Host a Climate Change Workshop
Climate change can be a heavy topic to work on with your community. We reached out to Nadira Tabassum, president of Shawsti a grassroots community organization in Toronto and our very own Brianna Aspinall. Together, they delivered workshops on climate change to Shaswti participants.
Here is what they have to say about it.
“Shwasti” is a Bengali word meaning peace and comfort. It’s also the name of a grassroots community organization in Toronto’s Taylor Massey and Oakridge Neighborhood Improvement Area.
Many of the people who take part in Shwasti’s programs are from Bangladesh, a country on the frontline of climate change. When the group’s leaders sensed rising anxiety and fear about climate change, they looked to Park People to help develop new programming. As per their name, the group was eager to restore a sense of “peace and comfort” to their community in the face of this global challenge.
Park People supports Shwasti’s work, both through our Sparking Change program and in 2018 Shwasti received TD Park People Grant which they used to support the program.
The workshop was led by Park People’s own Brianna Aspinall. Besides her community engagement work at Park People, Brianna heads up Carbon Conversations TO. Brianna and her team delivered two workshops to Shwasti participants.
Start with the powerful feelings about climate change
Carbon Conversations TO, which hosted the two Shwasti climate change workshops, puts difficult feelings about climate change at the forefront. Nadira, the President of Shwasti, shared that with natural disasters occurring with greater frequency around the world, people in her community are feeling “concerned, fearful, anxious, confused and helpless.”
Emotions like anxiety and helplessness often lead people to avoid the topic of climate change. That's why recognizing emotions is the right place to begin the conversation.
Also, being in a group setting helps people feel less afraid about addressing climate change, and the isolating emotions that come with it.
Brianna suggests that "groups should be no larger than 10. The intimate group size helps people feel connected to the facilitator and one another so difficult feelings can surface".
One of the first exercises Shwasti participants engaged in was writing down their feelings about climate change. This helps people feel empowered and motivated rather than paralyzed by fear and uncertainty.
As Carbon Conversations TO states in their own documentation, ”in our conversations, we need to look at our irrationality in dealing with climate change with compassion and respect instead of judgment and filled with messages of fear and doom.”
Individual Action is the root of Collective Action
Dealing with difficult emotions in a supportive group sets the stage for what actions are needed to move toward a better future.
In the Carbon Conversations TO model, individual and collective action are bound together. Individual action inspires collective action, and collective action inspires individual action. It's a virtuous cycle that is set in motion once negative feelings are shared and managed.
As Nadira from Shwasti puts it: “The whole is made up of individuals. Individuals make up a society. Together, as a society, we are responsible for creating a safe world for the next generation.”
The workshop addressed the basics of carbon dioxide and its role in climate change. Participants were surprised that individual choices like air travel and meat consumption impact the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Armed with information, participants are asked what changes they could make to align with their hopeful view of the future. Again, emotions play a big role as we think about climate actions. So, the workshop not only asks "what changes could you make?" but also "what would be hard about this change?” and “what would you enjoy?”
The Blame Game is a Losing Game
Nadira underscored that the workshop was successful because no one felt judged or blamed. A judgement-free zone allows people to open up and have meaningful climate conversations.
In fact, research has shown that when people are open to discussing climate change with their community, they are “more likely to agree with scientific assessments of climate change over time, which encouraged further discussion—and inspired greater concern.”
On the second day of the workshop, the group voted to focus on the topic of consumption and waste. In a topic area where feelings of guilt and shame are prone to arise, people were discouraged from viewing their habits as good or bad. Instead, the focus was on the feelings behind purchasing decisions.
For a community group like Shwasti, it’s perhaps easier to shift from a focus on personal sacrifice to a new idea of happiness based on the collective. As Brianna put it in a recent interview:
“We have ideas of what the world might look like where it’s better for everyone, more socially just and better for the environment, so we need to build that by showing people what that looks like. Doing the right thing does not always mean that you’re sacrificing your happiness. There’s also happiness in these different types of actions.”
The Proof is in the Spreading
Inspired by the workshops, Shwasti recently hosted a festival in the park to help their community learn about climate change.
“We want to change habits in our local community,” says Nadira.
Following the festival, Shwasti hosted a local climate march through the community. Moving forward, the group is committed to sparking conversations with neighbours through a door to door campaign.
The workshop helped the group move from fear and anxiety to action by enabling them to gain a sense of power and control in their lives. This is what Carbon Conversations calls “active hope,” and it’s a powerful term.
Active hope begins by acknowledging the context we’re in around climate change, even if it’s difficult and painful. From there, it’s about thinking about the future you want – a stable climate, thriving communities built on justice and equity, and all that good stuff. Then, it’s about taking action toward that future.
Indeed, there is nothing simple about having active hope in a warming world. By leveraging the power of community to inspire collective action helps us address our fears. As the workshop demonstrates, this is key to taking control over our own “peace and comfort” in the face of climate change.
Thank you to the Ontario Trillium Foundation for their generous support of the Sparking Change Program.