DAILY LIFE: Changing the Climate Organizing Game

This recent tweet from the stellar climate writer Eric Holthaus pretty much sums up both the mental state and mission statement of Climate Pledge Collective.

holthaus tweet

I wouldn’t personally go so far as to say nothing is working.  Climate organizers have had a lot of successes — public perceptions of climate risk are changing rapidly, renewable energy is growing fast, relentless pipeline protests are actually keeping tar sands oil in the ground and divestment campaigns have oil companies running scared.  But when we consider the scale of the challenge, these small successes virtually disappear from sight.

Eric’s thread careened through a raw and powerful list of climate successes and anxieties and ended on this courageous note.

holthaus tweet2

The solutions to our climate crisis exist — I know people who work for the Ontario government who say they could bring emissions close to zero in the province if the government was willing to put up the money and tell them to do it (although freight transport and air travel remain very hard to decarbonize) — the problem is building the policital will to force governments to act.  And that requires numbers and determination.  It’s not enough that most people are loosely on our side — we are up against something that economists call ‘regulatory capture‘ on a massive scale.  We hear a lot about the ‘tragedy of the commons’ — but we should also be aware of the ‘tragedy of the corporation’, a world in which we have created blood-sucking institutions that will defend themselves from regulation even if doing so threatens the future safety of their own employees.  Regulatory capture is a common phenomena because businesses, beef farmers for example, care a lot more about cattle regulations than the average person does.  They will put up money and make calls and join forces to lobby very, very hard for regulations that protect their profit margins.  Fossil fuel companies are spending millions on lobbying and earning billions more in subsidies in return.

lobbying fossil fuels companies

So what can the climate movement do differently?  Why haven’t we succeeded yet?  It is my view that we have to recognize that climate change is part of our daily life, just like fossil fuel regulations are part of the daily life of fossil fuel executives.  This is not a new idea — important voices on climate twitter like Dr. Vive and Katharine Hayhoe are calling on us to talk climate on a daily basis.  Nor am I confidant it is the best idea — part of the path forward has to be different people trying different things — but I think it is worth taking a closer look at how daily life and climate organizing connect — or fail to connect.

What does it mean to open up climate organizing to peoples’ daily lives?  We don’t think much about this — partly because many activists are rightfully suspicious of proposals that suggest individual actions as a response to a collective problem.  But we have to remember that collective action is the statistical and sometimes chaotic sum of billions of individual actions — patterns and customs within daily life shape those actions as much as any individual law ever will.  This is not my own insight — it is a common view in relational sociology (see for example Deleuze and Guattari, Anthony Giddens or Eiko Ikegami).  Other research shows that social movements like workers’ movements and the civil rights movements are most effective when they are built out of the raw material of people’s daily lives.  Manuel Castells’ (1983) work on social movements makes the case that the most successful worker’s movements happened in places where the workers lived close to one another.  In particular, he highlights the role of women in organizing strikes and uprisings.  When workers lived together, their wives were able to organize their social networks around a common cause, organizing even while they prepared meals, provided childcare or went to the market.  Historically, women have done the work of daily life.  When women alter their routines, change comes very rapidly.  Others have suggested that while racial ghettoes are terrible for many reasons, they have often made the work of political organizing easier.  Climate change is an issue that impacts everyone and we need to start organizing along our regular networks — where we are already known and trusted — and during our regular routines — so that we have sufficient TIME to organize.

Climate Pledge Collective is committed to finding ways to help people integrate climate action into their daily lives.  This is one of the reason our pledge system includes individual choices like food and transportation — because people talk about their daily lives A LOT — and talking about a change like eating less meat or riding a bike is more natural than talking about carbon tax policy or scientific findings.  When we change our daily lives, people notice and we seed the ground for more change.

One event we’re working on is a campaign to get everyone to email everyone in their contact list about climate on earth day — in the hopes of smashing filter bubbles and tipping the ‘availability cascade’ (see below) further in our favour.

I’m also working to find ways to make climate my number one response to stock questions like ‘how are you’ or ‘what have you been up to’ — working on climate a lot makes this easier, but it’s still hard sometimes.  Another thing that can help is bringing along a team.  At a recent high school reunion, I emailed a few friends in advance and asked them to commit to talking about climate change — together we seeded the room and it felt like every little circle I stepped into was a conversation about climate.  People want to talk climate — but they don’t always feel comfortable bringing it up.

