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The benefits of community learning to talk about climate change

This article has been written as part of the partnership we made with emlyon business school. We thank them, and especially Léa and Mathieu who accompany and support us since the beginning of the Ikigaï Project!

We, as humans, are social beings with a strong need to connect with other people. Last year, the coronavirus pandemic suddenly stopped the majority of our physical social interactions, reminding us about the vital need to meet with people, friends, family on a daily basis. Lots of media translated the unease and loneliness resulting from several confinements as a lack of “community bonding”. Being part of a community helps us feel more positive, more committed or more social. Many online communities have been created during this period to cope with our loneliness, especially amongst GenZ.

But the Covid situation only accelerated pre-existing trends and our society desperately needs a bigger sense of community to stay positive, learn from others and thrive. But what is a community exactly, and why is community learning a good way to talk about climate change?

Community is about people meeting common needs 🤝

A community is not a place, a building, an organization or an Internet platform. It needs a group of people to exist. We, as human beings, are dependent on others to live and communities help us survive collectively, by caring for each other. Our family, tribe or village were communities on which we’ve depended for a long time to survive.

“Community is both a feeling and a set of relationships among people. People form and maintain communities to meet common needs.” Stanford Social Innovation Review

Most people identify and participate in several communities, meeting all their different needs on a daily basis. They can be very different from one another, going from neighborhood to nation, faith, politics, race, ethnicity, age, gender, hobby, or sexual orientation.

For a long time, our belonging to a community relied on our geographical position, but transportation and then technology has widely extended the potential of communities. The Internet is now helping us make new bonds — bonds that aren’t reliant on proximity, dependence, or nationalism, but on common interests & values. Communities, identities, and meanings are based on choice, and less on circumstance.

Communities have also a crucial impact on our health and well-being. Human beings constantly need social validation from their peers, so that they can be considered as a person and feel like being part of a group they can rely on.

“Members of a community have a sense of trust, belonging, safety, and caring for each other. They have an individual and collective sense that they can, as part of that community, influence their environments and each other.” Stanford Social Innovation Review

But most importantly, the communities we belong to are shaping our understanding of the world, which makes them essential to create social change. A community is a group of people who share an identity-forming narrative, meaning that these people are sharing a story so important to them that it defines an aspect of who they are.

Those people build the shared story archetypes (characters) of that community into their sense of themselves, they build the history of those communities into their own personal history and see the world through the lens of those shared stories.

“I think my key message is that community is an important concept for social change because it helps us to see that social change requires a change in some of the most important stories we tell ourselves. Social change requires that we rewrite our communal narratives. Social change is change in community.” Center for Public Impact — a BCG Foundation

To sum up, a community is formed by a group of people with the same needs and building narratives and actions to meet those needs. And these narratives and actions end up characterizing them as persons.

Creating communities for learning purposes turns out to be an efficient strategy. As we said earlier, it helps connect people to build narratives on the same subject. One feels safe and trustful by being part of the community, which facilitates learning by making those narratives part of his personal history. Communities also improve soft skills (or social skills) by supporting distributed leadership and teamwork.

“Learning communities provide a space and a structure for people to align around a shared goal. Effective communities are both aspirational and practical.” Center on the developing child — Harvard University

Why applying community learning to climate change 🌍

Talking about climate change is a complex issue because many people have different opinions about it or don’t know how to act on it. We see three major reasons to approach climate learning through communities: to fight eco-anxiety, scale individual climate action and help us achieve a system-level change.

1️. Fight eco-anxiety 🌟

According to the World Health Organization, eco-anxiety is the biggest health challenge of the century. This phenomenon relates to a feeling of helplessness, anger, insomnia, panic and guilt due to climate change and mostly affects the young generations. The association Friends of the Earth showed that 70 percent of 18–24 years old were experiencing “eco-anxiety” in the UK last year.

Eco-anxiety is also linked to a feeling of powerlessness. Only 26% of participants agreed that they “feel like [they] have a clear idea of how [they] can contribute to solving climate change.” according to Force of Nature, an association studying eco-anxiety worldwide.

