To those of us who are familiar with, and convinced by, the scientific evidence on human-caused climate change, the need for urgency of global action couldn't be clearer. And climate change being a "wicked" problem, there are many complementary forms of action to be taken. Once we've made the (often difficult) decision of what kind of action best suits our skills and resources, the temptation is to become very task-outcomes oriented, spending every available moment thinking, planning and acting on our agenda.
Unfortunately, this approach, though perhaps effective at first, is the recipe for activist burnout. This is appreciated by activist groups that encourage some recreational "down-time" for individual activists and local groups. I'd like to describe my take on one climate change focused organization in which time spent on self-care and building of relationships is endemic to the structure of their model of activism.
Citizens' Climate Lobby
Citizens' Climate Lobby has come on the climate change activism scene in the last decade, mostly in the USA, but now spreading internationally. Its focus is to empower citizens, through group lobbying of local representatives, to create the political will for governments to support climate change mitigation by enacting a carbon pricing system called a "fee and dividend". (More about the details of this can be found at citizensclimatelobby.org)
Having stumbled upon CCL while enrolled in a Climate Change MOOC, and with a background in deep ecology-based activist support, I was impressed by its human-centred flavour, and I now find myself involved in a fledgling local Sydney group. Aware of the urgent impulse to "go do it NOW!", I am seeking to ground myself and our group in the difference between CCL and other action-centred approaches.
What's Different about CCL?
My partner Alex and I recently participated in the CCL online training course in how to facilitate a Group-Start workshop, the initial start-up experience for new volunteers. Our teachers, Elli and Mark, were impressive in their heart-centred openness and the value they place on sharing of feelings as part of the Group-Start experience. On reflection, I am drawn to use a series of concentric circles to describe the CCL model:
In the outer layer, we build relationships with key people who influence the political process: we lobby our local politicians and talk to media editors, forming ongoing relationships which find common ground between their (often conservative) values and the opportunities presented by climate change; we also have non-confrontational climate change conversations with family, friends and strangers; our communication is based on inquiry, listening, being-with, and relationship development rather than presenting convincing information or applying pressure (summed up by our Group-Start teaching points: "be interested, not interesting" and "for, not against" using "power rather than force"). George Marshall's work on climate change communication, see climateoutreach.org.uk, is compatible with CCL's methods.
Underpinning this is practising non-confrontational communication and relationship building within our local groups; this contributes to our ability to work as a team in lobbying contexts, and is built upon time spent getting to know and appreciate one another and what we care about, sharing our activism journeys, and having fun together (What? Activism is Serious!); we are given the space to find our emerging contributions as volunteers and our team lobbying roles in the group, so that activism can be personally satisfying, on our growing edge, rather than taking us into scary territory; through CCL's emphasis on nurturing breakthroughs in personal power, we may find that, given time, we grow into more challenging roles.
And at the core of these relationships is our ongoing time devoted to self-awareness, savouring what we love about life, and engaging in feelings-based reflection in order to build our inner resilience and sustainability as citizen activists; the "despair and empowerment" and "work that reconnects" processes from Joanna Macy, brought into a climate change focus in her recent book (with Chris Johnstone) called Active Hope, can serve to guide your inner activist journey.
Giving it a Go
It is easy to neglect the inner two layers because they may seem, especially to "hard core" activists, like a waste of valuable time that could be spent "out there doing stuff". However, the volunteer turnover and personality issues within activist groups, and the slowness of the global response to climate change over the last twenty-five years, suggests to me that a more heart-centred, measured and inclusive stance may be worth a try.
The three-layer approach can be adapted to any climate change, environmental or social change organization, and I encourage you to consider possible adaptations you might incorporate into your world. And if your form of climate change activism could involve personal empowerment in citizen lobbying, I urge you to seek out and join, or start, your local CCL group! The more the merrier!