A couple of months back, as part of the Manchester International Festival, the Guardian sponsored an event called “The Manchester Report.” 20 ideas (mostly at the barking end of technofixery) about how to tackle climate change were presented to a panel of the great and the good, with an audience (even paler maler and staler than usual) watching. One of the speakers (and by far the best that the MCFly crew saw) was Dr Rosemary Randall, of Cambridge Carbon Footprint. She talked about the work she did with people around the psychological barriers to reducing carbon footprints, and a whole lot else besides. She also very kindly agreed to an email interview- and here it is… [The hyperlinks are added by MCFly.]
Could you describe the nature of- and inspiration for – the CCF programme, especially what gap you felt it was filling?
The inspiration came from being invited to a conference at the Centre for Alternative Technology in 2005 to celebrate Peter Harper‘s 60th birthday. I gave a short version of the paper I wrote ‘A new climate for psychotherapy?’ and reconnected with people and ideas that I’d not been in touch with deeply for some time. I returned from that conference with the idea of trying to initiate some practical work on climate change that took account of the psychological factors I’d been describing in the paper – the strange phenomena of knowledge and awareness accompanied by inaction at both personal and political levels. That was the beginning of trying to find ways of talking, relating, engaging with people that would help them connect with each other, work through the anxiety, guilt and fear about the issue, confront the losses that climate change faces us with and use their creativity in trying to create a different kind of society that has a real future in it.
We began by using CAT’s carbon calculator as a tool for having conversations with people about their personal impact on climate change. Asking questions about people’s homes, their travel, what they eat and how they spend their money, takes you instantly into very personal areas where people’s feelings and sense of identity are both vulnerable and in play. Handled well, this kind of conversation can open windows for people – both in their minds and on the world and inspire them to get involved and take action.
A further inspiration came from meeting Shilpa Shah, a couple of months into our project who pitched up saying ‘What are you doing about BME communities?’ and that was the beginning of of the Akashi project (Akashi means ‘to the sky’) and our emphasis on diversity and inclusivity, taking seriously the need to understand and work with different audiences, not to assume that everyone thinks like we do. We began designing talks and workshops and participative events that asked people what they thought, found out more about how they felt and how climate change affected them, both practically and emotionally. We started thinking more deeply about values and ethics and culture as well, bringing this into the conversations we had.
We realised quickly that making people more aware and engaged either by holding a conversation about their footprint or running a workshop for them didn’t go very far in actually achieving carbon reduction. This is where the Carbon Conversations groups started from – they were essentially an answer to the question of how to help people face the problems of reducing emissions in a creative way. We felt that two things were needed – reliable practical resources/information and space for people to explore what change means, how to face it, how to work through the feelings that accompany it. My background as a psychotherapist comes in quite strongly here – I’m interested in how people change, how they deal with loss and grief, how they can support each other, work together creatively and so on. We were also aware that any project needed to be reproducable, it needed to be capable of being delivered by volunteers and that we would need to train and support those volunteers. When we started there wasn’t much good material available. That changed with the publication of a flush of books in 2007-8 on how to make reductions, but none of them really addressed the psychology of change, or how you might use a group to work on the issues. We started writing our material and creating our games early in 2006 and it has all gone through many, many changes before emerging as the publicly available books and packs that we now have.
I think the gap that I saw and that we were trying to fill was the one of engaging people at an emotional and psychological level with the problem.
What lessons did you learn that you’d want to put in a bottle and send back to your earlier self, to make it an easier process? (as in, what mistakes did you make that were not useful for learning from)
Take it slowly, don’t respond to everything anyone asks you to do, stick to your core values, keep explaining about the psychological elements, keep looking for new ways of opening up possibilities that normalise a psychological approach and emotional intelligence.
What is stopping your style of programme from being more broadly “rolled out”- is it lack of money, of trained staff, of “emotional intelligence“?
All of these, but primarily money and time. If these were in place we would be able to roll-out – people are interested and the demand is there but without being able to pay people to organise and deliver training it’s difficult
What dangers – if any- do you see in the heavy focus on Copenhagen in a lot of climate campaigning?
I think the problems lie in what happens after Copenhagen. If we get what appears to be a good deal, everyone, activists included will relax. If we get a fudged deal, the general population won’t realise it is a fudge and will relax, assuming the problem is now taken care of, leaving activists to carry the burden of continued political action. The danger with any deal is that this is the moment that vested interests move in to neutralise it in the delivery.
Anything else you’d like to say!!
I’m pleased at the reception of the 10:10 campaign – it seems to be building real interest. The problem of course is how to follow 10% in 2010 with another 10% in 2011, another in 2012 and so on and I think this needs to be better built in to the campaign. There are problems too in how people and organisations actually deliver the 10% they have pledged. Many have no idea what this might actually mean and certainly little idea of how radically their lives need to change if they are going to knock off a lot more than 10%. Certainly our Carbon Conversations groups could help here, if we could get them more widely rolled out as people typically knock that first 10% off immediately and do start to make plans for further reductions, having worked through what is really involved.
I think there are many ways of approaching personal action on climate change and I’m always fascinated to hear about what other people are doing and what has worked for them. I also think there are many facets to work on climate change. We need to make personal reductions. We also need to engage politically. I’m always hoping for cross-fertilisation of ideas and openness to the actions of others. One of the sad things about any movement working on such a difficult topic as climate change is that sometimes in the face of the crisis, people project onto other activists that they are doing the wrong thing, or taking the wrong approach and you get internecine squabbling – incredibly destructive and sad. I think the climate change movement has on the whole managed better than some movements to keep a hold on to the bigger picture and not to descend into this. Stop Climate Chaos, for all its faults, is a genuine coalition, as is the Low Carbon Communities Network. All power to us!