The aim of the SELFCITY project over the past 3 years has been to explore a variety of questions about what it means to be a climate change activist in Europe in the 2010s. Over the past 2 years we (as the SELFCITY team) have spoken to more than 100 participants in towns and cities in Germany, Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. Through these conversations we have asked what are the most important things that they associate with being a climate change activist involved in self-organising environmental groups.
The UK team talked to 56 participants of two UK-based local environmental groups during the summer of 2016: Transition Keynsham and Winchester Action on Climate Change. Our questions (framed by a Q-sort method) centred on their feelings about environmentalism and their feelings of being involved in a community-led initiative. This was challenging, illuminating and fun since it involved placing 49 statements in a pyramid of importance whilst also getting our respondents to tell us why they placed the cards as they did.
We analysed their answers to explore the similarities and differences in our respondents linked these two ideas (‘responding to climate change’ and ‘being a community-based activist’). Based on our partipant’s responses we have identified four distinct narratives of self-organised response to climate change which we have labelled:
1) a ‘Eco-egalitarian’ narrative that combines strong ecological values (informed by a ‘limits to growth’ logic) with a commitment to social justice;
2) a ‘Consensus-building’ narrative that advocates non-confrontational reform to the existing political-economic system and emphasises the synergy between environmental protection, economic growth and social inclusion;
3) a ‘Community building’ narrative that advances firm green beliefs (of an anti-anthropocentric character) and a commitment to building a ‘sense of place’ locally; and,
4) a ‘Radical anti-system’ that foregrounds unyielding ecological ideals (predicated on a robust critique of neo-liberalism) and an aspiration to challenge directly business, government and formal authority.
The four narratives demonstrate that local ‘self-organisers’ articulate very different challenges and opportunities vis a vis climate change, while prioritising different responses and forms of action albeit that they were trying to achieve their environmental aims within the same group. Our on-going analysis critically assesses the connections and differences between the narratives, the demands and messages they communicate, and the influence of national and demographic contexts on them. So which one do you think you would belong to?
Stephen Hall from the Self City team will be presenting this research at the European Urban Research Association conference in Warsaw this week (June 22nd – 24th) and at the Association of European Schools of Planning conference in Lisbon (July 11th – 14th). If you are there come along. We have attached a copy of our presentation below.