How to put yourself in the climate conversation
Speaker: Sandra Pallier, co-organiser of ClimateAction.tech
Featured in our 2021 London Climate Action Week event: The environmental impact of the digital industry.
A few years back in 2019, after becoming more and more aware of our climate, I made a number of conscious lifestyle changes. But I realised these weren’t quite enough. There had to be more work I could do – more systemic work – things which went beyond my personal lifestyle.
So I started by getting a better understanding of my role in the world, and the intersections that make up my life and my identity in the current capitalist system. I work as a designer in the UK tech industry. I’m originally from Austria. I’m a white female, relatively early on in my career.
Then there’s the question of how the world around me works. There’s the politics I participate in, through voting, campaigning, and joining marches, supporting initiatives and campaigns financially, or even becoming more active and joining a political party.
Part of this exterior includes the corporations, which – to me – feel as though they run the world a lot more than the politicians do these days. Largely because they have the money, power, influence, and resources to do so.
I am one of those resources in a very powerful industry- a tech worker. And that means I have a certain amount of power and certain privileges, which I can use for good, or for bad.
Locate an entry point
A paper I read recently called ‘Leverage points: Places to intervene in a system’ by systems analyst Donella Meadows talked about high impact points to change a system. Changing mindsets, paradigms as well as the high level goals of any one system are two of the most impactful things we can do to change it.
But changing mindsets and paradigms requires us first to understand what shared ideas we currently live within our society, and which beliefs or unstated assumptions are part of our daily routines. How do we believe the world works? How are we taught that the world works?
Changing the goals of a system at a higher level requires us to ask what the current goals of the systems are. What’s the point of the game? Is it survival? Is it resilience? Or differentiation? For corporations the high level goal is often power and control.
Collaboration is key
Changing the mindsets, paradigms or goals of our current system isn’t something you can necessarily do alone. You need folks to collaborate with.
And then it’s about taking action. To change mindsets and paradigms, you can start by advocating for new ideas. Talking about the climate at work. Speaking up and pointing out the failures of the current system.
You can do all these things through a disruptive medium such as a strike, or a shareholder proposal – which is what Amazon Employees for Climate Justice did (here’s an interesting podcast episode that dives into their work). You can also raise your ideas in meetings, day-to-day conversations, or presentations to leadership. And you don’t have to change everyone’s mind. The system and society will start doing it on its own, as the vast middle ground of open-minded people sway further towards change without even thinking about it.
Ultimately, involving yourself in the world’s climate conversation hinges on you being able to paint a picture and envision a new future. One with new rules and a reimagined society which functions better, and has goals where planetary and societal health sit at the core.
Fine-tune your approach
As a tech worker, I want to start in my own industry. Because that’s where I have the most experience, and where I currently hold a lot of power. That’s where I think I can make the biggest difference by taking various actions.
And there’s all sorts of routes you can take.
You can start to live in this new future in one aspect of your life – be that at work, at home, or when you’re on the move. That way, the vision you have for the future feels more tangible.
Or you can speak up, breaking the climate silence and changing the mindsets of your colleagues – which will eventually influence decision makers, and change the mindsets of people at the top.
You could plan to popularise the topic of climate change, both outside and inside your workspace, by offering to give talks, teach, or write to spread the word. All of these actions are steps on the way to transformed industries. Ones which listen to local knowledge and adapt to different local contexts, instead of optimising for infinite growth and global scale.
One day, I envision a tech industry which makes the climate its priority, one which takes responsibility, restoring and regenerating the resources it uses up, and one which doesn’t rely solely on growth to thrive.
How would people go about starting these sorts of conversations around climate change at work?
Speaking up doesn’t necessarily require you to know everything, or to know a lot about the digital industry and its impact on the environment. You can actually use this to your advantage, by asking questions in meetings such as: ‘Is there a greener option that we can build? How can we make this more efficient by design? Is this data we’re capturing really needed? What are we doing with it and why are we storing it? What data are we offering to the user? Are we just pushing it in their faces, or is it something that they want?
There’s lots and lots of questions that you can bring up in meetings like this, but also in day-to-day conversations with colleagues, or in presentations to leadership.
What’s the most exciting thing you think has happened in the digital space over these last six months?
From a ClimateAction.tech perspective, we’ve had a massive increase in members throughout 2020 and moving on into 2021 as well. So, I think one of the things that showed us is that the interest in this topic is growing, which is great.
We’ve also seen that conversation start to get a bit deeper in the community Slack. We ran a TEDx event last winter, which was pretty well attended too and it was great to see that the conversations are getting deeper and more people are getting involved, from different disciplines as well.
How can communities like ClimateAction.tech facilitate the coordination and dissemination of ideas?
Currently, we’re trying to make those information flows a little bit more connected – but part of this is figuring out how to! We start with global conversations, which then empower us to act locally – be that in our organisation or in our country.
We pride ourselves on the fact we are a global community, with members shifting conversations, sharing stories and taking action all over the globe. This diversity of thought has really helped to get an understanding of the climate crisis.
We’re still in the process of gathering information from everyone. Currently, we are working on adding more action guides to our website. So there’s more to come. We’re not quite there yet, but conversations are happening.