Community involvement is key to tackling climate change
If you feel powerless or confused about how to transform your concern into measurable change, start with the people who surround you. Here are nine ways to engage your community in climate action.
1. Research your community action plan or strategy
Does your city have a climate action plan? Find out the measures that are being taken in your area and get involved with the initiatives implemented by your local government. A simple Google search is a great way to start. Find out when open houses are held, how you can participate, where to share your voice (i.e. public surveys or contact pages) and look for ways to contribute to active strategies. These plans should have actionable steps, transparent goals, a process of accountability and lead to a low-carbon future.
2. Connect with groups and resources already in existence
As the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us, your community doesn’t have to be the physical neighbourhood where you live. Seek out people with shared interests, such as a hobby or sport, online or in-person. While it’s helpful to join an eco-focused group for moral support, you will likely be preaching to the choir. Instead, connect through a commonality and encourage others to get involved. Bring friends to help at a local river clean-up, volunteer at a community farmer’s market or even suggest adding fighting climate change as a company value at your workplace.
3. Create sustainability projects that fit what’s missing
Is there an imperative need that could be tackled with government support? Are you passionate about starting a petition to help your community? Is no one talking about a major issue you think you could help solve? We’re all unique, with our own strengths, abilities, interests and backgrounds. Find what is missing that you can contribute to and use your unique skills to set in motion positive change.
4. Be inclusive
Ask yourself: Whose voices are not being heard? Broadly reach out to include diverse people in your community in discussions and events. Make participating and leadership opportunities easy and accessible for folks who may not have an excess of time, resources or power to help with the climate crisis. Barriers to involvement need to be removed, especially for minority groups, people with disabilities and people living in poverty, who are disproportionately affected by climate change. Don’t forget about engaging children and youth, who enrich and educate the entire movement. These are the ones who will have to live with the results of our collective action or inaction, so they should be involved in decision-making and action planning.
5. Lead by example and use positive messaging
Do you plant trees? Shop local? Cycle, walk or take public transit rather than drive short distances? Let your actions speak for themselves. No one really likes being told what to do. If you can show others in a practical way—mistakes and all—it will translate to positive, inclusive messaging that acknowledges the difficulties of sustainable living while proving it can be done. Show the benefits, be creative and give replicable examples. Be open to two-way communication, listening and learning.
6. Use technology and tools you already have
If you have a social media following, YouTube channel, friend network or even a few in-person contacts, you can provide information and spark discussions that contribute to community climate action. UBC environment and sustainability geography student Mckenna Liski referenced A Field Guide to Climate Anxiety by Sarah Jaquette Ray for helping her understand that “people are scared or feel no hope when they learn about how bad things are so then they tunnel away and don’t do anything or deny it as a way to protect themselves.” Everyone responds differently to learning about the state of our collective home, so we need to create a safe space for others’ emotions and our own.
7. Embrace skeptics and meet people where they’re at
There are many people with different values, beliefs, priorities and experiences around climate science that may lead them to exercise different actions. Avoid gatekeeping: excluding people you don’t think are doing enough to be considered eco-activists. People have different abilities to take immediate action as individuals. Others will disagree with you, but you may find common ground that is still beneficial for the environment. For example, climate change deniers may support sustainable actions for other reasons, such as saving money. You can’t force people to change their minds. The most important thing is to all be working together toward the same result: positive climate action.
8. Tackle widespread issues and personal goals
Transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gases—responsible for two-thirds of emissions. We need to divest from companies that are at the root of the climate change problem and stop investing in companies that use fossil fuels. Consider how your community can decrease landfill waste, increase green areas and invest in living situations that are more sustainable. Add new personal goals, like reducing meat and animal products you consume, or researching the environmental and human impact your current diet has to keep yourself in check and growing in the movement.
9. Keep a checklist with small tasks
It can be overwhelming to try to complete lofty goals. If you don’t succeed, it feels disheartening and members of your community may give up. Making SMART goals and compiling small actions to check off a list is more motivating and satisfying than attempting to achieve one large goal. Don’t expect a sudden, massive change all at once. You’ll encounter roadblocks, both simple and seemingly insurmountable. There are ways to continue—it will take persistence, teamwork and strong leadership.