Bringing up climate change in ordinary situations isn’t always easy — the tyranny of politeness makes it hard to bring up a truth as horrible as our current ecological crisis at a birthday or brunch or water cooler.  Small talk won’t be successful right away — but it can gather momentum quickly.  The psychologist Daniel Kahneman talks about ‘availability cascades’ — basically, topics we hear about often come to mind more easily — this is why everything connects to climate for people who follow climate news and nothing connects to climate for people who are still safely ensconced in a bubble of pre-chewed infotainment.  Once we start breaching the topic of climate change in daily life, others will start thinking about it more often as well and eventually will see the issue in the same way we do.  But we have to bring up the issue EVERYWHERE, ALL THE TIME.

Movements like Fridays for Future and Extinction Rebellion are working to bring the issue into public space (and I’ve been right there with them here in Toronto) — but we can’t protest all the time — we have daily errands that we must attend to.  Luckily, there are many other smaller spaces of daily life that we need to occupy as well.

doorbell

This sign is above my doorbell.  It doesn’t have a profound impact, but imagine seeing these three or four times a day?  The availability of the topic in the front of your brain would start cascading like a tsunami.

IMG_1027

And this is my hat.  It promotes Climate Pledge Collective’s first in-person event — a day in the park with food and scientists and musicians and climate organizers — which was designed specifically to fit climate organizing in alongside daily needs for nourishment and self-care.  Climate Picnic will take up public space, but it will not be oppositional.  It will take time, but it will hopefully allow people to also do things they would have done anyway, instead of burning their energy.  This is a particularly important point — and one that was explained to me during my Masters’ Degree in Community Development.  Most people don’t have time for political organizing, but they need to eat three times a day, so if you can combine organizing with meal times, and especially if you can provide food, you open up a whole world of opportunity.  Hats, front door signs and picnics may seem trivial in the face of a problem of this scale, but there are hundreds of millions of people who want action on climate change — if we lower the barriers to participation we can engage them all and then the availability cascade will become an overwhelming flood.

picnicposter3

Stone Soup — One simple project that I’ve been planning to try, but haven’t found time for, is a vegan stew and climate chat in my home.  I will make a few litres of my favourite sweet potato chickpea coconut curry, invite all my neighbours and just talk openly about climate change and climate organizing.  Of course, I will be careful to invite a few other people who are supportive of meaningful climate action, so I don’t get swamped by deniers — just as I planned a group approach to my high school reunion.

My dream for Climate Pledge Collective is to open a restaurant based on the stone soup idea — it would serve a simple menu of vegan soups and stews, but mostly it would be a climate organizing hot spot — a place that people could drop into for a quick, cheap, healthy meal and receive a side-order of solidarity and climate news or maybe a documentary screening or a music night or a petition or a phone campaign.  Imagine getting more involved in the climate movement was as easy as popping into a shop to by a bowl of soup!  And from there, once people had a place to connect, it could grow, perhaps also stocking a small selection of ethical, sustainable clothing — meeting more and more of people’s daily needs in a manner that minimized the endless variety of material consumption and highlighted the broad array of weightless, no-footprint cultural products that we truly need to sustain us.

If we can combine food, self-care and climate organizing into a single package — we will become an unstoppable cultural force.

 

Works Cited

Castells, M. (1983). The city and the grassroots: a cross-cultural theory of urban social movements (No. 7). Univ of California Press.

Kahneman, D., & Egan, P. (2011). Thinking, fast and slow. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Toronto Climate Action Review (YELP for activists)

Last summer, I decided to stop quietly freaking out about the climate crisis and start acting.  I don’t know how best to approach such a complex problem — so I’m trying everything, including attending a lot of climate organizing meetings.  Here’s what I’ve learned about what these meetings are like and what the groups are focused on.  These are first impressions from one point of view, so take them for what they’re worth.

1 Porcupine Warriors This group has been involved in some amazing and huge unis’to’ten solidarity rallies that shut down different parts of the city.  I don’t know if they have any open meetings or formal volunteer uptake though.  You should definitely follow them on Facebook, attend their protests and offer support.  https://www.facebook.com/porcupinewarriors/

Earth Strike  I have only attended one Earth Strike meeting — but it was organized and productive and even finished slightly early (which is rare)!  They are aiming to organize a General Strike in September and planning a number of smaller events in the lead-up to build awareness.  They are a smallish group and could really use help — especially if you are in a union, have connections to unions or have enough pull at your workplace to close shop for a day.  They are very focused on the September strike, so don’t attend if you don’t want to work on that specific project (email earthstriketoronto [at] protonmail.com to get involved)

