A Listening Project on Climate Change

This past weekend I led a two-day wide-world listening project1 on climate change. 

I was inspired to do something because a big environmental event was being planned in a city further north in California (USA). I decided that I wanted to participate in something local rather than drive to that event, and then I learned that it was happening on the same weekend as a nearby two-day Strawberry Festival. This festival is an annual family-oriented event featuring music, carnival rides, food, and information booths. Strawberries are an enormous crop in this area, and most strawberry pickers are migrant Mexican farm workers. 

My first thought was to volunteer to help staff a table at the festival, for the city environmental education team. However, it turned out2 that they weren’t having a table, so they arranged for me to have one, at no cost (I think partly because over the past several years I had made a good connection with one of the city employees). 

I recruited three long-time friends, two of their teenage daughters, and one new friend—all women of the global majority—to staff the table with me. I had been working on environmental projects with them over the previous several months. I also recruited my husband, our five-year-old daughter, and two volunteers from our farm. My daughter colored in most of the big signs. In working on the project, she started showing me how much she had learned about climate change. 

I liked the idea of being at a large mainstream event that didn’t have an environmental theme. I expected that the crowd would be more representative of the area’s population than the crowds that typically attend “environmental” events. 

I talked with each friend ahead of time about listening to people more than talking. My goal was for us to meet people where they were at in their understanding of climate change.  And I trusted that listening to and connecting with them would help them move their thinking forward, at least a little. One of my friends was skeptical. But at the event she watched me talk with people and became more and more intrigued by what I was doing. 

It seemed to work best to approach people with a general question (in English or in Spanish), such as, “What are your favorite places in nature?” “What do you want life on earth to be like for your children or grandchildren?” or “What have you heard about climate change?” One friend had made a beautiful collage of images from nature, which drew a lot of attention and was great for starting conversations. 

After engaging people in a little conversation off of one of the questions, I would talk about the reason for our booth and ask if they had heard much about climate change. I had expected that many people would ignore us and that some would be very negative. Instead we engaged in thoughtful conversations with hundreds of people, and many of them thanked us profusely for being there. I think we offered people hope as we helped them look at a serious issue.

We made connections with people who were already leading on climate change and with teachers, parents, children, and grandparents. Some people knew nothing about the issue, others were able to say a tiny bit about what they had heard, and others were quite well informed. The majority of people we spoke with were native Spanish speakers. 

Seventy-four people pledged to take an action this week to help stop climate change (actions could include talking to others about what they knew) and were entered into a raffle. Twenty-two signed up to be on an informational mailing list. 

These are some of the people I especially enjoyed connecting with: 

• An elder from Guanajuato, Mexico, who knew a great deal about changing weather patterns in different places and spoke passionately about what he knew. I encouraged him to lead his family and friends in understanding this issue.

• A parent and her ten-year-old daughter who I learned attended the school my five-year-old is entering in a few weeks. I asked the parent if I could contact her to perhaps develop a committee to look at environmental issues at the school. 

• A Chicano environmental law student who spoke about protecting people’s rights and meeting people’s needs 

• A teenage Chicana who was exploring shifting to a vegan diet and was frustrated by her friends calling her environmental concern a “hippie3 thing” 

• An African-heritage elder who said she had decided to stop worrying about these kinds of things. I listened to her, agreed that worrying wouldn’t help anything, and concentrated on having a good, enjoyable interaction with her. 

• The librarian from a school I had worked at a number of years ago who said she knew nothing about climate change and took my information sheet 

• A thirty-something-year-old Chicano who was starting to grow some of his food, build a wind turbine, and develop solar power at his house and was considering having chickens, right in downtown Watsonville (California, USA) 

• Several people who disagreed with us about what was causing climate change but stayed engaged in conversation and ended up leaving with a slightly changed attitude 

• Dozens of other people with whom I had warm, human contact—people who spoke passionately, looked me in the eye, and thanked us for being there

• All the children who told me about their favorite animals, or colored on paper while I talked with their folks 

• My friends who left inspired, with ideas for new actions 

I believe we had an impact on hundreds if not thousands of people, and began connections with many that we’ll be able to continue. 

I appreciate so much all that I’ve learned in RC. My new friend who was part of the project is looking to me more and more as she sees me approaching activism in a different way than she’s seen in other organizations. 

My dream is to lead a wide-world leaders’ group centered on the group of friends who participated in this project with me, and to find ways to share RC perspectives and information with the large numbers of people I met this weekend, including someday inviting them to be part of a local RC Community. 

Nancy Faulstich
Watsonville, California, USA
Reprinted from the RC e-mail discussion list for leaders in the care of the environment


1 In an RC listening project, several Co-Counselors go to a public place and offer to listen to passersby about some important issue, such as racism or a current war. They may hold signs that invite people to share their thinking about that issue. The author has done something similar with non-Co-Counselors as listeners.
2 “It turned out” means as it happened.
3 A “hippie” is someone, often white and from a middle-class background, who adopts an alternative-culture way of dressing, acting, and so on. 


Last modified: 2017-05-06 23:35:41-07