Interview with climate activist Jenny Thomas

At The Digital Greenhouse, we have welcomed a new local artist to display her work in the space.

Here we take a look at the work of local sustainability activist, Jenny Thomas. Her work, made literally of rubbish washed up on the beach is full of purpose and intent to make a positive impact on this world. 

Read more about her inspirations and aspirations in our interview below.

"Ultimately, large-scale change is only going to come from systemic change and a social paradigm shift towards environmental consciousness which really does stem from accountability from individuals."

Jenny Thomas, Climate Activist

How does the space at the Digital Greenhouse best suit your work?

I started creating in an attempt to connect people to the issue of ocean pollution and try to inspire small lifestyle changes in those that follow my work. I love the connectivity opportunities that the Digital Greenhouse provides and it's exciting to have a physical platform to display a few of my creations.

Who are your biggest artistic influences and where do you find inspiration?
I am completely in awe of anyone who creates, I think art is so important and I love the different meanings the same piece can have to so many people. I adore and appreciate so many artists but I rarely look at a piece of art and think I could create anything remotely to that level! Instead, I am more influenced by nature and whatever I think would work well with the plastic that I have.
Where do you find inspiration and what motivates you to create?
I find inspiration outside - mostly at Rocquaine! Whenever I'm at a loss for what to create, the cup and saucer somehow finds its way in there! As I collect most of the plastic from Rocquaine, it's easy to connect the pieces to the source. Despite this, I would love to create other landscapes as well as pieces that communicate the climate issue in an empowering and meaningful way - I'm just still figuring that one out.
I am motivated by knowing that every piece of plastic that's picked up and repurposed makes one tiny little difference. I find it hard to put beach litter back into the waste system where it's probably just come from so creating something out of it has a greater purpose in my mind. I also find the clothes that I haven't sewn plastic into incredibly boring now; embroidering allows standard items to become unique! I also enjoy the conversations my art provokes and the platform it has given me to promote other environmentally positive lifestyle habits and climate information.
I think art has the ability to break communication barriers by eliciting emotion and connection. This is super important when you're trying to inform people on huge topics such as climate change, as you need to connect to an issue in some way to want to understand it, let alone try and do something about it! Art, especially in the form of photography and videography, has allowed us to directly see the impacts that our actions have on other people and places. I believe you can learn a lot very quickly through art which can inspire further thought.
How can you encourage people to be more creative in their spare time?
I think that sharing art on social media has made the process and ideas of creating so much more accessible, whether that's creating physical pieces or digital edits. Sharing the processes behind pieces of art also allows them to become more connectable for aspiring artists.

What are your top tips for someone who wants to make a positive impact on climate change today?

Stay positive yourself. It’s so easy to get overwhelmed by all of the large-scale, negative impacts of climate change that we are seeing and experiencing, it is a really scary situation! However, I have learnt that being angry doesn’t help; if you really want to have an impact you’ve got to actually believe what you’re doing is helping even just a little bit! I think this hope can come from learning about the positive news (easily accessible via podcasts, social media and mailing streams!) to lean into climate optimism and remind yourself that actions are making a difference on a large scale.
I think it’s important to recognise the power of the individual as a consumer, citizen and voter in elections. It’s easy to question the point of small lifestyle changes when learning about the great negative impact people/organisations of influence are creating. Ultimately, large-scale change is only going to come from systemic change and a social paradigm shift towards environmental consciousness which really does stem from accountability from individuals.
Educate yourself. Be conscious of which businesses and politicians you support. Then educate others and share the impact. A good way to get informed is by engaging in media - for example, I have found podcasts to be a useful tool in educating people about climate change. 

Jenny's top 3 recommended climate podcasts

  • The Circular Economy Show, by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation
  • 39 Ways to Save a Planet, by BBC Radio 4
  • The Climate Question, by BBC World Service


Top 5 tips on how you can help climate change

Reduce meat consumption

This is often regarded as the single best thing you can do to minimise your climate impact as an individual. Animal agriculture is having detrimental impacts on the environment; accounting for 70% of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest, it is responsible for large scale biodiversity loss as well as generating nearly 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Reducing your own meat consumption and being mindful of where your meat comes from will help to reduce the demand for such practises.

Use active/shared travel as much as possible

Road traffic accounts for one fifth of UK emissions every year. Driving less can help to directly reduce emissions as well as minimise traffic on the roads. Along with the environmental benefits, active and shared travel have social and physical benefits too, aiding productivity and boosting serotonin levels!

Use what you have and if you need to buy something new-to-you try looking for a second hand option

Reduce before reuse before recycle! Buying second hand will not only save you money but also help to reduce both your carbon and water footprints significantly. Using resources such as repair cafes can also help to maximise the quality and lifespan of items that you already have.

Question the source and lifespan of items that you buy

Do you realllyyyyy need that new bag? How many times are you going to where that dress? Overconsumption is promoting detrimental streams such as fast fashion and mass production which have massive environmental and social implications as well as producing a lot of waste! Questioning a products source and lifespan can aid a shift towards more conscious consumerism which can help to reduce support for industries that are having such a negative impact on the planet and communities.

Use bars not bottles! Eg, for soap, haircare, washing up liquid - there are so many options!

An easy sustainable swap! Bar products are just concentrated versions of those that we buy in bottles. Over 3/4 of a bottle of shampoo is water so why not buy a bar and add the water yourself! Bar products last longer and have zero waste, allowing them to be more sustainable than their bottled alternatives. Bars are also often made from more natural ingredients that are better for you and the environment (although this is brand dependent!).

How can people find out more about your work?
I post anything I make on my instagram @rubbishart_ along with some other environmental content that I find interesting and would love others to learn about.

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