3 XRToronto  Extinction Rebellion Toronto is quite new and is still formalizing its meeting process.  I’ve only been to two meetings — the first one was kind of chaotic, but the most recent one went smoothly and was really productive and exciting.  They are trying to deploy the UK Extinction Rebellion model of spectacular, but peaceful, civil disobedience in Toronto.  They have a big event coming up April 20 and need all hands on deck.  Weekly Meetings are at OISE on Sundays at 6:00.  252 Bloor St. W. Room 2211

Facebook: (https://www.facebook.com/groups/525229444611827/)

4 Toronto Climate Save This is a group that organizes protests and lobbying around climate change with a particular focus on animal agriculture.  If you want to fight climate change and factory farming at the same time, this is the group for you.  I have not attended any of their meetings, but I have met their members at other meetings and they are good people.  https://www.facebook.com/torontoclimatesave/

5 Climate Fast Climate Fast is more focused on traditional lobbying — they have developed a people’s climate plan as a response to Doug Ford’s non-plan and they run deputation training for getting involved with city government.  I haven’t attended any pure Climate Fast meetings, but I have worked with them on some other projects and they are well-informed and compassionate.  Meetings are usually at the Friends’ House at 60 Lowther Avenue.  Sign up for emails about upcoming meetings on their website: http://www.climatefast.ca/

6 Toronto350 Toronto350 is probably the biggest and oldest non-professional climate group in Toronto.  They have tons of experience and knowledge, but their big open meetings can sometimes feel a little slow — but that is the cost of taking everyone’s opinion seriously.  They are currently redesigning their meetings and org structure though and hoping to develop sub-committees that can make decisions more quickly.  Their focus is on pressuring pipelines and banks and promoting indigenous solidarity, but they are open to new ideas and projects.

Meetings are Tuesdays at 6:30 at the Steelworker’s Hall on Cecil St. (https://www.facebook.com/events/2115357528584659/)

7 MobilizeTO is specifically focused on lobbying City Hall to declare a climate emergency and advance the decarbonization schedule of our TransformTO plan.  I have been heavily involved in this group.  Most organizing is by email and Facebook and the people are amazing.  There are occasional face to face meetings between the core organizers that are usually scheduled by email.  Contact form and more detail available here: (http://mobilizeto.ca/contact)

8 Drawdown Toronto If you want to focus more on building change right now and less on lobbying politicians check out Drawdown Toronto which is running information sessions on the Project Drawdown list of climate solutions.  I have not attended any meetings but the people running this program are kind and responsive!  http://www.unifytoronto.ca/connect.html

9 Green Neighbours Network This is the group for you if you don’t want to leave your hood.  With several smaller branches doing different projects within their neighbourhoods — from organizing local energy initiatives and clean-ups to film screenings.  Again, I haven’t attended any meetings, but the people I have met at protests are all super nice. (https://greenneighboursnetwork.ca/member-groups/members-map/)

10 Climate Pledge Collective Right now, the group is just my wife and I (Matt and Myrtle) with some help from friends on specific projects, so we don’t have formal meetings or an intake process.  That said, we have lots of ideas that we want to implement — so if you are a self-starter contact us and we will throw our skills and social media presence behind your work.  We are currently toying with the idea of a Climate Pledge for Restaurants and organizing Climate Troubadours to sing about climate and hand-out pamphlets in public places as well as organizing our Climate Picnic on May 5 (https://www.facebook.com/events/812559672441011/).

IMG_0218copy

Climate Picnic 2019

picnicposter3

 

Stop, Children.  What’s that sound?  Everybody look what’s going down.

The basic plan is this — we are going to gather in the Southeast corner of Christie Pits Park, bring our signs and songs and musical instruments, and then sit down on the grass and eat while we talk about what we can do about climate change.  While protests have their place, this event will be joyful and friendly — we hope everyone walking past will be curious enough to come over and ask what’s going on — and maybe even join us.  Bring guitars or drums or games or vegan cupcakes to share.  Or just bring your questions and ideas!

The first picnic will be May 5 at 11am — but we are hoping to make it monthly, or maybe even weekly.  This would also allow us to move around the city!

Most people now understand that we have to do something about climate change and we have to do it soon — but what do we do?  Individual changes don’t seem sufficient and organizing collective change can be frustrating in the face of so much misinformation.  Our climate crisis intertwines issues of equity, gender, food, environmental racism, indigenous sovereignty and daily life.  There is no single-solution: it will take different people building different solutions at different scales.  We need to make changes in our individual lives — eating less meat and dairy, driving less, flying less — but we also need to organize collective action to support those changes — bike lanes, better transit, renewable energy, new (or older) agricultural practices, macro-economic policies, regulations, divestment and new relationships with each other and our planet.  CLIMATE PICNIC is an open invitation to anyone working on climate from any angle — or anyone who simply wants to learn more — to come out and meet like-minded people, build new networks and enjoy low-carbon luxuries like food, music and good weather.

