‘Mobilising for Sustainability’ – A Future Earth feature

How do we empower people to engage in solutions to collective and systemic problems? This Future Earth blog post by Michelle Kovacevic highlights the cCHALLENGE and its potential to help people realize how their actions can make a difference. This is the second in a series of Future Earth blogs on “Mobilising for Sustainabilty” that explores new ways of bringing non-traditional groups into sustainability research and in generating new solutions for the challenges of today.

For the article Kovacevic interviews former cCHALLENGE participants Inger Dybvik Kenobi and Milda Jonusaite Nordbø, cCHANGE founders Karen O’Brien and Linda Sygna, as well as Elliot Berkman, Director of the Social and Affective Neuroscience laboratory at the University of Oregon. The piece features passages like this one quoting Inger on her thoughts upon completing her challenge:

“I felt less hopeless. I began to see how small changes go a remarkably long way. I became more reflective and this has helped me become more resilient to challenges that life throws my way,” she says. It’s that sense of empowerment that makes cCHALLENGE different from the many campaigns that help people to reduce their carbon footprint.

Karen offers this comment on the significance of such realisations:

“Participants realise that it is more than just the practical sphere and their individual behaviour that matters. At different points in the programme, they realize that they can influence systems and structures, including social norms and political decisions. A key here is to recognize the roles that different beliefs, values and worldviews play in the political and practical spheres,” says O’Brien […]

“For example, in one of our early pilot projects, the leader of a large environmental organization committed his family to not eating meat five days a week. He started to see how this experiment influenced friends, neighbours and members of his organisation. It challenged many of his assumptions about how easy it is to be ‘green’ yet drew attention to people’s willingness to engage with change. Participants usually discover that the conversations we have with others about change can make a real difference.

The article goes on to explain the concept of the ‘three spheres of transformation’, how it relates to the cCHALLENGE project, and offers this paragraph on the usefulness of reflecting on ones journey:

cChallenges take place in the practical sphere but it’s the regular journaling and reflection over the 30-day period that helps participants understand the personal and political structures that they or society have built to impede change, and find ways to overcome them.

Later in the piece, Milda makes this poignant remark:

“I learned that I can change and that my change does not happen in a vacuum. People see and hear what I do and while my actions are small, each action is a vote. […]

At cCHANGE we aim to make cCHALLENGE reach a global audience, but an important part of the strategy going forward is also to introduce the project to Norwegian classrooms:

“There is so much energy, so much potential in young people. It’s very hard to change people who have been doing things for thirty years – they might have little a-ha moments, but it’s often not as easy… You often get push back and nobody wants to be changed. But give young people the tools to actually empower themselves to create those changes in all three spheres of transformation… that’s where the solutions really lie.”

Karen O’Brien argues that there is a hunger for making a difference and effecting change that matters, which is what the cCHALLENGE is all about:

“My experience is that people really want to be able to do something and they feel so disempowered. When people engage with change, they become less fearful of it. […] Everybody can actually find out where they can make that difference. And I think that’s the really exciting part: to really just empower people as a solution to collective and systemic problems,” O’Brien says.

“Self-help books fly off the shelf because people are very interested in making their lives better. The climate change books just sit there. But climate change is probably one of the biggest self-help stories out there – we just haven’t been framing it that way.”

Read the full post here.