Host a Community Climate Discussion
Climate change has arrived.
It’s not somewhere in the future; climate change is in our neighborhoods. We’re seeing its effects in events like hotter days, shorter winters and fiercer storms. You don’t have face these things alone.
Most of us are experiencing the effects of climate change locally. Storms, heat waves, floods and wildfires are happening outside of our doors. These disasters are unfortunately getting worse. Though we can work to reduce future heating, we can also solve problems already here.
Bring your community together to find climate solutions. Read below to open a broad, five-topic discussion guide from Earth Day Network about how to be more resilient, how to advocate to your leaders and how you can turn the threat of climate change into an opportunity for a better community.
Getting ready to host a discussion
Invite people you know — friends, family, coworkers — and people who you would normally reach out to for help, like neighbors and off-duty firefighters and police officers. Word of mouth, a Facebook event and phone calls are all good ways to get people to attend. We courage you to start with a small group for a deeper discussion; larger groups can be brought together in a formal teach-in.
Food is a big part of a smooth conversation. Consider making snacks yourself or asking your guests to bring a dish to share. Make sure you have enough comfortable seating.
How would you like to have your talk? Arrange your seating in a circle to involve the whole group, pair people off around a table for one-on-one discussions or invite a local expert and have them present on your topic of choice. Encourage every voice to participate and ask questions of quieter participants to ensure that everyone is comfortable with sharing their thoughts.
Agreeing on the goals of a discussion is a great way to begin and focus your conversation. Do you want a solid neighborhood emergency protocol? Clear pathways for action? A contact list to get more people involved? Decide on a few goals with your group at the beginning and keep mentioning those goals when you feel the need to refocus the talk.
Take time at the end to decide on next steps. Gather contact information, set up your next meeting and take some photos to send to [email protected]. If anyone would like to do more, tell them to visit Earthday.org/actions/volunteer/.
- Check in
If you have questions, feedback or ideas for improving this process, email them to [email protected] with “Climate Discussion” in the subject line. We would love to hear your stories and results so that we can make this kit better.
YOUR TOPICS FOR DISCUSSION
The leaders of today have to confront climate change. Even if people holding the titles change, the figures of city councilors, mayors, sheriffs, faith leaders and school teachers who you turn to for help now will stay in charge as the climate changes. Engaging those leaders — letting them know your needs and concerns — can push genuine, physical change in your community. When a city planner considers moving a sewer system up by three feet to cope with rising seas, the problem moves from theory to reality.
These questions may help you engage local leaders:
• What are your leaders already doing about climate change?
If policies are in place, consider researching them before you meet and summarizing those efforts to the group at the start of your discussion.
• What local measures do you want to see?
A clear “ask” can direct a conversation and give solid goals to your officials. Consider making a list of requests and goals for your outreach.
• Does anyone in the room know a local official?
Are they willing to set up a meeting? Better yet, can the official attend this discussion?
• Who has been receptive to comments in the past?
Finding the friendliest audience for your first outreach is a great way to begin the process.
• Who can present your concerns?
Are there any unofficial leaders (respected business people or notable retirees, as examples) who can act as a spokesperson? A well-regarded community figure can be a big help in sending a message.
Young leaders have made it clear that new generations will not give up the fight for a healthy climate. A child born today will see a world greatly affected by climate change.
Adults have a duty to lower emissions and avert the worst disasters, of course. They also have an obligation to empower and educate youth about what they might do to build a bright future. The heroes of the next generation will be inspired or discouraged in their schools, making a good education more important than ever.
If your group wants to talk about promoting climate education, these questions may be a good starting point:
• Do your local school have environmental partners?
Earth Day Network offers support and materials to schools around the world who want to improve their curricula. We also encourage you to reach out to your local networks of zoos, aquariums, nature centers and other local environmental partners.
• Do your schools have a climate curriculum?
Earth Day Network coordinates “Climate Education Week” on the week of Earth Day and has activities, lessons and resources teachers and students can use year-around.
• What is the best forum to share ideas?
Speaking with your school board or meeting with the principal/headmaster are good first steps.
• What can you teach at home?
