Climate change is planet-sized, and I am just one person. I went to the Climate Friendly Zone (CFZ) Night of Action hoping to find out one thing: how can a single voice make a difference in the biggest issue of our time?
For those that haven’t been following, CFZ is a campaign where people pledge their commitment to a climate-friendly Saskatchewan. It’s run by the Saskatchewan Environmental Society (SES), and is also functioning as one of our Green Sanctuary projects at the Unitarian Congregation of Saskatoon (UCS). After signing onto the pledge, households and businesses put up a round decal on their door or window for others to see. As the decal spreads, so does the message: Saskatchewanians want fast action to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
For those not satisfied with a decal, the Night of Action promised to teach more methods of turning conviction into action. As dozens of people shuffled into the loft, sidling by the snack table and scooting into seats, there was an undertone of excited anticipation in the room. Climate change affects us all, and we wanted to know how to take back control.
The night was broken into several short presentations, split between climate solutions and advocacy methods. The first thing we learned, which stuck with me through the night, was to focus on making change at a municipal level. Municipalities function at a human scale. Unlike provincial and federal governments, individual citizens can exercise a serious impact on policy. And in turn, municipalities can have a serious impact on greenhouse gas emissions, through everything from decentralized energy systems to public transport to stricter building codes. Plus, once major cities start picking a policy, provinces listen – followed by the country as a whole.
Fair enough. But I still wanted to know specifics. How could I, personally, make a difference?
Social media was presented as the first option. As a reluctant Facebook user, I perked a cautious ear. It is true that social media websites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram offer a wider, faster reach than nearly any other method. If you can engage people effectively, you can get them to like, share, star, retweet, or otherwise spread your message even further. We were encouraged to learn from other people’s mistakes and successes – to imitate the style of content that made us feel inspired, and avoid the types that made us feel angry and shut down. No matter how enraged or frustrated an issue makes you, people respond better to positive content.
The possibilities buzzed in my head as we practiced crafting 140 character “tweets” to attach to a variety of photos tacked up on the wall, and for the first time, I toyed with the idea that twitter might be a worthwhile endeavor.
Taking a technological step backward, the next method we looked at was letter writing – still a valuable and surprisingly effective method of voicing your opinion to government. Here, I was on firmer ground. I may be a pseudo-Luddite, but I know how to push a pencil. We went over some important tips to maximizing your letter’s impact, including keeping it short and snappy, situating yourself as part of a wider community’s views, making sure to show you understand the issue with a few brief sentences, and then asking for something big enough to matter, but small enough to achieve.
Amusingly all of these impact-maximizing tactics were demonstrated in a letter addressed to us, the audience, which urged us simply to write more letters. It was surprisingly moving – which reinforced their point.
The final method delved into, brought us full-circle to the original lesson, by teaching us how to directly engage with the municipal government of Saskatoon. First off, we were urged to take part in consultation meetings wherever possible, for, as we were reminded, decisions are made by the people that show up. Secondly, we talked about the mayor and the ten councilors, who make up the city council. Any resident of Saskatoon can send a letter asking to make 5-minute presentation on an issue of concern at one of their meetings. While the time limit is strictly enforced, within those 5 minutes you can have your say directly to those in power. I had never realized it was that easy to get a captive audience.
The night ended with a challenge to use what we had learned. Whether we choose social media, written letters, or direct presentations, the important is that we are using our voice. Using effective methods, one person can be loud – but many people can be deafening. How will you speak up?
Lisa Howse, member of UCS Green Sanctuary program