A guest post by Avril Danczak
Climate change is a tricky subject. Some people deny it, are ignorant about it or think it is nothing to do with them. On the other hand, many are terrified by what a globally heated world will hold for them, their children and for the future of millions of our fellow humans. The Guardian newspaper suggests we intensify the very language we use with phrases like “climate emergency”, “climate crisis” and “global heating” instead of “climate change” and “global warming”.
However, both denial and terror risk confining us to a similar, paralysed, state of inaction, so that nothing changes. What are the paths out of this immobilisation?
A tiny group of residents in Whalley Range got talking about climate change. While we fully support the national and international actions of Extinction Rebellion/Friends of the Earth/Climate Justice and all the other efforts being made to promote real change, the phrase “Thinking globally and acting locally” also spurred us to think about what we can do right now, right here, in our own locality of Whalley Range.
We started locally and small, using word of mouth to find fellowship, trying to remain humble and open to ideas. The group, Whalley Range Climate Action Group (WRCAG), grew in size steadily and we now have dozens of interested parties. Initially, I thought we would be a kind of retrofit support group, trying to help each other get properly insulated, reduce our energy usage, become car free and work out better ways to have flight free holidays. It has become a lot more than that.
Conversation triggered us to act, and we began by extending those conversations into our community. We listened to each other and to the residents we met at our simple stalls at community events. In no time we had a presence at Celebrate, (an annual local festival), at Ecofest, an event run by a local church, at the Windrush event in a local park
We also joined in an inspiring “Clean Air Day” action, when streets were closed around schools to enable pollution free walking and most joyously of all free street play for the children. The sounds of birdsong, children playing and people chatting rose out of the car free silence. What used to be taken for granted, safe walking and children playing out, has become a privilege. It took us a huge amount of organisation and preparation to bring about and lasted for less than half a day.
This has also reinforced the value of the kinds of conversations we are aiming to have. We do not instruct, but rather, ask “Where are you up to with the climate change thing?” and “What would make Whalley Range a climate safe, buzzing, good place to live?
These discussions are interesting, challenging and produce actionable ideas about what is important here in our own community. Many people in Whalley Range are thinking about climate change, environmental degradation and pollution. They are fed up with the noise, danger and pollution from cars and the life-limiting effects this has. They feel the constraints: unsafe walking especially for children, asthma increased by pollution, litter everywhere. People were outraged by the plastics they feel they cannot escape, wrapped around everything, all the time. We found much common cause with many other local organisations such as the Whalley Rangers and local wildlife support groups. Many organisations whose prime purpose is not about climate change, for example, Age Friendly Manchester or the local Park support and Heritage groups, joined us in thinking that climate change is their business too and that they can act on it here in Whalley Range.
It has been exciting to hear these perspectives, to “take the street” on Clean Air Day, and to discover that residents are willing to discuss these issues. It has made me a little braver to speak about climate change. This week, my lovely neighbour was in the street with two young relatives showing off their new cars. The cars were idling in the street, doors open, he showed me the clever seats. We had met on many occasions, so I felt able to turn the ignition key off and say…idling cars are not good for us. I had the same conversation with the man sweeping the street who left his vehicle idling for 30 minutes while he had his lunch break.
Our next meetings will be opportunities to reflect on what we have heard, what our priorities are and to decide what our main actions should be. We think it is likely that not everyone in the group will want to work on the same things. Some will be interested in schools, educating parents and pupils, others in taking the streets away from cars, others in building consensus against plastics in supermarkets, schools and our shopping bags. Connecting with other organisations that work in our area including the National Health Service has been highlighted as a way to make our work more effective locally.
WRACG does not have a manifesto; our first leaflet explains who we are…local residents working on what we can do about climate change, with a simple list of suggestions to help anyone reduce their impact on the planet. Reducing energy use, going flight free, consuming less, walking, cycling and using public transport, eating a mainly vegetarian diet are all important actions. Having a group of like-minded people around empowers us, to tell others what we are doing and to explore ways we can reduce our carbon emissions.
Another key action is to make our voices heard on this issue, wherever possible, in whichever organisations we are in contact with. Building connections between people will make Whalley Range an “Abundant Community”, where we know and value our neighbours through shared events and conversations. Then we will have a good life that is also a climate friendly life, here and now.
Massive policy change is needed, for sure, and governments must lead on the bigger changes. But if 10% of people get behind the need to reduce emissions drastically, that’s a massive opinion former and a strong message to local and central government, that will be hard to ignore. In the 18th century, rich landowners planted trees that they knew they would never see to maturity, but which are still enjoyed by many of us today. We can take a leaf out of their book and start planning for our descendants instead of just thinking about today and this week.
WRCAG has only been active for a few short months. We will continue to reach out to all the members of our community…different ethnicities, religions, ages, interests. Climate change will damage all of us…we need to work for change together, here, where we live.