Many environmental role models are neighbors and family members. Consider hosting a kid-friendly environmental movie night or simply bring up environmental topics over dinner with your family. With our youngest environmental stewards, we want to talk about hope and not just focus on doom and gloom. Climate anxiety is becoming increasingly common as young students learn more about the climate crisis and are often confused by conflicting messages. Openly talking to your family about these concerns will release the burden from the children.
Earth Day Network has a full team committed to Environmental Education. If your group would like to make a comprehensive plan with EDN’s team and our partners, email our education department at [email protected].
The European heat wave of 2003 caught the continent off-guard. That year, 30,000-70,000 died from various forms of heat stress that used to be rare in much of Europe. Those heat events have since become stronger in that continent and all over the world. Wherever you live, supporting one another during high-heat days can decrease trips to the hospital and even save lives. If you choose this topic, consider planning around these questions:
• Who is vulnerable?
People who are sick, elderly or work outside may not be ready for an especially hot week. Can you list people near you who may need your help?
• Which places get especially hot?
Are there neighborhoods, public spaces or streets that become very hot? Do any of your neighbors not have air conditioning? Where should your group stay especially alert during a high-heat period?
• What are heat stress warning signs?
Make a list of symptoms like heavy breathing, sluggish movements and strange behavior that may indicate trouble and which your groups should look for during heat events.
• How can you offer help?
Some people might dismiss help through overconfidence or inexperience with high heat. Consider inviting people over for cold drinks, checking in regularly, and keeping water bottles near your door over the summer for people working outside.
• Who can you call? Do you have your older neighbor’s phone number so you can check in? Are your attendees willing to share their numbers and emergency contacts? Does your town or city offer resources for heat waves?
The global scientific community predicts that water will flood land more often in a warming world. Sea level rise from melting glaciers already cause “sunny-day-floods,” which occur when high tides push water up through sewer and drainage systems. More severe storms are swelling normally peaceful rivers, triggering record-breaking floods year after year. Coastal and riverine areas must adapt quickly and effectively to these new conditions.
If flooding has or will affect your community, consider planning your discussion around these questions:
• Has anyone in the room lived through a large flood in your region?
What have they learned? What mistakes have they seen others make? How did the community — especially emergency services — respond?
• Can anyone recommend a great flood insurance plan?
Are local or national brokers offering any good packages to prepare and recover from a flood? Do those plans cover wind damage?
• How can you check in with one another before, during and after a flood?
Is texting, calling or updating social media better?
• Is everyone in the room prepared for a large storm?
Who can offer advice for good food, tools and equipment to stock? Does anyone own a generator?
• Which of your neighbors may need to share space?
Is there anyone in a one-floor house that could be flooded? Do any neighbors rely on medical equipment which would need power? Who could host guests to wait out a storm or flood? Who may need to be evacuated immediately?
• Can you agree on a written plan?
If your group has a neighborhood emergency protocol that they can reference, everyone will be much more prepared to act if they need to.
• Is your town or city planning for floods?
If your area is going to have more floods, contact your local government to make sure that your sewage and drainage systems are prepared for more flooding. Good infrastructure can stop or reduce serious damages.
Changing temperatures are as difficult on plants and animals as they are on humans. As climate impacts become stronger, local conservation only becomes more important. The gardens, parks and green spaces near your homes can provide habitat for dozens or hundreds of key species. Those spaces can also cool the air around them, absorb stormwater and protect floodplains.
If your group wants to put a focus on protecting and cultivating nearby species’ habitat, these questions may help you to make plans:
• Who are your local conservation associations?
Consider making a list of any in your area and seeing if they can offer training and resources.
• Can an expert attend?
If any ecologists or conservationists work nearby, send them an invitation to give a short talk to your group about your local species. Or, assemble a list of questions in your first meeting and send them to an expert for second meeting.
• What are your native plants?
A gardening event to plant native plants throughout your city or town could provide islands of habitat for other species.
• Are pollinators threatened in your community?
An educational effort to teach your neighbors about the damages of pesticides could seriously lower the use of bad chemicals.
Earth Day Network’s conservation and biodiversity program can inform your discussion and connect you with our partners in your area. To learn more, visit the Protect our Species resources.
Katie Wood, Earth Day Network’s conservation and biodiversity manager, can connect you with our partners. She can be reached at [email protected]