Collective action works.
The U.S. election experienced the highest voter turnout on record. Australia was able to expel Equinor from drilling in the bight. Carole Baskin was finally kicked off Dancing with the Stars. I forget where I was going with this…
Ahh yes, the environment. Surfers/Environmentalists Belinda Baggs and Johnny Abegg have announced their new platform Surfers For Climate. After seeing the success of Fight For The Bight (a movement in which both Belinda and Johnny were at the front lines) the two have teamed up to create a hub where surfers can access the appropriate and effective avenues with which to fight climate change.
Working closely with Belinda and Johnny, renowned cinematographer Jack McCoy has lent both his passion and his skill to the project, co-opting the launch of Surfers For Climate with the release of he and Sir Paul McCartney’s new music video ‘Wine Dark Open Sea.’ We gave Jack a ring to discuss all things Surfers For Climate, what it’s like working with Belinda and Johnny, and why there has never been a better time to take your role as an environmentalist seriously.
Stab: First off, congratulations to you and the rest of Australia on your success with Fight for the Bight. What was the most important thing you learned from that experience in terms of turning collective action into real change?
Jack McCoy: Thanks, however I was not actively involved in the organization of The Fight For The Bight. I was on as a supporter from the first time I saw a poster in the Patagonia store, at least 2 or 3 years ago. Congratulations really go to some of the main people I know who worked hard on it and the massive support from surfers and other great causes who came together to send Norwegian oil packing.
Sean Doherty shared with me that in the debriefing it became obvious that having a large group of causes (ie: Sea Shepherd, Surfrider, Wilderness Society, and many more) come together created a much larger voice.
Around the same time, Belinda Baggs and Johnny Abbeg were invited to join a group of like-minded people up on the barrier reef with (among others) Tim Flannery—the head of the climate council—and came away inspired to create something for surfers to join and protect planet-ocean. Belinda Baggs was part of the huge organizing team behind the F.F.T.B. To her, this was a huge indication that surfers were ready to unite in the protection of our waves, beaches, and wildlife. This momentum sparked the idea for Surfers for Climate. Uniting surfers from across the world to not just send big oil packing, but to preserve our planet for future generations. So we can all continue riding waves in thriving oceans.
So how does Surfers for Climate work?
Often we can feel a bit helpless to engage in climate action. With that in mind, we created Surfers for Climate—an online hub where you can see all of the most important environmental initiatives in one place.
There are an estimated 36 million surfers around the world. My dream would be that in five years, we could have one million surfers registered—and with that, a voice that could not be ignored. Surfers for Climate wants to use that united power to achieve climate justice. Climate change is threatening our existence, lifestyle, and waves. We are already seeing the impacts below our boards and along our shores through coral bleaching, ocean acidification, rise in average sea temps messing with local ecosystems, islands being swamped by sea-level rise in parts of the Pacific and Torres Straight… the list goes on. Surfers are at the forefront of experiencing all of this. We need to use our collective power to both implement individual and industry change and demand systemic political and big business change, ensuring that we always follow the wisdom of First Nations people who managed the land for thousands of years in a sustainable way.
We have also set up the site so you can choose to add your voice to any one of the causes around the world that are listed on our hub of alliances. For instance, the stopping of pep 11 off Sydney to Newcastle and the new gas acreage expansion down in Victoria’s Otway Basin—both iconic surf destinations.
Belinda clearly lives and breathes this work, acting with the sense of urgency that we all should feel when it comes to environmental activation. How has it been working with her on this project?
I first saw a pic of Belinda surfing by Andrew Kidman and I was immediately taken by her graceful style. A few years later, Derek Hynd and I made a dash to Noosa for a swell. It was the second trip away shooting for my film ‘A Deeper Shade of Blue’, and on the way up the coast, I stopped at Dave Kelly’s house to pick up my new camera housing for my first ever HD video camera after shooting 16mm for 30+ years.
