Recently I was asked to present a keynote at the Public Libraries SA Conference on the hot topic of the climate crisis. This is a topic that has the potential to be depressing and disheartening, and I wanted to be invited to talk again, so I didn’t want to send the entire audience into therapy. Perhaps you’ve found yourself in a similar position in trying to discuss these things within your own community?
You may be aware of the latest IPCC report, which the scientists who wrote the report referred to as a ‘code red alert’. For a group of scientists who historically have aimed to present the data as objectively as possible without telling anyone what to do, this was somewhat out of character and highlighted the urgency of our problems. Despite countries and businesses pledging to reduce carbon emissions, global emissions still rose by 6% in the past year
Rather than focussing on the ‘code red alert’, I wanted to present the idea of ‘code red opportunities’ to this conference. What can we do? How can we talk to those in our community about it? How can we transform ourselves and the society we live in? I liken the work that needs to be done to bees going about their work; everyone is doing their bit to achieve a larger goal. Like the bees, we need to get on with it (and let’s not get started on the data that shows the global decline of bee populations!).
Here are some ideas to help you to begin opening spaces for conversations within your workplace, family, and community.
It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the enormity of it all. We’re busy with work and family. If we think about it too much, it’s so easy just to be numb to it all! And go about business as usual. If we open ourselves to reality, emotions such as depression, anger, outrage, and despair often surface. I suggest that feeling these emotions is necessary, and it’s easier to move through these emotions in groups of supportive people engaging in open and honest conversations. You will move through the emotions, for some time at least, and once you have, you are ready to move into action. Joanna Macy identified the notion of hope as a verb – ‘hope in action’.
Start with personal actions.
Find out your ecological footprint, and identify ways you can reduce it. Encourage others to do the same – do it in groups to amplify your impact and develop new ideas together. Once you look at your ecological footprint, you may well start to identify how hard it is for we Australians to live in a one-planet manner.
Find out where people are at.
Above is a photo of the Eco-cycle, developed by Professor Peter Hawkins with the Climate Coaching Alliance. This is a helpful tool to identify where people are on their journey. Not everyone is ready to take action immediately, but if you observe that someone is curious and open to learning more, you can help to guide them through the stages of educating themselves and becoming aware and engaged, then finally taking action. You can contextualise the changes we’re experiencing with personal stories to make it seem less ‘out there’.
You can’t change people’s beliefs by telling them to. In my early work in this sphere, I was convinced I could do precisely that, and I can assure you it won’t work. Instead, begin by asking questions. I have often asked, “how do you really want to live and work?” Interestingly, having asked this question of people from all over the world, no one has ever said they want more material possessions. Consistently, people want rewarding work, to be appreciated, and to have a healthy environment to live in for themselves and their children. They want connections with those they care about and love.
Cultural evolution from exploitative to a caring society
That last question liberates what I have come to understand as the values of sustainability which reside within each of us. It makes sense that we humans innately ‘know’ the conditions that suit us best to survive and thrive. IN our western world, we seem to have lost track of these values through the way we have focussed on taking what we need from the natural and human environment and forget that we depend upon the natural or more-than-human world for our most basic needs – water, food and air and shelter. Let’s work out how to live by the values we know will serve us well. This is the massive cultural transformation we need now – and we all not only can but need to be a part of it.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but I hope it sparks some inspiration to make like a bee and start doing your bit.