April Update – Climate Conversations Project

April Update – Climate Conversations Project

An update from Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light on how their climate conversations project is going.

In February, Climate Access held a case challenge with Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light who are looking to use the success of the Freedom to Marry conversation campaign and apply those lessons to climate change.

This week, I spoke with Julia Nerbonne, the executive director of Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light (MNIPL) to see how the climate conversations campaign is going and how the Climate Access case challenge helped refine their plans.

Since February, MNIPL have been doing a lot of organizing and relationship building. They’re aiming to have ten pilot congregations who each have core teams of trained conversation facilitators having conversations about climate change by the end of the year. One of the big focuses is to make sure the conversations they’re having help to broaden the climate movement, rather than just preaching to the converted, so they’re currently working with allies across different faiths, races and socio-economic groups to make sure their conversations are accessible to as many Minnesotans as possible.

Following on from the advice in the webinar to cast their net as wide a possible to see what other groups are feeling and what makes a good climate conversation, MNIPL have been broadcasting their idea to anyone interested in the model, with general tips and advice as well as a script of questions that could be posed. This has been really popular, and allowed MNIPL to test out key pivotal questions at workshops, in college classes and has even led to some college classes testing out a peer conversation model amongst themselves.

Five congregations have signed on so far and MNIPL has been busy working with them, having pilot conversations and learning from those experiences to tweak their own processes and evaluate the experiences.

The process will be that each participating congregation will have a core team that will convene within their congregation to lead discussions, help people start their own conversations and report back to a community-wide meeting.

One really interesting thing that MNIPL have found so far is how excited people are to be able to come together and talk about their feelings on climate change. Where you would think that asking people to come to a gathering to talk about how they feel would be ‘uncool’ or a hard ask, the enthusiasm with which people have responded to the process of conversations surprised MNIPL.

The fact that the conversations are structured and have four clear parts has also been a success, as it allows for a more focused dialogue, and instead of people coming together and having many ideas with no clue of what to do next, the process MNIPL is using enables groups to start moving towards a solutions focus and feeling like they’re taking action on climate change.

One successful thing that MNIPL has changed is to move from a more closed ended question of ‘will you join us?’ as the last question in the group dialogues to a creative one where they ask the five people to pretend they are an advisory committee and come up with one activity the congregation can do to move forward using the skills of each person in the circle. This has led to all kinds of creative ideas being proposed, but also allows for the climate change conversation to end on a note of creativity and action.

The only setback so far has been that some people feel that just talking about climate change is not enough. It has also been challenging that in the creation of the dialogues it can be hard to get people to talk about their feelings. Julia Nerbonne was surprised at how difficult it can be for some people to lead with talking from their heart and what they value, and was worried that sometimes the conversation can end up being a series of ‘scientific horror stories’, which I will admit I’m guilty of doing when I talk about climate.

Some congregations have felt that when they discuss climate, everyone in the room is trying very hard to be respectful of others and no one person wants to put their idea out front, so using the structured conversation model that MNIPL is providing has allowed them to bridge from feeling lost in a sea of choices to moving towards consensus and action, which is excellent.

For me, talking with Julia Nerbonne really reinforced that the best way to talk about climate change is through the heart and not the head. By leading values based conversations and finding common ground and shared passions, we will be able to lead towards climate solutions.

For MNIPL, their aims are to build a stronger and deeper climate movement in Minnesota, as well as planting the seed for climate becoming an everyday topic – one that is discussed amongst friends and mentioned at church each week as you wander through the community solar garden that’s been installed in the church grounds to model localized power solutions.

image via cc by Simon Blackley, flickr