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Creating Decarbonisation Groups in Community Centres in Santiago de Compostela and Donosti
City/Region : Santiago de Compostela , Spain

The project “Decarbonise! It’s no small feat” has as its main goal the organization and guidance of groups willing to contribute to “decarbonisation” in their own communities, that is, of groups of people willing to enhance community resilience and ease the ecological transition towards low-emission societies.

By means of coordinated work with the Santiago and Donostia city councils and a well-proven methodology, the project has succeeded in incorporating the climate crisis into the sociocultural and community leisure sector and in involving social groups traditionally unconcerned about the climate threat in the implementation of mitigation and adaptation strategies.

Agendas addressed
DecarbonisationClimate change
Pathways followed
  • Involve citizens through participatory implementation
  • Encourage local private and civic engagement
  • Promote social innovation supporting inclusion
Context
Bravas contra o cambio climático poster

In the last few years, the Santiago and Donostia city councils have been particularly successful in the implementation of mitigation and adaptation initiatives in terms of climate concerns and ecological transition. While such actions had a strong impact at the local level, they have not reached all the sections of the population.

We observe a lack of programmes, projects and activities in the area of environmental education and communication which target adult audiences in civic spaces. This gap has a huge impact on the implementation of environmental policies, as it prevents citizens from understanding, supporting and getting involved in them as deeply as would be desirable. It also has a negative impact on the development of inclusive and participatory processes which may contribute to the design of climate adaptation and mitigation strategies where all social groups may play an active and conscious role.

In Action

For over a decade, the SEPA research group at the University of Santiago de Compostela, has been analysing the ways in which citizens perceive and represent climate change. Our focus is on the devices and initiatives for social and educational action which may prove most adequate in order to adjust the citizens’ interpretations and assessments to the threat potential posed by climate change. Our aim is also to put into practice socio-educational initiatives which may help reduce greenhouse gas emissions both individually and collectively.

Starting from our own research, we designed a method for socio-educational action consisting in a series of sequenced pedagogical workshops. The goal was to help the participants to become aware and learn about the climate emergency by identifying and encouraging meaningful actions.

Once the method was tested through a pilot project, the educators at several community centres in Santiago and Donostia were trained with specifically designed materials (the “decarbonise kit”). These educators have a deep knowledge of the local community, which facilitated the formation of the groups and allowed them to carry out the intervention sequence with adult participants from other activities which are traditionally held at local community centres (memory, DIY, fitness, etc.).

In a series of seven work sessions, the participating groups —8 in the case of Santiago and 3 in Donostia— discussed, interacted and learnt about climate change and made decisions about initiatives which might be implemented to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt their communities to possible climate scenarios. The aim was thus to put climate change on both the personal and the community agendas as a relevant social issue for citizens and to link its threat potential to meaningful aspects where people can make synergic and cumulative changes. Finally, the groups took joint responsibility in the organization of awareness-raising activities which might help bring climate concerns closer to the immediate community.

As a complement to direct work with target groups, the project also contemplated running a dissemination campaign (as reported on social networks: https://www.facebook.com/descarboniza/). This communication work was enhanced through a climate event —a short comic play— which made the project and its aims known among wider sectors of society (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QqYzPtgF4PM).

Results

During the 2018-2019 academic year, members of the project “Decarbonise! It’s no small feat…” worked directly with over 150 people and reached a much larger number through the activities organized by the participating groups in their own neighbourhoods.

A series of workshops were held on medicinal herbs, natural cosmetics, elaboration of natural ointments and bread making in which participants were provided with key notions to address the climate change challenges collectively on the basis of appealing everyday topics.

In September 2018 the project was distinguished as an “exemplary initiative” in climate change adaptation within the framework of the Life Shara project (see illustrative video at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZQqdgDVR1hk).

In April 2019 a third “climate event” was held at the Teatro Principal in Santiago de Compostela. It consisted in a theatre show featuring the Fillas Bravas and Chévere troupes and the popular storyteller Celso F. Sanmartín (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QqYzPtgF4PM).

The community centre “comparsa” (carnival group) paraded around the streets of Santiago during the carnival season under the motto “Decarbonise! The marine environment” and turned their preparatory meetings for the creation of their costumes —out of waste materials— into debating spaces around climate change and its impact.

The climate crisis was thus put on the community centre agenda of sociocultural activities in the cities of Santiago de Compostela and Donosti. The workers in charge of managing these facilities were trained as disseminators of climate awareness so that they can contribute significantly to the sociocultural agenda of the social spaces of reference.

Impact

We successfully turned climate change into an everyday issue. In contrast with the abstract reading of the problem and the psychological distance from which ordinary people usually face it, the work carried out by the groups focused precisely on the analysis of its causes and its consequences in order to relate them to the personal and community scales.

The project also provided a common thread for other activities which were regularly done at the community centres. Existing resources were thus used and synergies with diverse local projects were also established.

Group work, intended to reach the community as a whole, enhanced the capacity for action and the development of intergenerational and socially inclusive dynamics. The community is the shared space where one can act physically. It gives greater weight to group identity and links this identity to climate issues, thus achieving a greater impact on people’s behaviour and beliefs.

The project handled the emotional variable through collective memory. Emotions play an important role in learning processes in general and in those focusing on climate change in particular. Working with the memory of adult audiences became a first-rate emotional catalyst, as participants searched their past for low-emission attitudes, values (frugality, simplicity, self-sufficiency, etc.) and individual and group practices which may prove beneficial for the future. In this sense, the gender variable also played an important role as the past was read from a critical perspective and also as high value was placed on community care.

Finally, the project also helped improve communications between the councils and the participants at the same time that it increased their ability to take part in adaptation and mitigation strategies and processes at the local level.

Challenges and lessons learned

The groups that have participated, either as educators, as well as participants, at the beginning they received the proposal of “decarbonization groups” in their community centres with distrust. With educational work, the novelty is incorporated into everyday life and the desire to continue with more activities related to environmental education arises.

In this project the key has been the training of educators in the decarbonise methodology. A challenge for the future will be to establish synergies with other social projects aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting their communities to climate change.

LifeShara. Dosier
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