Going through to the main criteria we listed before, communities related to climate change can help us feel better about the current situation and reduce eco-anxiety:

  • By connecting people, communities on climate change help us feel less lonely
  • As climate change is universal, you can get on a community about climate change in your neighborhood or spend time with people online anywhere in the world.
  • Communities have a crucial role to stay positive about climate change because they make participating in a movement where you feel you can act and actually do something about it
  • Through communities, we can share a common and positive worldview about climate change

“This classroom helped me realize that my actions do have weight and taking action is the only way to change the narrative.” Force of Nature - report on eco-anxiety

2. Scale individual climate action ✊🏼

We are aware that individual action is essential but not sufficient to tackle the climate crisis. Joining a community on climate change can help your actions matter more, by embracing a more global movement. Unity is strength as the old saying goes, and engaged communities can really achieve great progress. That’s what climate activism has been about in the past decades, and it still manages to make institutions or governments change their behavior. Without activism through climate communities, we would not have gone so quickly into renewable energies or reducing global carbon emissions (even if a lot has to be done yet).

Communities on climate change give you a voice to be heard from companies and governments. A relevant example is the online platform We Don’t Have Time, the biggest social network focused on climate change with a community of 800 000 people after 2 years, and a reach up to +80 million people during major broadcasts on social media. On this platform, everyone can write a climate review to praise (climate love), suggest (climate idea), or criticize (climate warning) an action impacting climate on Earth. If a climate review gets more than 100 likes (“agrees” on the platform), We Don’t Have Time’s team will reach out to the company or organization and ask for a response, to get a dialogue started. Acting as the spokesperson for a large community of engaged people, We Don’t Have Time managed to talk with renowned businessmen (Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk) or politicians (Jair Bolsonaro, Norwegian ministry of environment) to help them rethink their climate actions.

3️. Help us achieve a system-level change 🔥

According to Swedish researcher Victoria Wibeck, we need to renew our narratives about the existing solutions to climate change to initiate major social change towards a more responsible society. What will society look like after those transformations? If you don’t have a narrative on what will society look like without fossil fuels then people won’t change because they can’t project themselves on a world without petrol or gas.

Communities related to climate action help change those narratives that currently drive our society. The REACT for Change project led by the Russian researcher Irina Rogozhina is trying to make the entire city of Trondheim (2nd biggest city in Norway with 200 000 inhabitants) become climate-friendly by growing different communities engaged in climate change inside the city, using the involvement of students, teachers, city council, etc. Imagine you see your neighbors doing permaculture. Your children are asking for a plant-based diet at home like the one they have at school. And your municipality runs public campaigns and implement policies to promote responsible transportation. All these actions at different community levels will make you transition to a more responsible behavior because solutions will be here and you would be a fool not acting like everyone else!

Communities are particularly relevant when learning or acting about climate change. You can have student communities at school to promote ideas about waste or plant-based diets, teacher communities sharing teaching best practices about climate science, a community to make your city cleaner or ban plastic. All these communities do matter and being involved at different layers of community levels is key if we want to make social change become systemic.

If you want to learn more about community learning for climate change, we have interviewed a lot of climate education experts on the subject during our Ikigaï Project!

Here are those mentioned in the article:

  • Read about our interview with Ingmar Rentzhog, CEO of We Don’t Have Time here
  • Read about our interview with Irina Rogozhina, Founder of REACT for Change here
  • Read about our interview with Victoria Wibeck, a researcher at the Linköping University here

Thanks for reading!

The Ikigaï Project is a 5-month world tour on climate education. We are traveling across Europe and America by train to meet with +100 experts on climate education (start-ups, schools, public figures and activists, VCs, researchers, governments…). Our mission is to find simple and innovative ways to learn about climate change at school and uni, in the corporate or public sphere ⭐️ You can read about our last updates by subscribing to our bi-monthly newsletter here.

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Our meeting with Ingmar in Stockholm, the CEO of We Don’t Have Time ✌



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Ikigai Project

Ikigai Project

The Ikigaï Project is 5-month travel to find universal ways to learn about climate change and foster climate action for all!