Alison Glossop, one our October 2019 Associates, is halfway through her first placement at NatWest. In this article she shares her experience of attending a zero carbon conference where she left feeling inspired to find new ways of fighting the climate crisis and empowered to further engage with her local community.
In November I was invited to go to a Zero Carbon conference during the Plymouth Social Enterprise Network’s annual festival. Climate change was the theme of the festival this year. Following a very early start, I felt excited to be on the train down to south west England to see what I could learn from a community of passionate environmental and social impact champions. Throughout the day, speeches, workshops and panel discussions explored how individuals, businesses and governments can drive positive change in response to the climate emergency.
Plymouth City Council declared a climate emergency in March 2019 and like other councils has published an action plan to go carbon neutral by 2030 (the UK has legislated to bring all greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050). As well as the city’s strong environmental focus, Plymouth is a hotspot of social enterprise activity, highlighted at the beginning of the conference by Gareth Hart, Chair of the Plymouth Social Enterprise Network. It is home to 200 social enterprises and in 2013 it was one of the first cities to become a SEUK Social Enterprise Place, a programme set up to recognise, promote and build markets for social enterprises in the UK.
Here are the five key things I took away from the day.
1. Achieving zero carbon by 2030 is ambitious and requires fast work to make new policy effective.
According to Plymouth City Council’s action plan, the city “needs to act three times faster than envisaged by the current government policies” in order to reach its target of zero carbon by 2030. They define carbon neutrality as “the point when we achieve a net zero carbon budget by getting as close to zero greenhouse gas emissions as possible by 2030, and then offsetting any residual emissions via other credible initiatives.”
The chart above shows extra policies are required, in addition to those set by the government, in order to reduce Plymouth’s emissions by a further 600,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide and meet their 2030 zero carbon target.
2. 60% of the actions needed to reduce carbon emissions involve societal or behavioural change, as opposed to introducing low carbon technologies or fuels.
Sue Dann from Plymouth City Council presented this analysis from the UK’s Committee on Climate Change. It reinforces how local grassroots action and engagement is crucial for hitting carbon zero alongside developing new innovative technologies. The council was described as “a facilitator” for this change. Businesses and individuals taking initiative and responsibility, sharing ideas and working together will encourage and boost positive change.
3. People tend to respond to the idea of climate change through several stages from ‘shock’ to ‘integration’.
In the workshop I attended, it was suggested that in a similar way to the Kübler-Ross model of grief acceptance people can go through an emotional process when responding to the idea of climate change, which looks like this:
Shock — Denial — Frustration — Depression — Experiment — Decision — Integration
It was an interesting prompt to consider where businesses and individuals lie on this scale and what can be done at each stage to promote positive change with the end goal being integration, for example where sustainability is inherently part of every decision or project.
4. Eco-anxiety can lead to disengagement and conversation is important.
Manda Brookman from Permanently Brilliant talked about eco-anxiety and the power of “creative disrupters” like Greta Thunberg to increase engagement and get people talking. It was eye-opening to learn that the first scientific paper about the effect of carbon emissions, by John Tyndall, was published by the Royal Society in 1864. Conversation is key for overcoming what was referred to as the “industrial inertia” and “socially constructed silence” around climate change of the past. Increasing understanding, telling the truth and influencing others is important. Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change by George Marshall sounds like an interesting book on this subject.
5. “Plastic Free Community” status recognises Plymouth’s hard work in making an environmental impact.
Last year Plymouth was awarded Plastic Free Community status to recognise its efforts and hard work in reducing single use plastics and tackling plastic pollution. This is a network run by Surfers Against Sewage. I had never heard of this and found out there are communities all over the UK that aim to “kick our addiction to avoidable single-use plastic, and change the system that produces it”. I want to get involved with my local plastic-free network in 2020.
An inspiring day
Lunch was provided by a social enterprise called The Real Junk Food Project. With the motto “Feed bellies not bins”, they cook nourishing meals with leftover food from restaurants and supermarkets that would have gone to landfill. Operating a “pay as you feel” model, they run cafés and cater at conferences, schools and weddings. The Real Junk Food Project has intercepted 5,000 tonnes of food, the equivalent of 11.9 million meals, since starting operations in 2013. It was delicious, with bruschetta, falafel, guacamole, homemade spring rolls, stuffed vegetables, roast potatoes, flapjack and crumble all part of the spread. An incredible concept that I loved hearing more about.
I left feeling inspired having been surrounded by people coming together to explore how we fight the climate emergency. I feel so grateful to have been welcomed to join the community in Plymouth, and empowered to get more involved in my own local community in 2020.