by Mic Palmer
A Youth Climate Café that took place in St Marks Church in Easton in April 2022 invited young people across Bristol to come and share in climate discussions and activities. It was organised by UWE Bristol researchers, community members and charitable groups in Easton.
Audience engagement activities on the day included an immersive climate dome, seed pot making, presentations, conversations, an air pollution workshop and walk, and a fast fashion dance. The creative input was supported by Baggator Nexus, St Mark’s Baptist Church, Peace of Art, Easton Community Members, CCC-Catapult Youth Action partner group, Quartet Community Foundation, the UWE Community fund as well as the UWE Bristol Enterprise, Knowledge Exchange and Public Engagement fund.
Apart from providing a much-needed opportunity for young people to hear, see and talk about climate change and what to do about it, three key insights emerged from the event that seem to indicate when community climate engagement works at its best – when it sees the local connection, listens to people disproportionally affected by climate change and builds a resilient community ready for action.
See the local connection
The first plus of the climate café event was that it brought the focus back to local issues – the impact that can be directly felt. Air quality is an important issue for the Easton community. A talk and guided walk pointed out the problems in this area and how a community has come together to learn and influence change. Through a citizen science project, Easton residents are getting involved in air quality sensing, gathering data and interpreting what it means. They are making connections between the presence of particulate matter in the air with health issues experienced by friends and family.
To help bridge the digital gap between residents in Easton – one of the most deprived areas in Bristol- and air quality scientists, STEM ambassadors and UWE Bristol have been collaborating with BMCS and Baggator to use data on Air Pollution and Traffic data from Saaf Hava (‘clean air’). Stuart Phelps (Baggator) presented how this all connected at the Climate Café:
Saaf Hava is a Citizen Sensing project. Twenty sites across Easton will measure Air Pollution, Temperature, Humidity; with room for expansion. These twenty sites will make up over 1.6 square kilometres and may perhaps be the most comprehensive Citizen Sensing network in the UK. Telraam traffic counters have been added to this via UWE Bristol’s WE COUNT programme and introduced via STEM Ambassadors at Baggator.
According to Maryan Abdirahman, Baggator’s Data Analyst & User Researcher, gathering air quality data in Easton’s streets and communicating results to the people who live there is proving to be useful climate action. It has already led to greater awareness, change of habits and a better-informed lobbying of political decision-makers in Bristol.
Communicate with everyone
A second insight that makes Easton community climate actions impactful is involving people not currently featuring prominently in public climate debates. Saaf Hava, the Citizen Sensing project mentioned before, is a joint initiative between RADE and the Council of Bristol Mosques and as such gives a voice to unheard BAME and working-class people in environmental debates.
Indeed, a little known fact is that some Easton mosques have been engaging with climate change in a deep and meaningful way.
The Easton climate café (hosted in St Marks Baptist church!) invited different audiences to contribute their views to an event and take note of each other, young Muslim women, families, older citizens, small business owners. Workshops held in preparation to the event connected young people living in Easton with university students and university researchers were facilitated by ‘Peace of Art’, a group of Muslim women creating Street Art.
Get ready to take climate action
Climate change is rooted in actions taken by the more affluent inhabitants of this planet, and the most disadvantaged groups are often far more affected by its negative impacts. Paradoxically, climate engagement tends to increase with education and income. To arrive at a more balanced debate and move things forward, a greater representation of disadvantaged and lower-income voices in climate debates seems crucial. We need to understand how race, ethnicity, class and gender issues can interact to influence/prevent climate change engagement. Perhaps the engagement formats we tend to use prevent access for many, and so we hear far less from people far earlier or far more affected by climate change.
Self-reflection is important but might open the doors to time-consuming bickering, for example “middle-class climate warrior” has now turned from a description to an insult. Many activists know that the class divide threatens to derail what can only be achieved together, and Triston Cross writes “the more climate activism is codified as middle class and bourgeoisie, the more its composition inevitably will be. It’s self-fulfilling”. Clearly, new ways of engagement need to be explored, and perhaps the actions taken by Easton groups indicate how things can be done differently.
Media coverage often ignores what takes place quietly in our communities. Under-represented groups may already have explored and implemented working solutions, quietly. ‘Green’ practices, passed on from generation to generation, may have originated in necessity, not idealism: living through hard times, periods of shortages, mending and making do, using as little resources as possible. Perhaps we can still learn a lot from each other.
Regarding climate change, most of us understand the urgency to act. The pressures of rising living costs in the UK are getting more real every day. But how we go about taking action seems as important as the fact that we do take action. This means to address social and political exclusion. Climate activism needs to be inclusive and from this perspective, Easton is a perfect place to start.
Dr Mic Palmer is Senior Lecturer in Digital Media at UWE Bristol