The Regenerates and My Climate Journey, sponsored by accounting software giant Intuit, put on a virtual climate conference called Climate Con 2021 last month in hopes to inspire citizens to action.
The conference took place against the backdrop of the United Nations’ COP26 summit in Glasgow last week. Climate Con’s organizers hope that it will serve as a new model for organizing and rallying citizens of all stripes concerned about the impending climate crisis.
The three days of panels of experts and breakout discussion rooms went from Nov. 9 through Nov. 11, and was open to the general public via Zoom. Organizers billed the gathering as, “A conference for us regular people. Real talk, real options, and real solidarity.”
Participants were able to listen in on conversations between concerned experts from across the globe. Panelists included entrepreneurs, educators and activists representing a wide variety of socioeconomic classes, ethnic backgrounds and generations. Virtually all of the panels had one thing in common: a message of positivity and a focus on actionable solutions. “Being a citizen isn’t just about your relationship with the government,” organizer Kristen Winzent said during the conference, “but about your relationships with your neighbors and your community.”
One panel, entitled “Finding Opportunities Across Generations,” gave advice to young activists looking to talk about climate change with members of older generations who may have an instinctively hostile attitude towards green initiatives. Mick Smyer, founder of Growing Greener and a professor of psychology at Bucknell University, advised attendees to pick their battles; while a cantankerous uncle may be beyond reaching, an aunt, secretly concerned for her kids and grandkids, may be more receptive. “We need to move adults from climate anxiety to climate action,” he said.
Another discussion covered making one’s job, whatever the function, a “climate job.” Cassie Divine, Intuit’s VP of QuickBooks, made an appearance to discuss her path to becoming a climate advocate in her workplace. “I struggled with what many people struggle with, which is, ‘Where do I start?’” She ultimately advised listeners to find opportunities to find avenues for sustainable change in their industry, and use their power as a laborer in their company to push for these changes to be made.
The urgency of the climate crisis can be a mental health burden for those who take up the cause. A study by the U.S. Global Change Research Program reported that people's anxiety and distress about the implications of climate change are undermining mental health and well-being. Given the short ten-year timeline we’ve been given to change our society and mitigate the worst effects of climate change, this is a very much expected result. Indeed, the American Psychological Association reported that environmental psychologist Susan Clayton, PhD said on the subject, “When it comes to climate change and mental health, the picture that emerges when you connect the dots is not surprising.”
Dasha Bukreyeva, a student of clinical psychology pursuing her doctorate at the Chicago School of Clinical Psychology’s D.C. campus, also recognizes the tonal challenges of climate change dialogue. “Oftentimes [messaging] is fatalistic,” she said, adding that we need “less shaming… no one is going to listen if they’re being shamed. [People] need to feel empowered, and that we understand where they are coming from, if we’re going to inspire them to make change.”
This is, in effect, the mission of the organizers of Climate Con 2021. The convention’s “about” page is full of more optimistic language than one might normally expect of a climate organization: “During three doom-free days, hear the stories of others who have already charted their climate journeys… We’ll learn how change happens, discuss the roles we can play, and explore the worlds we can create if we actually do something.”
With such a vision, the activists behind Climate Con 2021 are hopeful they can enshrine a new paradigm for conversations about one of the biggest challenges of our age - and thus inspire more hope and action to build the best possible future around it.