Two of the enduring questions for me over the life of the chapter has been what brings people to Climate Reality and once they find the chapter what motivates them to stay involved. After more than 3 years as Chair, I don’t think I am any closer to an answer. Our membership rolls doubled in 2020 – despite the pandemic and having only virtual events after January. We gave more presentations than ever, logged a huge number of Acts of Leadership. And yet, when we put out a survey to find out what members want for 2021, the response rate was below what we got a year ago from half as many members.
An article today in The New Yorker is titled, “A New Day for the Climate.” The subtitle reads, “It remains to be seen whether Joe Biden’s sweeping climate directives can make a meaningful difference, but a critical threshold has been crossed.” The author is Elizabeth Kolbert, whose book The Sixth Extinction was one of the things that finally convinced me that I had to attend a Climate Reality training program. As I read the article, I wondered whether the two lines in that subtitle might not hold a clue to what happens to people’s motivations in chapters like ours. The key ideas are “meaningful difference” and “critical threshold.”
I start from the assumption that everyone who puts in the time required to complete a Climate Reality training program is deeply concerned about the climate crisis and that they want to find ways to take meaningful action that will contribute to the solution. The training programs provide at least some starting points for taking action, with an emphasis on giving presentations to public groups. Those presentations can in fact contribute to raising awareness of the crisis in the minds of those who attend and can motivate at least some of those in the audience to start taking action. The problem, not always clearly acknowledged by Climate Reality, has been that many people who complete the training programs do not want to give public presentations. At the most basic level, public speaking anxiety is a real thing; and nothing in the training programs would lessen that. Beyond that, many don’t feel adequately prepared by the training programs to give a public talk. Others are not convinced that it will make the kind of difference they hoped to start making. There are lots of other reasons, but the result is that a very large percentage of those who complete the training programs end up never giving a presentation. That may leave them without a clear answer to the question they began the training with, “what can I do to make a difference?”
Since the fall of 2017, Climate Reality has supported the organization of local chapters; and newly trained Climate Leaders are encouraged to join a local chapter to find ways to start taking action. The clear implication is that organized local chapters can facilitate ways of taking action that go beyond the giving of presentations that have always been at the heart of the Climate Reality mission. For some here in north Texas, the chapter has accomplished that. We have a solid core of very committed, very active members. Our collection of local working groups attract participation by many members. Yet as the response rate to the survey hints, many still don’t seem to find a clear answer to their question in the chapter either. I wonder how often those members learn about what is being done only to conclude that those actions won’t make a truly meaningful difference.
I am hopeful as we move ahead in 2021 that many of the actions being planned in our local working groups will be seen as meaningful to more members who will then be motivated to get involved. I hope too that some of our newer members will come up with brand new ideas for action beyond those already being considered by our working groups. If the planned virtual training programs for 2021 lead to more growth in the chapter, as I fully expect that they will, we could see even more new ideas coming in. I do see our chapter as having crossed a critical threshold in that I no longer feel great concern about the survival of the chapter, something I used to worry about quite a lot as some of our most engaged members started to drift away and sometimes were lost from the chapter completely. Now my thoughts are more focused on what we can do to get our members engaged in the kinds of climate activism they came to Climate Reality hoping for.
What for you counts as making a meaningful difference? How can the chapter help you accomplish that? How can you help others in the chapter accomplish that? As Chair of the chapter, I welcome your ideas.
Roger Knudson, Ph. D. Professor Emeritus, Department of Psychology, Miami University Chapter Chair, Climate Reality Project Dallas Fort Worth Chapter Team Lead, Funky East Dallas Democrats, Representative Accountability Team on Climate (aka Climate RATs) Pronouns: He/Him/His
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