There is a dual approach needed to fight climate change: We need systemic change and we need personal change. However, frequently the need for dual tactics is keeping us stuck. So often I see energy that could be spent fighting the current system or building alternatives being spent one of two ways:
- Shaming people who are working for systemic change as having no right to challenge the powers that be unless they have taken care of every personal environmental practice they can (e.g. how can you fight pipelines if you ever drive a car?).
- Shaming people for taking personal action when we need systemic change (e.g. why are you vegan when the US military is causing the most damage?).
The result is finger pointing that does’t accomplish change in either direction. It keeps us playing into the hands of the status quo. We are busy shaming each other and don’t challenge the systems that are harming the planet. Here’s the thing–you can have a less than ideal lifestyle and want to change the system. You can work to have an environmentally gentle lifestyle and not undermine the need for systemic change. What if we were to make room for both as complimentary? As Greta Thunberg stated in her Brilliant Minds speech, “I know we need a system change rather than individual change. But you can not have one without the other.”
Let’s stop pitting issues against each other! Too often one important issue is used to dismiss another, rather than working in solidarity. We see memes that ask why we are focusing on plastic waste when cigarette butts cause significant water pollution. This can keep us stuck in a similar holding pattern of finger pointing and blaming others for having the wrong focus or the “real issue.” I’m ready to stop this.
Let’s stop the finger pointing! Let’s and applaud folks who are eating less meat or who are taking less plane trips while also coming together to meaningfully change the agribusiness model for food and mainstream the use of sustainable energy systems. I am committed to working both personally and systemically for eco-justice and hold the importance of multiple causes at once. Let’s build communities that make this more doable for more people.
A common thread in all of this is that we lack wide spread ways have having respectful and generative dialogue about climate change resistance. Shaming is a habit and a cultural norm at this point.
Today I am working on building class exercises to strengthen respectful and generative dialogue about climate change resistance. The initial discussion will take place at the beginning of the term as part of building rapport with the class as a whole.will include the following:
- Everyone writes down a concern they have about climate change and passes their paper to another student.
- The recipient writes down an action that addresses the concern they receive and passes the paper again.
- A third person will read the concerns and suggestions out loud.
- With the larger class, each issue and action will be discussed with “yes and” statements (thank you theatre improv).
In addition to rapport, this provides a structure to build on rather than dismissing or shaming other people’s concerns and suggestions. This is a
necessary part of moving beyond all-or-nothing thinking. For example, “plastic straws should be banned,” or “that’s ableist, they aren’t a problem.” We must build anti-oppressive solutions that do not throw out an issue because it needs adaptation. Some people require plastic straws but what could a larger norm be that reduces harm to sea turtles? What if we answered with “yes and” statements with this issue: e.g. “we need to reduce waste,” “yes and people who require plastic straws to live need to have accessible hydration,” “yes and so a total ban can cause harm.” Yes and, yes and, until we generate a non-oppressive solution. Then we begin to devise a plan.
Central to this is that we are not debating whether or not climate change is real. That has been proven (I’m also not dedicating class time to debate whether or not the earth is round). We are not questioning whether or not it is a problem (numerous populations are already suffering). As part of teaching social justice, we have to take climate change reality into account.
For the second exercise, students take one of the topics and pick a doable course of action that will make a meaningful contribution. When identifying a course of action students will address how the issue is experienced across intersections: how do disability and gender, gender and race, disability and class, and so on shape how the issue is experienced across social locations? The action does not have to solve everything, it just has to add something. For example, the BFDF Community Garden does not solve the issues of corporate food control or racism, ableism, and colonialism of urban food deserts. It does make a positive contribution that responds to the problem at hand. Over the course of the term students will create and implement one project that addresses a concern in a practical way.
This is a structure is transferrable across teaching areas. I teach in Women and Gender Studies and Honors programs. My course load includes teaching Gender and Popular Culture, Queer Theory, Theatre and Social Movements. Very few of my courses are specifically related to climate. But really, there is no subject that is divorced from having a livable eco system and home planet. Is there an area of your work or your life where you teach or mentor? How can you build models of having Ecojustice dialogues into your everyday?