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Hope amidst the warnings – reducing emissions community by community

4 September, 2021
By Gareth Ellis, The Green Valleys CIC

We catch up with Gareth Ellis, the founder, Director and Project Manger for The Green Valleys CIC. The community interest company is a multi award winning social enterprise, inspiring and supporting community led action on climate change.

Reading the IPCC report brought mixed feelings. From shock and fear to hope and optimism. Climate change impact is often down-played, yet this report used the bluntest language; the climate IS changing; humans ARE causing it; the impact WILL be devastating. There’s never been such blanket media coverage. Climate change shifted from a possible future concern, to a current and immediate threat.

Maybe this would be a wake up call. Maybe this would be a turning point.

But instead the media has moved on. The IPCC’s warnings are yesterdays’ news, gone from the headlines practically overnight. Now, the narrative has changed from one of concern and action, to one of responsibility and blame.

Climate change denial has long sown uncertainty, delay and confusion. The inevitable and visible impacts of climate change were always going to prove the science correct. Now denial focuses on who to blame, who should pick up the cost and who should act first. Uncertainty, delay and confusion again.

The media response is now “why should my taxes fund solar panels when China builds new coal power stations?”

There is a contradiction here. Climate action is framed to make us individually responsible and yet individually powerless. We’re burdened with our personal climate impact and encouraged to reduce it – then told it won’t make any difference until someone, somewhere else, does more. We’re told to make sacrifices and then told it will make no difference. The result is inaction, helplessness, apathy, diversion and defeatism.

So what can we do that satisfies individual responsibility but also has enough impact?

Thankfully, we are social animals. We build communities. It is this community level where action can be most effective. Wales has a staggering number of successful community projects tackling climate change, environmental issues, renewable energy generation and energy saving projects. Focusing on local collaborative effort results in the greatest impact because it is:

Manageable – The changes to reach net zero are daunting. Breaking the challenge down into local context creates a realistic target. It also frames the level of shared local responsibility, without targeting individuals as the problem.

Impactful – Reducing your home energy bill is important but can feel like insignificant. Community projects deliver a measurable impact at local and regional scale.

Inclusive – Not everyone can install solar at home or afford an electric car. Everyone can get involved in a community project. Many skills are needed and a local focus can mobilise people to make a contribution.

Creating shared benefits – The changes we need are an opportunity to make our communities better places to live and by working together we can ensure that everyone in our community shares those benefits.

A way to feel part of something bigger – we have recently completed an Interreg North-West Europe project, ECCO, working with 10 project partners on the best ways to develop community energy. Our communities and challenges are similar and it’s clear that even small, disparate projects when viewed collectively are creating a huge and growing movement. Understanding this inspires more action and creates a sense of hope.

For all the warnings of the science, for all the inaction and hollow words and for all those dismissing the science and the action, there is another story. People across the world are making these changes happen. Whole communities are working with their neighbours across streets and villages, towns and regions, cutting emissions and finding new ways to make our communities stronger, richer and more resilient.

This is a great challenge. Through working together we become something greater than ourselves and we can overcome the challenge we face. There is hope!

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