As we know, the response to the climate change emergency is such a ferociously complicated system problem that no-one can solve it on their own; all must play a part. But the disparate nature of different organisations and the very many different things that need to happen can mean that we end up (potentially) pulling in different directions and confusing the general public who are less close to the whole thing.
I wanted to paint a vision of what coordinated action could look like, to provoke discussion.
That in a place, the multiple active community groups, local employers who cared about this, the council, other public institutions, decided that they would coordinate their various activities, for a year, around a theme of air quality. I’ve just taken air quality as an example, but the rationale could run along the lines of:
- It’s important that people see environmental action as being something that makes the world a nicer place to live in, not just a version of today where we have less fun
- Reducing polluting fossil fuel use has good net zero implications
- There are health benefits of cleaner air, and it’s something that people notice (as we did in lockdown 1)
- Loads of people can play a role in making it happen. Indeed, almost everyone.
So they’ve agreed to coordinate around air quality. What might happen then…
- The council would tie in their installation of electric car charging points to the theme
- The politicians would campaign with the county council to introduce 20mph zones, or even a zero or low emission zone in the area
- They would support schemes encouraging alternative use of streets such as play streets to encourage more outdoor activity
- Friends of the Earth would carry out anti-idling campaigns at stations and other places where people queue up with engines running
- Public health would get involved in funding some of this, and of providing medical experts who could be interviewed by local press; parents of local children afflicted by asthma could speak out
- Public health would focus some of their health messaging on air quality, reducing/managing car journeys, and the impact of poor air on young children
- The local tech group would build or deploy a car pooling/journey-sharing app which also gave people info about public transport alternatives to their journey, and hold a hackathon for tech solutions
- Speaking of the local press, they would love to campaign alongside this – each month showing reductions in particulates versus the year before – there would be a lot they could write about; they’d get lots more advertising from electric car suppliers, they could do clean air advertising supplements
- Walking and running groups would emphasise fresh air
- Woodland trust would raise funds for more tree planting in the area stressing air quality benefits; they’d encourage more tree planting in gardens
- Cafe Scientifique would do sessions on the science of air quality
- A group of people would do a spacehive crowdfunder for a living wall in the town centre
- Schools would encourage their tech students to build air quality meters that would feed through to one of the open-source air quality maps to engage schools in the discussion and let the whole population notice what was going on, and where the hot spots were. There’d be loads of curriculum themed things for schools and colleges.
- The art college would theme their final show around public art commissions related to air quality, further raising the profile
- Schools would use the air quality theme as a way to encourage walking to school
- The sustainability festivals would major on electric cars and what you can do as a householder to switch away from polluting fuels, and as a car owner to tune your car to minimise emissions (whilst obviously getting ready for your next car to be electric)
- There’d be an electric car mentors club, possibly encouraged to exist by a pub, where they would meet and where people who were thinking about buying an electric car could come along and have their fears reduced
- Rotary club, lions, church groups, U3A, would put on talks about the science of air quality and impact of air quality on the town, and the things we can do about it, as part of their regular programmes of talks
- The nearest university would use this to bid for research council funds for evaluation of the scheme’s effectiveness and to study the behaviour change in the population
- Chamber of commerce would discuss the business benefits of cleaner air, eg for tourism
- Businesses would use it as a trigger with their staff to have a more meaningful discussion about travel to work
- A local garage would offer free (or “for a fiver”) emissions checks (with an obvious potential commercial upside if the drivers then need work doing) – anyone passing to a seriously stringent level gets a “clean car” sticker for their windscreen for a year – people with electric cars get one just by asking for it, and theirs would say “Clean Car FOREVER”
- Local MPs could be quizzed about national policy in relation to this, and might like to show off what their town is doing to relevant ministers
- The Town council could invest in the now well-established technology that lets people easily find available parking spaces via an app (where they can also pay for parking) to reduce the amount of driving around looking for a space
… and there’s probably a lot more. I’d argue that if all of these things happened at the same time, they would have much more collective impact. And although it’s not directly about zero carbon it has that effect. And it shows the community that change can happen, which makes it all the easier when next year the theme is…
… what would you pick?
What Would Have to Happen?
The organisations concerned would “just” have to decide to do it. To focus their activity on air quality rather than any of the other multiplicity of things that they could campaign or take action about. It wouldn’t need an expensive “air quality programme coordinator” to boss everyone around, they’d just need to decide to do it. Though having something like a free slack group to coordinate and share would make it very much easier and significantly reduce the need for coordinating meetings.
The convening of this to make a decision about this rather than anything else could be done by the council, but it could also be done by a well-respected, well-networked local environmental group, or a high profile local individual.
Some of the organization and networking would benefit from a bit of funding. I think that if the council (or a philanthropist, or a national body) gave an environmental group £40K to employ a couple of people 3 dpw they would be able to leverage in more money (eg through crowdfunding, from Public Health, from grants) and do a lot of the behind the scenes connecting that this would need. In many cases this is about getting people to spend money that they were going to spend anyway, but to spend it on this. To hold meetings they were going to have anyway, but to have them about this. To do things they were going to do anyway but find a clean air hook to go with the flow and also to build momentum.
People would have to be willing to share the credit, or not worry about claiming credit at all. People would have to be willing to stop doing other things, to focus their energy on this, and to avoid muddling the core messages.
And those two last reasons are why it could never happen. What a shame.
Or could it?