To make a long story short, Belinda was there and because she was a friend of DH, I spent a week with her shooting the points while playing with this new rig that allowed me for the first time to have a zoom control of my focal length. It was so exciting to have that feature and the footage was all time. It didn’t make the film, so it sat there in the dark until over a year ago when I made a clip for Paul McCartney as a gift for bringing his tour to Oz after requesting for a few years.
Paul and I had worked together on his Blue Sway clip that we donated to Surfrider Foundation, and we both wanted to do the same with the new clip—use it to promote protecting the ocean. When my friend Clare Herschell told me that Belinda was starting a new site, it seemed like the stars had lined up perfectly to gift it to her and Surfers for Climate. Since early July, we’ve been working pretty much daily and all I can say is that she walks her talk and is one of the most inspiring young women I’ve ever worked with.
You film reefs all the time. Have you personally witnessed any degradation as is widely reported on in places like the Great Barrier Reef?
I have not been up to the Barrier Reef in the last few years, however I’ve seen the pictures and know the dramatic damage that has been happening there. The coastal erosion up and down the coast are obvious signals of sea-level rise. We are only a few short years away from the reef becoming 90% dead and that really is one of the things that I hope surfers will pick up on and fight to save for our kids.
I’d like to bring up an interview Ace Buchan gave in The Guardian a few weeks ago, in which he said Australia’s record on Fossil Fuels is an “international joke.” Now Ace is walking the walk serving on Surfers for Climate board of directors. Do you feel more athletes should be using their platforms to stand up for ocean conservation?
It’s not for me to say what others should do. I can only try and share the science and see if it brings more people on board. However I have to say that there are so many great names who have added their support. The first one I asked was Occy, and he said, with a straight face, “Yeah, I support Climate for Surfers.” Priceless moment, and it made me so proud of him… again. Some get it and some don’t, but hopefully all those who want to do their part can register with SFC and have the avenue to have their voice heard.
How does Surfer for Climate plan on proactively engaging the government to steer policy towards sustainable solutions? Is Ace going to be dusting off the old 3-piece and heading into Parliament to lobby?
SFC is starting to build relationships with many of the politicians that represent coastal communities. We plan to kindly offer our voters opinions and prompt better decision making when it comes to climate. Like with the proposed plans of turning the waters off Sydney and Newcastle into a gas field…the ocean-lovers and surfing community came together and pressured our elected local MPs to oppose the project, and they did just that. Passing a motion in federal parliament, Liberal MPs went against their own party to share bipartisan support. Being from Newcastle and the Central Coast, Belinda and Ace have both been campaigning on this issue. Adrian had several meetings with MPs going in depth on the importance of the issue and spending time to get them onside to do right by our coast.
Surfers for Climate is obviously based in Australia. Are you planning on focusing mainly on domestic issues, or will you be working on international environmental issues as well?
Right now we are calling on ALL surfers from around the world. If you ride a wave you are a surfer. Longboard, shortboard, boogie board, SUP, windsurfer, kite, canoe, catamaran, or just like Paul McCartney—a bodysurfer—we ask you, your family, friends, and entire social media presence to PLEASE go to surfersforclimate.org.au and register.
We ask for a minimum donation of $5* that will go to Surfrider Foundation and The Seed—Australia’s first Indigenous youth-led climate network. You will also be able to watch the new music video donated by Paul McCartney as well as check out some of the worldwide causes who have joined our HUB alliance.
*We wanted to make a donation affordable so that everyone can join. For those of you who can give us a leg up with a larger donation, please know that every dollar will go toward our efforts to bring the tribe together and pound the drum as loud as possible in protecting our oceans.
What initiatives does Surfers for Climate have currently underway that people can get involved with today?
We have a Wipeout Your Emission guide that focuses on specific, everyday actions we can all easily take to lower our footprint as surfers. One of those tips is to share the stories and speak to your mate about the impact you’re seeing along your local shorelines.