The first thing I noticed about South London Cares in our workshop with them, back in October 2019, was their incredible sense of community. Seeing neighbours old and young come together from all walks of life to share stories, companionship and a love for their community reminded me of my own reasons for joining Friends of the Earth Lambeth: to find comfort amongst people who care.
We were invited by South London Cares as part of their ‘Green Month’ to deliver a workshop on understanding climate change. We were welcomed by friendly faces and Gregg’s vegan sausage rolls, which certainly helped to steady the nerves. I was feeling a little daunted at the prospect of headlining the night’s main event: ‘Baffled by Climate Change?’; as just another ‘average-Joe’-climate-worrier who joined Friends of the Earth Lambeth to try to do my bit, I often feel just as baffled! However, I was really looking forward to the chance to engage with the older community, who all too often seem to be portrayed as a ‘lost cause’ or ‘too set in their ways to change’. I was hoping the workshop would teach me, as much as it would teach them.
We started the workshop with a true out-your-seat kind of icebreaker, giving each person a global-warming-theme buzzword or definition which they then had to mill around the room to find their match. It started some good conversation – how to pronounce ‘Skolstrejk for klimatet’ being one of them – and began the meeting with a good challenge to get people thinking.
Next, we delved into what’s going on in the world right now, giving a synopsis of what’s led to this point, and how we’re reacting to it. We invited our audience to share how this made them feel and found the most popular emotion to be – confusion. It opened the room to a good discussion, with similar thoughts and frustrations being shared – because, at the end of the day, aren’t we all just as confused?
The science jargon, the feeling of hopelessness, powerless and anger, the worry and fear of pointlessness defeat… Knowing just how much it all upsets me, it saddened me to think how much this confusion is affecting older people. As the younger generation, we are pretty adaptable to changing circumstances with our phones and technology we are able to seek out answers to navigate obstacles and confusion. However, for older people, they may have to rely on one narrative for their source of information – a newspaper they regularly read, a news station they watch regularly – and have to trust it will have all the answers. It may sound obvious when said aloud but it was only when hearing the exasperation in the older people’s questions at the workshop did it really resonate with me properly.
Amongst the confusion, there was some comfort in hearing our thoughts and feelings echoed through the room and, if anything, it gave us some… hope.
Hope – it’s a complicated emotion, especially when it comes to climate change; some might even argue a little pointless, as one lady from the front row pointed out:
“Why should we be trying to make the world a better place, when world leaders who fly around in private jets counteract it all with even bigger carbon footprints?”
That is true – and it can feel exasperating trying to be optimistic in a world that makes you buy bananas in single-use plastic bags… but hope has an incredible pull. I believe if you empower yourself to live by what you believe to be right, despite what is going on around you, you have the power to inspire others to do so too. You just need to keep the smallest glimmer of hope alight – then just wait and see what it can do when it starts to burn.
So that’s what we tried to do. Instead of focusing too much on the doom-and-gloom we’re usually overwhelmed with, we tried to share the positive stories happening around us. Those who are demanding change are slowly but surely being listened to; potential solutions to this environmental crisis are already out there and now being properly considered; the world is finally waking up to the reality of a changing climate in a way that has never happened before.
These stories offer a sense of hope and a hope that we can all have, but only if we earn it. We have to join in with the noise and stand up for change. We have to support policy-makers who will bring about positive and constructive change. And we have to join the global movement of people waking up to this reality. By taking action, I believe there could be, and is hope in all this confusion.
Finally, we discussed the ways they could help. Individual changes, like the way you eat, shop and throw away; changes that can be made in your community such as voting, volunteering, or petitioning; or even changes that could be share with others, like teaching the younger generation how to grow vegetables, sew clothes… skills that seem to have been lost over the years but would make us as a society more resourceful and conscious in the way we consume and waste. We asked them to share these pledges in an incorporated arts-and-crafts session (as what is a workshop without scissors and blu-tac!), getting them to write down their individual promises on cut-outs of leaves and sticking them to a tree we’d made for them. Promises to “take your own shopping bag”, to “compost”, to “eat less meat” and to “buy local and eat seasonal” were added to our growing autumnal-looking tree, as was a growing sense of hope and community.
Some might say that hope isn’t enough to drive change; others may argue that individual lifestyle changes aren’t enough to change the world. I’d agree. No change will be made by hoping it gets better, while sat on the sofa and expecting someone to do it for you. No individual with a reusable coffee cup will bend the emissions curve on their own. So, let’s not do it on our own – let’s do it together.
I joined Friends of the Earth because I felt confused and overwhelmed by what’s happening to the world around me but hopeless in being able to make a difference on my own. So, I decided to find a group of people who felt the same and were doing something about it together. Princeton philosopher Victoria McGreer argues:
“Learning to hope as adults in our increasingly individualistic societies requires new scaffolding […] it involves empowering ourselves in part through empowering others with the energy of a responsive hope.”Victoria McGreer
What we hoped to share with South London Cares was this energy of a responsive hope. That, just as they have created a community who comes together to support each other, there are people around the world – like Friends of the Earth – who are coming together to fight climate change; who are earning their hope by rolling up their sleeves and taking action; who are hoping together for a better future.
I hope that we helped them to find a glimmer of hope in a world of confusion, and perhaps by reading this, you have too.