Seeing how many people came out to help us plant trees and get involved was amazing, it made you feel like you weren’t on your own.
Do you feel powerless and alone in the face of the climate crisis? Many heads may nod in agreement, it's understandable - but wait!
What would happen if all the people feeling powerless and alone could come together to make the thousands of small changes that make a big difference?
Eco-anxiety is a fairly new term, defined as ‘a chronic fear of environmental doom’ and it’s come into its own lately. But there is one real key to fighting it: collective action, even in a pandemic. Being inside our heads can be debilitating, but being able to do something about it - finding ways to direct those concerns - is the fuel that makes powerful collective action burn brightly.
This is the dream that led Friends of the Earth to establish the Climate Action network in spring 2019, a place for the hundreds of voices in local activism to work together. The network empowers communities where they live to make every town, city and village more climate friendly, and work together for a greener UK.
A year ago, the Climate Action network didn’t exist. But it has spread across the country with lightning speed because many people who had felt alone got together and made good things happen. Now, there are more than 200 Climate Action groups across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, representing their communities and pushing for positive change both locally and nationally.
In just one year, Climate Action groups have convinced councils to declare climate emergencies, lobbied for change at a national level, and brought communities together. Even during lockdown, groups have proved again and again the incredible value of community action, offering food deliveries to vulnerable residents, fostering an online support network and leading the way in reimagining how cities and neighbourhoods can look in the future.
It's more important than ever for people to take action as we stand at this crossroads between a cleaner future and a return to the damaging old ‘normal’.
Climate change is a global issue, but decisions made right down to a local level can and do have an impact. Low-carbon homes, greener planning decisions, bike paths, tree planting and room for pollinators – these are areas where the right push from the grassroots can have a huge impact.
Power starts at the local level, and the communities that work together to push for change in their local areas can join together to demand national action.
That’s where the climate action network comes into its own. When Leicester City Council published the final draft of its 2020-2036 Local Plan outlining a vision for development in the area over the next 16 years, local group Climate Action Leicester and Leicestershire recognised its failure to address the challenges of climate breakdown.
Through petitions, letter-writing and diligent local campaigning the group convinced the council to review their plans and produce a new draft version, along with another public consultation.
As cities grapple with the realities of climate breakdown, the Climate Action network has been there to provide help and guidance.
The Eastbourne Eco Action network has been working with their local council on an ambitious campaign to make Eastbourne carbon neutral by 2030, having successfully lobbied them to unanimously pass a declaration of climate emergency in July 2019. The Eco Action network then set up working groups to bring together climate activists, community groups, businesses, and local councillors to identify how Eastbourne can meet this 2030 target.
Eastbourne Carbon Neutral 2030 was officially launched at a public event in January 2020, with more than 40 stands showcasing what people and businesses can do to reduce their carbon footprints.
The climate network knows that the personal is political, and local activism can translate into national action. During the last general election groups across the country were busy organising hustings events to grill candidates on their readiness to respond to the climate and nature emergencies.
Continual engagement with MPs and other elected officials is crucial to making sure that the UK makes the right choices as we restart the economy post lockdown.
If it’s headline-grabbing wins you’re looking for, a climate action group in Southampton successfully petitioned Southampton council to oppose the expansion of Southampton Airport on the grounds that it would fly in the face of the Paris Agreement on climate change.
Elsewhere, Bristol’s Climate Action groups banded together to call on the council to divest its pension fund investments from fossil fuels.
A coalition of community groups in County Antrim called No-ARC21 formed to stop toxic incineration in Mallusk, while another Northern Irish group, Zero Waste North West, has been instrumental in encouraging the local council to adopt a circular economy strategy and is working with Stendhal Festival to go waste free.
Not bad for a few local activists.
In the words of Staffordshire Moorlands community organiser Jenny: “Before joining, I felt powerless as to what was happening around the world with regards to the climate and ecological breakdown. But seeing how many people came out to help us plant trees and get involved was amazing, it made you feel like you weren’t on your own.”
Climate change is big, scary, and global, so it’s easy to understand why as individuals we can feel powerless in the face of it.
But the 200 groups in the climate action network will tell you that the antidote to being powerless alone is taking action together.
There are so many reasons for optimism, and signs that climate concern is propelling people into positive action. It’s going to take vision and change at every level of government and society to build a more sustainable world, and we can all be part of making that change happen.
To find out where your nearest Climate Action group is and how to get involved, visit the website.
Catriona Currie is activism lead at Friends of the Earth.