Simon West looking at some of the CEO's apologies

Inspired by ‘The Apologies 2022’ from Big Corp

Recently, my husband Simon and I went to East Quay Art Gallery in Watchet to see an exhibition.

It’s an immersive art collection entitled ‘Better Than This‘ and it was created by the incredible Kathy Hinde, Amy Howden-Chapman and Liv Torc of Hot Poets fame. We recently featured a post from Liv, talking about her spoken word contribution, ‘Meta Than This / Guardians of the Earth’, which is absolutely brilliant.

However, I’d like to draw your attention to a different exhibit at the gallery that really moved me. It’s entitled ‘The Apologies 2022’. It’s an ongoing piece of experiential art, originally created in 2012 for a performance given at the Night Gallery in Los Angeles, California. The current iteration of the work was developed in conjunction with writer Andrew Michael Gorin.

It is thus: you enter a stark room with rows of simple block benches for visitors. An empty wooden lectern is positioned front and centre. Behind the lectern, you observe twenty (imaginary) apology letters written by CEO’s and heads of large corporations. Each letter is etched onto a brass sheet cut to the same dimensions as legal-sized paper. The contents of these powerfully poignant reflective sheets entered the marrow of my exhausted bones and the accompanying audio recording from well chosen actors breathed additional life into the written words, drilling them home with a gut-wrenching punch.

As I listened, I couldn’t help emitting under-the-breath ‘humphs’ as I raised my eyebrows in a very ‘Yes, you should be sorry and ashamed of yourself for ignoring the science’, manner.

Photo by Chris Gallagher on Unsplash

In the UK, we’re just emerging from a double-dose of heatwave and drought and we’re starting to experience the subsequent horror of excessive rainfall and resulting floods. Additionally, countless countries are also experiencing the rinse and repeat of a tsunami of climate-related disasters, including wildfires and floods, and the rate of destruction of mature forests is quite frankly, horrifying. Even if Word Forest were a multi-million pound charity – which we absolutely need to be as we have several powerful solutions to this global problem – we’d struggle to replant trees at the rate they’re being lost. 

That’s a deeply disturbing thought exercise and I struggle to get it out of my head. Last night, as I lay in bed trying to switch my brain off, I thought about what I’d write in an apology letter. 

Here it is:

To the People of Kenya,

With absolute humility, I offer you my sincere and wholehearted apologies for not being expedient and efficient enough at doing my job. Word Forest got through the COVID era because everyone in our small team worked relentlessly, yet we’ve not yet managed to secure adequate funding to scale up so we can do a better job. 

That magical sentence with illuminating words in the perfect press release that secures premium air time and wins the column inches required to kick off a domino effect of donations and pro bono support, eludes me but I’m working on it.

If the UK hadn’t experienced such a financial crisis from the pandemic, I’m certain we’d be rolling out far more reforestation, education and women’s empowerment projects in Kenya, however, I co-founded Word Forest and I feel the weight of that responsibility.

I know you’re still caught in the deathly vice-like grip of an extended drought. I also know the compounded knock-on effects of it are utterly devastating to you all. I know countless Kenyans are suffering and dying, many from suicide. I also know Word Forest has a raft of solutions but we just don’t have the money to implement them on the scale we need to.

Photo by Barry Weatherall on Unsplash

Your beautiful country is likely to topple over a precipice soon into widespread famine. An estimated 13 million people are waking up severely hungry every day in the Horn of Africa, as it grapples with a major drought caused by the driest conditions since 1981, the World Food Programme warned recently. They’re buckling under the pressures of extreme poverty with terrifying food insecurity – I know our permaculture food forest education programme could lessen the sting of that blow.

Our Patron, meteorologist Clare Nasir tells us that below average rains are predicted in the coming months – they’ll undoubtedly hamper crop output, plus the ongoing war in Ukraine will continue to present governments across Africa with a raft of challenges as they seek solutions to feed everyone. You’re neck-deep in resource-based conflict, livestock disease with high mortality rates, plus sharply increased costs for everything due to COVID-control measures on cross-border trade.

I work in full possession of the facts about what you’re experiencing. I hear first-hand stories about what’s occurring as a result and I cannot imagine the full horror and fear that many of you live with on a daily basis. A more sustainably secure future is almost impossible to visualise when it’s difficult enough to carve a route through a day, let alone plan for next week or beyond.

I promise you, not a day goes by where the plight of you and Kenya’s wildlife which is also suffering, is out of my mind.

