As environmentalism goes mainstream and increasing numbers of organisations declare a climate emergency, Andrea Kuhn meets those who’ve been trying out the deep social, economic and cultural changes needed to get us out of this mess…

Much of the focus of climate change has been on how we make changes in our personal lives; how we live a more conscious life, tread more lightly on the planet. Until a year ago it seemed impossible that a few people could make any significant difference to such a global problem. But since the Swedish activist Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion movement have captured the public imagination, growing numbers of people and organisations around the world want to make changes, and they’re looking for a blueprint.

Above: Watch a short film about The Art of Rapid Transition, a new series of workshops and talks exploring our changing climate

Devon is home to Transition Town Totnes (TTT) – a small charity that started out supporting local environmental projects, but through the Transition Network, has become an international movement. Now over a thousand Transition towns in 43 countries are enabling whole communities to cut their carbon footprint.

Also in Devon is the ecological learning community, Schumacher College, which was co-founded by former travelling Jain monk Satish Kumar back in 1991. Inspired by Gaia theory, the college is renowned internationally for pioneering thinking about what needs to change for humans live in harmony with the planet – not just environmental, but economic, political and socially too – with the whole college modelling a different way for an institution to operate.

The two organisations have come together along with The Dartington Hall Trust and Devon County Council to share what they’ve learnt in The Art of Rapid Transition – a series of workshops and talks on the Dartington estate this autumn – which organisers hope will help people to understand the full implications of declaring a Climate Emergency as well as empower them to make change in their own lives.

Jenny Gellatly, coordinator of TTT, believes deep problems need deep solutions. She says: ‘It’s a complex issue that can’t be understood or addressed in isolation from other issues’.

‘This series which has grown out of much of TTT’s work over the past 15 years is about taking a 360 degree look at areas where we need to bring about change – from politics, to economics to culture – and new tools, understanding and approaches to apply locally and further afield.’

Dr Mona Nasseri from the MA Ecological Design Thinking programme at Schumacher College, says: ‘As the first Transition town, Totnes has inspired many other town and cities around the world. The Art of Rapid Transition invites Totnes community to yet again be an exemplary town in responding to the Climate Emergency.’

The series draws on a range of visiting tutors from Schumacher College, and takes an holistic approach to rapid change – exploring ideas, models and solutions in economics, food, art, politics, culture and more – and aims to equip those who are interested with fresh skills, inspiration and approaches to come together and make change happen where they are.

One speaker is writer and journalist Robin Webster of charity Climate Outreach, who has spent a lot of time looking at how we think and talk about the environmental challenges we face.

‘Enormous social and political change is a tall order and we know it’s not going to happen without social pressure. As human beings we are values driven and we are clearly influenced by what we see our peers doing,’ she says. ‘So for example if we see more people choosing to take the train instead of flying and then we are likely to follow.

‘Plastics is an interesting example. Government policy has changed as a result of people taking action. They have tapped into it and you can really see that difference when you look at some of these polls of public awareness.

Robin said that there have already been significant shifts into attitudes to climate change in recent years and it is no longer seen as fringe interest among a small group sector of society. But they key to shifting attitudes in those around us is finding the common ground we all share.

‘For example, some centre-right voters might traditionally have been sceptical of some of the green messages – they could regard them as having a left leaning bias. However they share a common ground in the love of nature and the countryside.

‘Or if you talk about the impact of climate change on the arctic by 2050 – for some people the psychological distance of that is too great to care about what is happening, yet a lot a lot of people have children and they might be thinking about their future. It’s all about finding that common ground.’

Other speakers joining Robin are Tom Crompton of Common Cause Foundation, an organisation promoting compassion as a way of raising concern over social and environmental issues, economist Kate Raworth, known for her work on Doughnut Economics, and Jyoti Fernandes from The Landworkers’ Alliance.

Dr Mona Nasseri says: ‘We want these to be a really exciting, participatory events to hear from the experts as well as bringing our own knowledge and experience to the table to develop the pathways to transition that will fit into our lives and work within our families and communities.’

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