If you are part of an organization — anything from a school eco-club to an international environmental organization — we encourage you to come out, bring a sign, flyers or just a short pitch about your group.  We organized something similar for the Fridays for Future protest in March and it was a ton of fun.  With better weather — we’ll be able to learn more and hang out for longer.

Climate Picnic is vegan-friendly.  We recommend that you try to bring vegan food, even if you aren’t vegan. I’m not vegan myself, but I have given up red meat and am gradually reducing the amount of meat and dairy I consume.  If you end up bringing some leftover sausages or your kid only eats ham sandwiches — that is, of course, totally fine.  APIECALYPSE NOW — Toronto’s best Vegan Pizza Joint is right across the street.

Can I start a Climate Picnic near my house?  Yes please!  The wider we spread the better.  Email us if you want advice or just do it on your own!

Is Climate Picnic only in Toronto?  It is for now, but this event is super-easy to replicate.  All it takes is one sign or banner, a few picnic blankets and some outreach to people who are already working on climate in your city.  If it starts small, that’s okay — Greta Thunberg started by herself and has gone global and completely changed the climate policy discussion in six months.  Email us at contact [at] climatepledgecollective.org if you have any questions — but feel free to use the name, concept, anything you like.  We’re a no-ego organization, if you can spread our ideas farther than we can, do it!

Climate Picnic, The Christie Pits and all of Toronto stand on the traditional territory of many nations including the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat peoples.  Toronto is covered by Treaty 13 with the Mississaugas of the Credit.  The territory was also the subject of the Dish With One Spoon Wampum Belt Covenant, an agreement between the Haudenosaunee Confederacy and Confederacy of the Ojibwe and allied nations to peaceably share and care for the resources around the Great Lakes.  It is also important to recognize that indigenous history is dynamic and changing — both before and after the arrival of settlers.  The Haudenosaunee Confederacy was formed from the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca nation by the Great Law of Peace (Kayanerenkó:wa) which preceded and influenced the U.S. Constitution — although “some Haudenosaunee say that, in imitating the Great Law, the United States did so poorly, for their constitution neglects some of the most important aspects: peace, the Good Mind, obligations to the natural world, the importance of families, obligations to future generations, spirituality, respect for women.”(Williams, 2018).  We also encourage Climate Picnic visitors to visit Nish Dish, just down the block from Christie Pits, before or after the picnic in order to get a taste of contemporary indigenous traditions. 

Works Cited:

Williams, K. P. (2018). Kayanerenkó: wa: The Great Law of Peace. Univ. of Manitoba Press.

 

We should consider nuclear power, but advocates shouldn’t pretend it’s perfect.

Lately, it feels like half the discussions about climate change I encounter online devolve into a shouting match about nuclear power between those who support it and those who oppose it, neither of whom are taking a balanced view of the issue.  Instead, as in most situations where intelligent people disagree, advocates and opponents have both latched onto real and convincing evidence on one side or the other and closed their minds to the contradictory facts.  Nuclear power for example, does not solve our problems in one fell-swoop — concrete, land-use, animal agriculture, etc. are all separate problems that still need to be addressed.

homer

  1. Nuclear power is still the cheapest low-emissions form of power.

People who want to see all solar and wind will tell you that nuclear is far more expensive than wind and solar, I myself made this point to a friend who is an electrical engineer working on decarbonization policy for the Ontario government.  While wind is cheaper per kw/hr if you only look at the base price, creating a functioning electrical system with only wind is more expensive for a number of reasons. 1) Wind power is variable, so if you want to have a steady supply for a million houses, you might need to build wind power for two or three million houses to ensure there is power on quiet days. 2) Wind power (and especially solar power) need batteries and, after including the price of batteries, nuclear is considerably cheaper.  Building gigantic batteries all over the world will also have negative environmental impacts of their own.  But it’s not sooo much cheaper that we shouldn’t take a hard look at paying more for electricity to avoid nuclear’s downside.