From the first day the Charity Commission granted us our registration number back in 2017, I strived to find the right configuration of descriptive, engaging and appealing words and images to convey your truth to corporate partners and individuals who have the funds to make a difference to you. As far as I’m concerned, you are the most important people on the planet right now! You have the ability to plant trees that grow so fast, they really could mitigate climate chaos and greatly reduce the hunger and poverty you battle with too.

I simply do not understand why governments everywhere, plus more grant funding bodies, don’t recognise these facts and provide more easily accessible, flexible funding so charities like ours can crack on and solve these problems.

Explaining the critical role Kenyans play in combating global heating to the significant numbers of people required to make the swift difference needed, is the most challenging task I’ve ever undertaken. Word Forest is scoring victories but nowhere near fast enough or large enough and for that, my apology is duly proffered.

The right language, terminology and tone is ever important. We’re thankfully beyond using the term ‘climate change’. ‘Global heating’ and ‘existential crisis’ are far more apt and I don’t shy away from using them, yet even as those strident terms embed themselves in commonplace vocabulary, we’re still not seeing the queue of corporate leaders we should, ready to pay up their environmental debt to our planet by planting trees in Kenya. Far more awareness is evidently required and it’s why we created our Education Learning Platform, so we could encourage people to be better environmentalists who recognise their responsibilities in life and at work.

I live in a country responsible for creating a great deal of the CO2 floating around in our shared atmosphere, the stuff that’s causing you so many problems. The ignorance of that fact and the apathy to resolve it from our government and heads of industry, is shameful. I personally tread as lightly as I can on the Earth and Word Forest has unsurprisingly been built with deep green foundations too, yet I still feel the guilt of those who aren’t pulling their weight and changing their ways. 

Photo by Chris LeBoutillier on Unsplash

Human activities have raised the atmosphere’s carbon dioxide content by 50% in less than 200 years. Today, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere stands at 419 parts per million (ppm). I remember when it hit 400ppm on 9th May 2013, just 9 years ago. What on earth will all of our lives be like in another 9 years? 

Our Special Scientific Advisor, Professor Bill McGuire and countless other greatly respected scientists warn that unless the great polluters around the world take immediate action to decarbonise and drawdown that CO2, we face a future with increased deadly extreme weather events. Building stock will be unable to cope with wide ranging temperatures and there will be uncertain food harvests with subsequent civil unrest and more besides. Yet the possibilities of a sustainable future where we live within the planet’s means, are quite incredible, however, they require radical new blueprints for life, gargantuan investment in renewable energy and complete divestment from killer fossil fuels. The upside from that would birth a wealth of jobs that haven’t even been invented yet – it’s a very bright future but the comforting glow from it is way too far away, up and over the horizon: I will continue to advocate for it.

Our Kenyan Team relay the horror of increasing domestic violence rates, forced child marriages and prostitution, resultant underage pregnancies, starvation, malnutrition and more. Conversely, we also hear of the joy, positivity, upliftment and the pressure release that communities feel when they are supported to make the changes they need to improve education, employment opportunities and food and water security.

I know many Kenyans want to help us plant more trees. Many have learned that afforestation will help the normal rains to fall again, plus it’ll offer welcome shade and places for wildlife to rest and be. My job isn’t Monday to Friday, it’s most of my waking hours most days, so I’m raising my bar, sharpening my words and widening my reach to increase our income. I’m sorry it’s taking so long.

I’m endeavouring to sit at the right tables, debating problems with the right people before future history books record bone-chilling, sobering statistics of human/wildlife migration, multi-country civil unrest, as senseless death and destruction prevails. Yet I am just a hummingbird fighting a wildfire with a beak full of water, one drop at a time. I should be content knowing I’m doing the best I can, but it’s evidently not enough, nor fast enough to help you at the pace you need it. 

I believe in the power and resilience of the Kenyan people. Our continued collaboration will serve the entire planet well. I know the political reasons why progress is slow. Many in positions of power are short-sighted, driven by greed, fear of change and fear they’ll fall out of favour. It won’t matter a jot if we end up with pockets full of cash on a dead planet.

Photo by Tania Malréchauffé on Unsplash

Until the sun rises on a day where the world looks at Kenya through a different lens, I will continue to apologise for not being noisy, persistent, unforgettable, impressive, convincing, pioneering or erudite enough to make it happen today.

It’ll come – I’m sure of it.

Sincerely yours, in service to you and our planet,

Tracey West FRSA
CEO and Co-Founder
Word ForestNeedless to say, I urge you to visit East Quay if you’re able – the exhibit closes on the 31st August.

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