A social mandate for climate action
Climate for Change is a not-for-profit organisation with a mission to create the social environment in Australia needed for effective action on climate change. By working at the individual and household level, they have effectively engaged thousands of Australians. The way they have achieved this isn’t through public lectures or rallies – it’s through conversations amongst friends and family.
The organisation arose in 2014 in Melbourne, Australia, in recognition that inadequate political action was reflective of limited engagement with Australians outside the “climate change bubble”. Rather than preaching to the converted, Climate for Change has been working hard to embed climate change into the mainstream public consciousness.
To achieve their core mission to create a social mandate for effective government action, Climate for Change engages everyday people in democracy through peer-to-peer discussions on climate change. They do this by working within networks of trust to reframe climate action as a social norm, thereby enabling people to face up to and engage with a potentially contentious issue.
As such, Climate for Change is bridging the gaps between scientific knowledge, citizen engagement and political ambition.
Facilitating conversations about climate change…
Climate for Change is based on a “party plan model”, similar to that pioneered by Tupperware. Under this model, an individual nominates to host a gathering at their house. At this gathering, attendees are encouraged to host subsequent events with their own social networks – thereby growing Climate for Change’s outreach.
The organisation uses this model to access people who wouldn’t normally engage with the issue of climate change in a proactive manner, such as by attending a public rally or lecture. The conversations are based on existing social networks, with the topic of climate change and a trained Climate for Change facilitator being the only added variables. As such, climate change is brought into a comfortable and familiar setting to attendees where every aspect of the event is “normalised”, except for the topic of conversation.
Key to Climate for Change’s work is engaging people on their own terms. The organisation asks people to reflect on whether climate change is important to them as an individual, and why this is the case. To do this, the trained facilitators create an inclusive and open forum where people are encouraged to ask questions and have the time and space to consider how climate change impacts them personally.
Climate for Change frames their work as a democratic project in citizen education and participatory climate action. Attendees are asked to reflect on their own beliefs and values through conversation and are provided with specific ideas and actions they can pursue after the event. Climate for Change encourages people to go beyond individualistic action to amplify their impact, such as by hosting a subsequent gathering or writing to their Member of Parliament.
…While building and bridging the knowledge base
Through its focus on helping everyday people have peer-to-peer conversations about climate change, Climate for Change occupies a unique and important space within the NGO sector.
Climate for Change hopes their conversations are a catalyst for climate action, particularly for attendees who wouldn’t normally engage with the issue. In this way, an objective of the organisation’s work is to increase public education and civic engagement. This contrasts with other free public conversations which often have a specific outcome in mind for the organiser – such as ‘focus group’ consultations held by local governments to feed into council strategies.
From the initial pilot conversation held in the second half of 2015, Climate for Change has grown to an organisation with over 100 trained facilitators. These facilitators attend gatherings to generate and steer discussion amongst attendees. Rather than being climate change “experts”, facilitators are everyday people who passion and drive for the issue and have been trained to hold (at times) emotionally demanding conversations.
At each event, the facilitator begins by showing a video which illustrates formal and objective ways of knowing climate change, including the science behind the greenhouse effect and feedback loops. This video is used as a stimulus for discussion with attendees, as the facilitator encourages people to move beyond objective reasoning to connect with climate change on an emotional level.
Facilitators connect the objective with the emotional by using science as a starting point, then asking questions like: “How does this knowledge make you feel?” In this way, climate for change is bridging the gap between objective/formal and subjective/informal ways of knowing climate change.
The science and objective knowledge presented in the video is seen as an enabler, rather than an end point. What is most important is the conversations which follow and the avenues that are provided for ongoing engagement and involvement.
At the end of the event, facilitators provide options for people wishing to act, such as hosting a subsequent Climate for Change event, joining the facilitator community or writing to local members of parliament. In this way, Climate for Change are also bridging the gap between education in climate knowledge and action.
“Knowledge of climate change is good, but only if you know how to act,” says Blanche Verlie, a trained Climate for Change facilitator. According to Verlie, when it comes to climate change, “we don’t have a knowledge deficit; only an empowerment deficit”.
In addition to bridging the gap between knowledge and action, Climate for Change is also building new knowledge on how to have effective and meaningful conversations about climate change. Research to date has tended to focus on mass communication and psychology of climate change, rather than the importance of peer-to-peer conversations. Climate for Change has found that two aspects are particularly important for effective peer-to-peer conversations – being a good listener and asking the right questions.
From local conversations to national impacts
While Climate for Change ultimately aims to influence federal climate policy and discourse, they do this through local means of engagement. Events tap into existing social networks, which are inherently place-based and localised in nature. Attendees are encouraged to engage with their local member for parliament to stress the urgency of the climate crisis and demand better policy.
To help attendees engage with their local members, Climate for Change is currently supporting local “MP Engagement Groups” run by other volunteers in their community. These events provide people with the opportunity to write to their MP in a collaborative and supported space.
The ‘theory of change’ central to Climate for Change’s work is that the more people they can reach through gatherings, the more engagement there will be between citizens and government. From this, we can expect to see more ambitious and urgent government action on climate change.
Over the coming months Climate for Change will continue its goal of influencing Australian climate discourse through a partnership with the Australian Conservation Foundation. They hope to use this partnership to increase democratic engagement in the lead up to the 2019 federal election.