The CEO's view

“Today may be the day when global warming moves from a theory to a reality”

AOP chief executive, Adam Sampson, highlights climate change concerns and how we cannot procrastinate any longer

world on fire
Getty/Malte Mueller

My dad, when he worked (which he frequently did not), was a journalist. Well, that is perhaps overegging it a bit: what he actually did was to write the storylines and dialogue for the comic strips in teenage girls’ magazines. The editors would give him deadlines months in advance which he would studiously ignore until the last minute. But the day before he was due to drop the scripts off in London, he would pull an all-nighter; one of my most vivid memories of him is coming down in the morning to see him slumped over his typewriter, unshaven and haggard, covered in cigarette ash and surrounded by a sea of discarded pages.

Today I find myself up against my own deadline, churning out the 800 or so words Emily warned me of three weeks ago and which I could have done any time in between. Do I feel guilty? Perhaps a tad. But in truth, along with the problems it causes, there are real advantages to leaving everything to the last minute. For one thing, having more time to mull over the messages you want to convey is no bad thing; the pieces that have got me into the most trouble are the ones I have dashed off on the spur of the moment rather than the ones that have been swirling around my subconscious for a decent amount of time. And, for another, the later you leave it to write your piece, the less dated it is when it eventually appears in print.

But in writing this one, I am exquisitely aware that the gap between today and the day it is read is going to appear a long one indeed. Today is 18 July, one of the days where it is predicted that the UK will break the all-time temperature record. The streets of London are all but deserted; my local supermarket has empty shelves where salads and fruit juices used to be; the pace of life has slowed from its usual frenetic panic to a bemused, resentful crawl. The feeling on the internet is clear: today may be the day when climate change moves from a theory to a reality in the popular imagination and the usual climate denial tweets will forever now be met with incredulity and scorn. By the time you read this, the climate debate may have taken a sudden upward shift in political priority. Equally, while that shift seems inevitable right now, today’s experience may just be filed alongside the summer of 1976 as a curious episode in history.

In this context, the subject matter of this edition of OT – the need for our profession to look seriously at the environmental impact of its work – is perfectly timed. What is the environmental impact of the frames and lens manufacturing process? How can we make disposable contact lenses more sustainable? How do we take advantage of the opportunities represented by new technology to reduce travel to and from our clinics and offer remote, yet safe, consultation?

And this is, of course, a challenge for organisations like the AOP too. In the past year or so, we have been prioritising sustainability by moving to become an entirely paperless organisation, increasing our online training and staffing offers to reduce travel, and ensuring that the updating of our office (which is currently underway) is maximising the use of recycled materials. But like everyone else, we know that there is more we could do, and we will be working hard to reduce our carbon footprint further.

I cannot but reflect on the possibility that, on climate change, it is not just my family which has a history of procrastination. I remember that even in the fabled summer of 1976, our science teachers were telling us that this was just not normal and was evidence of the impact of the past few hundred years of human activity on the climate of the world. We have been procrastinating for over 40 years. It is time we actually got down to action.