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Fighting the Climate Crisis: The Significance of Community Organizations


Photo taken by Emily Xu (2022).


Since the late 1950s, humans have slowly begun to acknowledge the effects our actions have on the environment around us: the loss of biodiversity, rising temperatures, shorter growing seasons, and more. We sensed changes in our cities, communities, workplaces, schools, governments, laboratories, infrastructures and companies. People from all over the world are becoming more aware of what this planet is trying to provide, endure, and conserve.


A commonly used term to define the consequences of human development is anthropogenic climate change. This is the phenomenon that results from human activity increasing greenhouse gas emissions and raising global temperatures.


From the state the environment is in right now, humans are approaching maximum limits within several Earth’s planetary boundaries. Planetary boundaries is a concept that includes 9 boundaries categorized to illustrate the elements of regulating a stable and resilient planet (Stockholm, 2022). As of 2022, shown in the figure below, humanity has already exceeded several boundaries, and is working beyond the “safe operating space”. If we continue to exceed other planetary boundaries, the future of our planet will turn for the worst.


Designed by Azote for Stockholm Resilience Centre, based on analysis in Persson et al 2022 and Steffen et al 2015 (Stockholm, 2022).


What about right now?


It is clear that, based on the widespread knowledge and awareness, people are aware of the changing environment and the negative effects it has on our health, economic stability, and mental health. However, the problem turns from lack of awareness to lack of momentous change. In a survey done on Canadians about their public opinion on climate change, there were two key trends that we were left with: there is wide support for a green economy and sustainable practices, but a lack of interest to participate in climate activism and acknowledge individual responsibility (Norman, 2022). This is a common trend that I even experience and see in my own family and community. This phenomenon can be explained in a few ways:

1. First, is the failure to anticipate the problem. As identified by Jared Diamond in his book, Collapse, when one does not have prior experience dealing with such a problem, it is common for one to be desensitized to the possibility of a disaster (Diamond, 423). In other words, because our society has no prior experience dealing with climate change, we are only able to predict the possible outcome of increasing temperatures and anticipate the results. However, even with experience, it is not guaranteed that society would be able to stop the problem. We are often told that humans should “learn from experience” and try to draw from historical events. But the tricky thing with climate change is that old solutions might not actually be the best fit for new problems. The world is constantly changing, the human population is growing, and new cultures are emerging. If we were to believe that one solution is fit for all problems, we are completely ignoring the reality of the climate crisis which is integrated in our systemically built world.
2. The second reason, also recognized by Jared Diamond, is the failure to address the problem in the first place (Diamond, 434). For years, activists, governments, corporations, and communities have proposed ideas and ways to create environmentally-sustainable changes in our traditional practices. However, each year, the climate situation seems to continue to worsen. Why? It is easy to say, “We are not doing enough”, but the true consequence is the dwindling faith and motivation to continue to act when results are not being seen. The anecdote that Diamond uses is the story of “The Boy Who Cries, Wolf”. The more times you give a false warning, the more likely it is for people to ignore the warning when the problem actually appears (Diamond, 434). This situation happens every day when the news continuously reminds us of the fatalities due to natural disasters, new record-breaking temperatures, and growing instability due to environmental challenges. For people living in communities that do not experience extreme weathers, it may be difficult to fully comprehend the fully potential of climate change. In these situations, it is also hard to see the positives of taking immediate action. As a result, people are becoming less sensitive to the warnings and feel little responsibility to make any changes.
3. Thirdly, eco-anxiety and the clashes between different values. As defined by Britt Wray in her book, Generation Dread, eco-anxiety “refers to an assortment of challenging feelings a person can have after they’ve awoken to the planetary health crisis…we call these feelings by their right names: fear, terror, anxiety, depression, despair, overwhelm, stress, worry, sadness, rage, grief, guilt, heartbreak, dread (Wray, 22).” This might stem from the unsettling idea of lack of control over natural/physical processes and the inability to fully surrender. Such conflicted feelings can influence the way people act and the decisions societies make. But, this feeling can also be explained due to clashes between different values and perspectives. In the western world, many youths feel the pressure of the rapidly growing environment. With common stereotypes depicting “green lifestyle and sustainability” as the opposite of “wealth and power”, many are uncomfortable with the feeling of giving up common characteristics of wealth. An example is the ability to always maintain a full fridge, a closet full of clothing, and being ‘stocked-up’ of daily used products. Such values are also commonly mistaken for “better quality of life”, which drives increased consumption and waste production: the opposite of what a sustainable lifestyle should be like.