2. Nuclear power creates radioactive waste and radioactive waste is a big gamble.

Although nuclear advocates will tell you that next generation reactors are perfectly safe, nothing is perfect.  All aspects of the nuclear power supply chain create risks — uranium mining and processing, shipping fuel, collecting waste, storing waste.  It is possible to design safe nuclear supply chains, but nuclear waste lasts effectively forever and the safety of nuclear power assumes a stable enough system of government to preserve safe-handling practices almost perpetually.  As good as engineers may be at calculating physical risks — our political and sociological prediction skills are extremely poor.  My father, who is an environmental political scientist, was part of a committee trying to design safer nuclear waste handling practices about ten years ago and one of the main sticking points was the question — how do we store nuclear waste and mark that storage so that humans ten thousand years from now, speaking languages we have not yet heard, living in cultures we cannot imagine, don’t dig it up out of curiousity.  There was serious thought given to not marking it in anyway, because people love to dig up the ruins of ancient cultures.  Creating nuclear power supply chains all around the world also increases the chances of rogue nuclear weapons becoming a reality.  Climate change is however more dangerous, more imminent and more certain than nuclear disaster — so it is worth considering if nuclear power is the lesser of two evils.

My personal view is that nuclear power should be included in the range of tools that we consider to slow our climate crisis — but that anyone who tells you it is a silver bullet is deluding themselves.  So let’s talk about nuclear power, but let’s all admit that it is a complex question with no obvious answer first.  My personal view is that we should probably pay more for renewables — but I’m not an expert and I’m open to being persuaded on this issue by people who know more about the real costs and benefits involved.

Our E-Newsletter: All-Killer, No-Filler

You don’t always have time to keep up with the overwhelming amount of climate change and climate action news — so we’re starting a newsletter.

A typical newsletter might include any of the following:

  • Key climate change news from the realms of science, policy and activism — with a focus on actionable information rather than doom and gloom scenarios.
  • Highlights from our blog
  • Projects we’re working on
  • Recent videos
  • Brief suggestions of other great climate orgs you might want to check out

SIGN-UP HERE: https://climatepledgecollective.us20.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=d38769c69ed6df127711cce26&id=4e31ff4bed

 

 

 

BTW – We have a Youtube Channel

We started a Youtube channel and Matt is learning to use video editing software.  So far we’ve posted a climate action compilation, a video recap of an Extinction Rebellion event in Toronto that we attended, some AMAZING deputations about Toronto’s climate plan and one video featuring kittens explaining the climate crisis.

In the future, we intend to put up videos of our Low-Carbon Luxury blog series, more protest recaps and short informational videos (maybe with more kittens).

CLIMATE ACTION RECAP:

MOTHER DEMANDS CLIMATE ACTION FROM TORONTO CITY COUNCIL:

KITTENS:

Toronto Climate Emergency Action Plan

We’ve been working with MobilizeTO to build a plan to get a climate emergency motion passed in Toronto (similar to the one in Vancouver).  We have a plan, but we have no money, so we need people power — and that means you.

The first phase of the plan is to find one councillor willing to write and champion a climate emergency motion.  The second phase is querying every councillor to find out if they support that motion and recording their responses.  The third phase is getting out in the streets in the Wards of councillors who won’t commit to build support and get people to pressure them to act.

Right now, we’re on Phase One.  I know a lot of people have already contacted their councillors, but so far, no councillor has stepped up and drafted a motion.  So we need you to contact your councillor and keep contacting them until they give you an answer.  

Find your councillor here: https://www.toronto.ca/city-government/council/members-of-council/.

  1. Going in person is best.
  2. Phone calls are second best.
  3. Emails are useful, but the easiest to ignore. 

If you call we have talking points here.  If you email, you can use the template below.  But please personalize it with your own feelings about climate change and your voting history or intentions in the next municipal election.

Let us (or MobilizeTO) know by email (contact[AT]climatepledgecollective.org) or in this Facebook group if you get a response.

___________________________________

Dear [COUNCILLOR’S NAME],

I am writing regarding the Climate Emergency motion that passed recently in both Halifax and Vancouver.
A climate emergency has also been declared in London England and dozens of cities in the US, the UK and Australia.  These motions typically connect a public declaration of emergency with new oversight and ambition in existing climate plans.  In our case, it would be an excellent opportunity to put TransformTO back on the agenda, get it the funding it deserves and increase its ambition by having city staff research a path to make Toronto net-zero by 2025.
I am a Ward [YOUR WARD NUMBER] resident and I am hoping to see a similar motion in Toronto.  [INCLUDE PERSONAL COMMENTS ABOUT VOTING OR CLIMATE CHANGE HERE]
Please let me know as soon as possible if this is a motion you would be interested in submitting or supporting.  There is a lot of energy building around this issue and many of us are trying to get a sense of where our councillors stand on this issue.  I will follow up if I don’t hear from you within a week.
Sincerely,
[YOUR NAME]
______
Once we have a champion, we will post more about where individual councillors stand on the motion and our plans to get out and sign-up more supporters.
climatemobimagesmall