TES Begins a New Round of Carbon Conversations
The nationally successful programme in personal sustainability is again on offer at Transition Edinburgh South!
Carbon Conversations, a six-week course in personal sustainability, encourages locals to get together over a cup of tea to discuss practical ways of cutting their carbon. From local food to light bulbs and greener travel, the Carbon Conversations programme gets down to the everyday challenges of climate defence.
The scheme, developed in Cambridge in 2005, has met with great success, with the Guardian naming it in its Manchester Report as one of 20 effective ways to respond to climate change. Today, it is used all over the country to bring climate change measures into the daily lives of ordinary people. Now in Scotland, TES has adopted Carbon Conversations with support from the Climate Challenge Fund and is about to start another round of sessions.
The material aim is simple: get participants to halve their carbon footprint (the UK average is 12 tonnes per year) within five years. Studies have shown, however, that this is much easier said than done, and here is where Carbon Conversations proves itself particularly effective.
Psychotherapist Rosemary Randall is the Cambridge co-founder of the programme, the idea for which came about in the wake of the Kyoto Accords when she presented a paper on a psychotherapy approach to climate change. She explains that simply knowing a problem exists and being aware of the steps that must be taken to solve it do not, on their own, lead to action. The unique and effective characteristic of Carbon Conversations is that it helps people overcome the psychological barriers to action in their daily lives.
Of the three areas Ms. Randall identifies as fundamental to change in our society- namely policy, technology and individuals- Carbon Conversations concentrates on the last; attempting to establish, through open and non-judgemental conversation, a new social norm of carbon frugality.
Rea Cris works and volunteers for TES and participated in a Carbon Conversations workshop in November of 2010. One of her favourite things about the sessions is their welcoming and accepting atmosphere:
‘It’s open to anyone, of any background, of any inclination. […] I think some people do get put off. They say “oh, I’m not an environmentalist” well, you don’t have to be one. [...]. It’s very open and welcoming and it’s a safe environment to voice any concerns you want or any thoughts you have. That’s the first thing they say in the first workshop: don’t judge anyone.’
The experience from the workshops is, then, spread to the wider community. Carbon Conversations helps people reduce their individual carbon footprint and become confident talking about issues in their families, communities, workplaces and beyond.
Marina Vons-Gupta, a facilitator for the programme, said: ‘Participants feel empowered and in control. All of a sudden, breaking habits becomes an achievable goal […]. They also often realise how (perceived) obstacles to changes are the paper tigers of our mind or the product of obsolete conventions.’
Concretely, Carbon Conversations is comprised of a 128-page workbook covering topics like food and water, travel and transport, and home energy. In addition, facilitated discussions and games focus on showing participants the impacts of certain activities and how change is possible.
Lisa Ostenson, who works for a Christian environmental charity and took part the November sessions last year, particularly liked the board games:
‘Different scenarios happen in your life where you decide to send your kids to a better school or you can decide to get double glazing […] and you have so much money and all of these choices have an impact on your carbon so it’s all connected that way. It was fun just to chat about the different scenarios and kind of see what people thought was a good idea and what was a bad idea.’
Both Lisa and Rea commented that one possible drawback of the programme was that participants, on the whole, had similar mentalities and were all concerned about similar things. Both were heartened, however, by the diversity of the group, the non-judgemental atmosphere and the preparation of thefacilitators and material for any level of knowledge.
‘It was really varied, actually’ says Lisa. ‘Everything from ages to cultural backgrounds to professions. There was a professor of geography […], a few people were self-employed. Quite a random demographic.’
Even though all had some inkling of the importance of altering lifestyles to tackle climate change, no one is an expert. Rea noted that most people did not realise how big a change small steps can make and what impact certain activities have:
‘You get into your head that oh, if I want to be energy efficient I have to loft insulate, but actually changing all your light bulbs to energy efficient ones is just as big of a change. And I think, especially for people who are not eco warriors, it is a really good visual.’
Carbon Conversations seems to be working. During the programme, most participants cut their carbon by about 1 tonne and made plans to halve their total emissions over the next four to five years. It has also given them the tools to talk about climate change in the wider world.
The TES course that Lisa and Rea attended spanned some of Edinburgh’s most severe conditions in years, but participants weathered the storm to get to meetings, though the snow and the holidays meant a missed session or two for a few.
‘It was just a lovely environment’ Lisa remembers, ‘and you left every [session] talking when you went out the door and everyone always left really encouraged. [People] just came in with such open minds and positive attitudes that were just really infectious’
TES is ideally looking for established community groups to host the course. Groups should comprise six to ten people and be available to meet once a fortnight for six sessions (12 weeks in total). However, all participation is very welcome and groups can be formed from individual interest, as well.
Volunteers from the community facilitate the course, so participants are only charged a small fee to cover materials. Facilitator training is also available through TES for anyone who has done the course. For more information or to register your interest, please contact Lauren Bruce on 0131 650 6064 or at lauren [at] transitionedinburghsouth [dot] org [dot] uk