Eco-anxiety can negatively harm societies’ motivation, especially in local communities and youth, in tackling the climate crisis. Research by Pew Research Center has found that Gen Z and Millennials are more likely to engage in the issue of climate change, compared to older adults. One reason for this is the increased usage of social media as a source of news and connection with opportunities to share concerns. However, although increased engagement is a positive sign, youth are also more likely to express anxiety about their future in relation to climate change and the type of content that they see. A survey that Britt Wray and her colleague conducted clearly illustrates the effects eco-anxiety has on the newer generation:


“In 2021, my colleagues and I conducted a survey that looked at climate anxiety in 100,000 children and young people (aged sixteen to twenty-five) in ten countries around the world: Nigeria, Philippines, India, Brazil, Portugal, Australia, USA, France, Finland, Uk. Of the global respondents, 45 percent said that their feelings about climate change negatively affect their daily life and function (this could include eating, concentrating, work, school, sleeping, spending time in nature, playing, having fun or relationships). Over half said they think that humanity is doomed, that they won’t have access to the same opportunities their parents have and that the things they most value will be destroyed; 39 percent said they were hesitant to have children (Wray, 25).”


The full study can be found here.


This study clearly shows the emotional distress youth are facing. Of course, this is not only limited to young people. In fact, many older adults feel a loss in their environmental identity from witnessing the “unravelling of the climate crisis” throughout their whole lives (Wray, 25). Eco- and climate anxiety is increasing among all generations and is threatening our well-being and perspective on life in varying ways.


Next Steps:

Well, you have likely come this far into this blog because you now want to know what you can do to help. I hope that from sharing my experiences, you can see the simplicity of taking climate action immediately.


The first solution to increasing climate resilience and implementing effective policies is by incorporating community engagement. Community engagement is crucial because it directly connects people with policies, access to technology and knowledge, and support, while also ensuring that solutions are made with the right priorities. Communities and cities are places of diverse demographics and socio-economic statuses. By drawing support from residents and allowing them to become more involved in climate strategies, we are also acknowledging the differences in environmental inequality, income and racism. Climate solutions should be tailored for each community considering the different types of people, and environment, each is built for.


So what should we be doing:

  1. First of all, governments of all levels should increase their spending or allocation of money to provide grass-root organizations with the monetary support for implementing events.

  2. Creating government organizations that employ citizens of the community to participate in developing policies/guidelines. This would not only increase the support communities give to climate change solutions, but it would also foster local leadership and engagement (Kelly et al., 2017).

As a community leader in my neighbourhood, I have recognized the greater need for building community relationships and creating inclusive environments for people to learn about how to become climate resistant in simple and affordable ways. For example, my organization has hosted food waste challenges and discussions, conducted nature walks, worked with local universities to improve community gardens, and built connections with other organizations to implement interactive and educational events. One special event that connects sustainability, food waste, and art together is called Splash on Earth. From this event, we have connected with over 700+ families who have participated in creating artwork on sidewalks in parks using eco-friendly paint made out of old flour, water, and food colouring. On the outside, it seems like we are just a simple art event, but in truth, the whole community was involved. From implementing the event, creating recycled cushions made out of recycled curtains, and gathering 20+ youth volunteers; to building connections with local food banks (to get the old-inedible flour), putting together an educational children’s book, and advertising. The ability to get groups of people and a whole community involved in an event that not only spreads environmental awareness but also positivity. As mentioned above, eco-anxiety and the constant reminder of negative events cause many individual to feel purposeless. However, Splash on Earth showcases the importance of environmental action that can empower people in enjoyable ways and create long lasting impacts. Once people recognize that they can support and contribute to environmental activism in simply ways, the desire to do so would only increases. Participants in one event is more likely to participate in another event. The ability to continuously engage with community members would ensure that the environmental crisis is always being dealt with, and the attention on it continues to grow.


