to others and see how we can all work together to simply DO BETTER. We got this, honestly, we can do it.
We’ve all been sent to our rooms, please take the time to think about what we did.
If at any time, you are lost and don’t know what to do on the other side, just follow one simple rule. I can’t tell you here, so you’ll have to watch this talk till the end, wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise after all ;).
If you enjoyed this TEDx Bear Creek Park talk please help us spread the word and like, share and comment far and wide.
Help us make a wave of change.
Adrian Midwood is the executive director of Plastic Oceans Canada. He was one of the speakers at TEDx Bear Creek Park on February 24, 2020. You can watch or listen to Adrian’s interview series with friends and colleagues on the plastic crisis!