There are some practical ways to engage with people in your community about climate change. First, if we want to change the culture that has led to vast, excessive consumption and massive greenhouse gases, we want to engage with people directly (versus protests or petitions) and help people realize that environmentalists are a normal part of the community, not outside of it. Heck, we once were most of the communities here in the U.S.: 78% in 1991; as per a Gallup poll which showed that the majority of people considered themselves environmentalists (long Ref). Unfortunately, it was down to 42% in 2016 and has stayed that way into March 2021 (41%; https://news.gallup.com/poll/1615/environment.aspx). It may be that people are busy trying to earn money to pay off debts during a recession, or they have kids while working even harder than before to make a living, and/or they just don’t know what else to do. There has also been increasingly strong partisanship, where labels make a difference.
Still, 42% is a big chunk of the American public, and if we had folks proud of being environmentalists before, we can switch the numbers back. There are three signs of hope:
- Although many Americans do not consider themselves “environmentalists,” (via the Gallup poll), a 2017 Pew study found that 75% of Americans were “particularly concerned” about the environment as they go about their daily lives, and 63% conduct their lives at least part of the time in ways that help the environment. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/04/20/for-earth-day-heres-how-americans-view-environmental-issues/. Other polls via Gallup show similar numbers. (https://news.gallup.com/poll/1615/environment.aspx.)
- Globally -and more recently, 64% of people believe that climate change is a global emergency, including 65% of U.S. citizens, 81% (!) of UK and Italian citizens, 52% of Argentinians, etc… https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/jan/27/un-global-climate-poll-peoples-voice-is-clear-they-want-action.
- Neighbors are very influential on the beliefs of other neighbors. “….what people believe their community members care about is an important predictor of individual conservation behavior, above and beyond people’s own beliefs about energy conservation.”https://www8.gsb.columbia.edu/newsroom/newsn/6685/do-as-your-neighbor-does-neighbors-caring-about-the-environment-makes-you-more-likely-to-conserve. “….The roadmap to improving perceptions of conservation starts with reminding individuals that their neighbors care about it.”
So let’s give our neighbors some ideas on how to be environmental. Here are three ways:
Research and Write with the Neighborhood in Mind
First, a useful climate step is to create a factsheet or article about a discrete topic related to the area and pass around your neighborhood, put in your library, and share with organizations in your area who will share it further. Our community group Green Neighbors DC members and followers do this. We’ve had a Girl Scout do up one about EDC’s (endocrine-disrupting chemicals) in our local river, and our intern Peter just put two together about environmental justice groups and youth environmental groups in DC. One of our CSteps members is doing one for her city in the UK on actions one can take, alphabetically.
This action is specific (versus – just a “save the environment” sign), doable, measurable, and impactful. Plus you learn something great at the same time. Just be sure to list your references in the sheet, so people can judge its quality. This is so important in a time of disinformation.
and more examples at: https://greenneighborsdc.org/resources/.
Go where the community goes – to market. Several weeks ago four of us in Green Neighbors DC spent mid-morning to early afternoon tabling about the environment at a Washington, DC, farmers’ market, armed with factsheets (see above), tools from the local tool library (see below), example plants from a green roof and plants from a rain garden, a compost bin, and crayons for the kids. It was so social in a cool, fun way, and we drew in a crowd. I met new, nice people. It is a great way to talk about environmental solutions. That day alone, I discussed with visitors #raingardens, #greenroofs, our work on DC’s tool library (see below), our intern’s research summarizing environmental groups in DC (see above), #lead in DC water, city initiatives in public transportation, solar ovens, and nature tours. I am not sure what my compatriots talked about, but at least 12 joined our list-serve..
Being in a market, a person becomes both a communicator and connector here, helping people learn about and find resources. I highly recommend it as a climate step. And, handy hint: A compost bin of earthworms really draws in the kids, which draws in their parents, who ask general questions while their children color pictures of trees. Works 9/10 times with bringing kids in, and kids get to learn about composting.
Green Tours in the Neighborhood
Another good climate step is to organize a tour of one of the following: green changes in your neighborhood (such as installed rain gardens, solar, permeable pavers, etc ), green resources (e.g., community gardens), or pollution or other issues, inviting the public, media, and politicians. This one shown here to the right is again by Green Neighbors DC, and is of our city’s tool library, which is not well known, so we are helping market it. This tour was just for the general public; in the fall, we’ll have a full open house, where we’ll invite politicians and the media as well.
Tours not only help educate, but start conversations, create networks, and show appreciation – or frustration – for certain parties. And communication about resources help build up community action and resilience. Go for it.
Some other tour examples:
- Another tour we are planning is of our polluted, but recovering Anacostia river through the Anacostia Riverkeepers, a great chapter in a great global group, called Waterkeepers Alliance. I went on one several years ago with a group called DCEcowomen, and it was so fascinating!
- Portia in our Facebook Climate Steps group noted that their city has organized a tour of their natural resources.
- Karen noted that there have been nature turns by their local (nature) conservancy, and free workshops about establishing pollinator gardens and water gardens, which is kindof a “twofer.”
- Tracy from the United Kingdom (notice how she spells organizations) notes: “There are two organisations that I mention in my carbon literacy course: Bristol green doors open homes https://www.bristolgreendoors.org/events and another UK national green open homes group. http://www.greenopenhomes.net/ They have open days where u can talk to homeowners about the improvements they’ve made, no pressure, no sales talk, just real experience. It’s a great idea!”
Community action is a very impactful climate action for two reasons. One, you are increasing the communication about climate change by talking to multiple people, not just keeping your worry and the issues to yourself. Two, critically, people are more likely to trust someone they meet face-to-face about issues, and can judge who they are (http://content.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1998396,00.html). And, as mentioned at the start, getting out there with farmers’ markets and tours, as well as meeting your local librarian (to place factsheets) makes us part of the neighborhood, and it all leads to more social acceptance of environmentalism.
So build a tribe and share some actions.
Green Neighbors DC would like to thank Mark Stewart for turning our group onto tool libraries, through his article in Climate Steps. https://climatesteps.org/…/09/03/a-tool-library-is-a-seed/.