All thanks to a few passionate community leaders and the support of government grants, Splash on Earth is an example of how local initiative can create meaningful change. I have personally been able to witness the significant impact such events can have on individuals of all backgrounds and ages. Many children would come after the event, expressing their joy of being able to spend time outdoors with their friends and/or family, while also helping their environment. The connections communities build from simple interactions in a community event can, unconsciously, build trust and foster belief that they are not alone. Climate activism is meant to be done collectively and supporting community organizations can engage with more people quicker!


Photos taken by Emily Xu (2022).


If grants are more accessible and youth are given the confidence to take action on the environmental crisis, more events like the one I have helped implement can help re-motivate society to continue to tackle the climate crisis. I would also encourage YOU, to go out and find a local community organization to support or even start your own! It might seem daunting to begin with, but it will be all worth the effort in the end.


The second solution is to revise the environmental curriculum taught in schools. As already identified, youths are the most vulnerable to eco-anxiety and the effects of environmental challenges. Schools should be teaching students the “truth” behind the climate crisis. Not only the negatives but about the systematic roots of climate issues. It is important that future generations are equipped with the skill set to identify the interconnected elements our world is made out of and the confidence to develop their own perspectives. This can be done by talking about ways to confront their emotions on climate and/or diving deeper into environmental policy. In schools right now, very little attention is put on climate change and the effects it has on society, culture, and our health. Instead, we are focused on what we already know about climate change, mainly the science behind all the thinking that we see. However, by allowing youth to acknowledge the social and individual factors contributing to the climate crisis, the future generation would be more resilient to the increased effects of climate change. Additionally, they would feel more confident about human action and motivated to make a positive change.


One reason why supporting community engagement and education are the solutions I have proposed is because have the potential to deeply influence the cultural elements of our society. The way we act, live, and consume is ingrained in our cultural perspectives. No matter how much green technology we develop, if we consume unsustainability, and support inequitable practices, we will never be able to fully deal with the climate crisis. Technology may be able to expand the planetary boundaries (discussed above), but resources will still be limited to the closed system we have here on Earth. We may have a smaller impact on the environment with the help of green technology, but that is not a reason for humans to consume even more. Instead, through cultural changes in stereotypes, common consumption practices, and ideology, future societies may finally be able to live in a mutual relationship with the environment.


I hope that society can recognize the amount of effort put into climate activism and that the changes happening right now are all helping us improve. Climate change isn’t all about natural disasters and rising temperatures. Climate change is a problem that is giving people a choice to improve the way we live and how we will sustain on Earth. It is important to acknowledge we all have the power to make changes. Getting involved in community organizations, learning more about the climate crisis, and supporting one another, are all ways individuals can create an impact.


“All powers have two sides, the power to create and the power to destroy. We must recognize them both, but invest our gifts on the side of creation.” Robin Wall Kimmerer (Braiding Sweetgrass, 2013)


Finally, remember that simple individual actions can also make large impacts. Whether you like going hiking, gardening, travelling, or use sitting outside, remember to continue to act responsibly and with the good of the environment in mind. If you hope to become more sustainable through the food that you eat, products that you buy, or clothing your wear, taking step-by-step actions will always get you to your goals. The important thing to remember is that ‘you never know unless you have tried!’




Photo

Photo taken by Dear Earth (2022).



References:


Baussan, D., & Kelly, C. (2017, September 28). A Framework for Local Action on Climate Change. Center for American Progress. https://www.americanprogress.org/article/framework-local-action-climate-change/


Diamond, J. (2011). Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail Or Succeed: Revised Edition. Penguin Publishing Group.


Kimmerer, R. W. (2013). Braiding Sweetgrass. Milkweed Editions.


Norman, P. (2022, July 6). Canadian government responsible for mitigating climate change: poll. Vancouver Is Awesome. https://www.vancouverisawesome.com/highlights/canadians-want-action-on-climate-change-but-majority-are-socially-disengaged-5551546


Stockholm Resilience Centre. (2022). Planetary boundaries. Stockholm Resilience Centre. https://www.stockholmresilience.org/research/planetary-boundaries.html




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