Professor Katharine Hayhoe, a leading climate scientist, and hugely influential communicator, is often asked:
What is the first thing I should do about climate change?
Her answer is simple:
Talk about it!
How on Earth can that reduce our carbon footprint you may ask?
On the other hand, it is a common phenomenon when climate groups start, that the first thought is often ‘we need to build a solar PV array on the edge of town’.
I am not saying don’t do that, but there are big benefits to talking about it, and not rushing to build.
- Firstly, if people are not fully on board with the idea that urgent action is needed to address global warming, then some talking will really help change hearts and minds.
- Secondly, there are many different ways we can reduce our carbon footprint, and we need to push forward on all fronts. Don’t let the enthusiasm for one project crowd out ideas for other things that need to be discussed, and weighed up.
- Thirdly, if we focus solely on technological solutions like electric cars, we potentially exclude a lot of people who are put off by technology, or cannot afford to invest in them; and would like a reliable bus service to be a priority!
- We need to build a much bigger tent where we discuss topics like consumption, waste, heating, public transport, energy efficiency and local food. Topics that will draw in as wide a population as possible.
- Finally, by developing a wide perspective on all different approaches and potential initiatives, the group will be in a better position to call on community support for emerging projects.
Some will argue: but why is the challenge of addressing dangerous global warming being placed on the shoulders of householders and local communities?
Surely, Government and big business have the resources and power to make it happen?
I reject the implied binary thinking here.
In fact, Government, big business, pension funds, County Councils, District Councils, Parish Councils, local businesses, householders – you and me – can all make a difference and influence what happens.
Ok, so there are some things that only Governments and big business can do. But ultimately, every product and service is – directly or indirectly – created for us.
We have agency – we can decide:
- what we do,
- how we do it.
- and how often we do it.
We can choose to car share twice a week; or opt for that staycation; or reduce our meat consumption. Every family is different, but we make lots of choices, intentionally or not; and every choice matters.
We started NailsworthCAN in 2016 around the time of the Paris Agreement. Our focus was always on practical action rather than protest. But action comes in many forms: engaging, influencing, networking, capacity building, constructing.
We have spent a lot of time developing the conversation with different groups in the community: with the Town Council, Church, Schools, Rotary, Transition Stroud, etc., and with our previous and current MP. We act sometimes to lead, sometime to act as a catalyst, and sometimes simply to provide support to others. Hence the use of the word ‘network’.
We have run stalls, organised talks on diverse topics, and identified a range of projects. We created and distributed a Carbon Pledges sheet. We have met and talked with hundreds of local people, and we have recruited members with a fantastic range of skills and knowledge.
We have ran workshops to gather ideas on local projects that people are interested in across a range of topics –
- Food and agriculture;
- Mobility and transport;
- Buildings and their environment;
- Energy generation;
- Nature and the Environment;
- Health and Wellbeing.
We have worked with the Town Council to help develop an outline plan across these areas.
One specific initiative is to conduct a survey of hospitality venues in town to assess current practice on energy use, waste, etc., and identify ‘wins’ for these venues, the town and the planet.
Another initiative is to develop a 5-year tree planting plan on council land.
And another is a community-led domestic retrofit scheme.
And yes, we have a few renewable energy generation schemes in the pipeline.
Each of the climate groups I have met has its own personality, way of organising, and methods for coordinating their efforts with their respective Parish councils.
Each has had ideas on how to push forward on different fronts, and all can learn from each other.
The great evolutionary biologist E. O. Wilson – when being interviewed on BBC Radio 4’s ‘The Life Scientific’ said:
“Humanity has Palaeolithic emotions, medieval institutions and god-like power, … and that is a dangerous combination”.
But I would respond by saying we also have the capacity to overcome our destructive power, and work collectively to reveal the positive side of our humanity.
Don’t be critical if you start with talking, then move to small actions.
Just don’t stop at small actions.
Small actions can provide learnings and help us move to larger ones.
Share and celebrate success, as we do on social and printed media.
Small conversations can be the foundation for bigger ones, resulting in significant actions, and system change. Ultimately, this is all about system change; business as usual will not get us to where we need to be.
Remember, it is a marathon not a sprint, and like a marathon, we need to help each other stay the course.
I wish Minchinhampton every success as it starts its conversation.
…. o o O o o ….
Richard W. Erskine, Secretary of NailsworthCAN
Invited talk at the launch of Minchinhampton Climate Action Network.
11th March 2020.