In September 2021, the Ars Electronica Festival invited Branch Magazine to put on a Symposium on the climate and the Internet. We were asked to curate a panel discussion. This is what we talked about with Anshuman Bapna of Terra.do, Emma Richards of the Carbon Literacy Project and David Jennings of XR Rebellion Academy.
How do you use the internet to shape education resources in unique ways?
We know that successful mass movements do a lot of training. We operate an online learning environment, Rebellion Academy, offering courses typically a few hours long. This exists alongside the Rebel Toolkit, a wiki-based set of resources, and a lot of ‘live’ training, which has been online (Zoom etc) during the pandemic. All our resources and training are developed by rebels within the movement for other rebels.
As an organisation working to deliver climate change education and action, we are unusual in that we don’t deliver any training ourselves. Rather, we work with our network or organisations and trainers, who are peers of their audience, and their most trusted source of information. Since the first lockdown in the UK, we rapidly adapted our training model for online delivery, taking much of what makes Carbon Literacy unique and adapting it for the digital stage. This includes:
- Using games, activities and interactive elements to keep content engaging. Ensuring individuals are engaged leads to memorable training and stronger low carbon action.
- Facilitating smaller group discussions (via the use of breakout rooms) to encourage group enquiry and self-discovery. Ensuring learners develop their own knowledge, rather than it being ‘lectured’ to them.
- And, incorporating effective climate-visuals (such as that by Climate Outreach) to bring the message to a more human, personal level, to inspire collective action.
Climate change is a global problem, and those who solve it will need to come together from all parts of the world. The Internet is uniquely suited to fulfill that role through a “flipped classroom” model. At Terra, we combine asynchronous classes that learners can consume on their own time with a few, selectively chosen live interactions – office hours with their group instructor, fireside chats with their peers and intimate Q&As with climate experts. All of these are also recorded for later viewing. This allows a diversity of talent to join our programs – professionals across timezones who can carve out time in a way that’s convenient for them – while still retaining the touch & feel of bonding with classmates.
How do you create different kinds of communities/cohorts/support networks using the internet?
Extinction Rebellion UK is organised in local groups, specialist working groups, small affinity groups for actions, and a range of community/identity-based groups (beekeepers, buddhists, Bangladeshi — see https://extinctionrebellion.uk/act-now/resources/communities/community-groups/ ). The any-time, on-demand nature of Rebellion Academy is a key feature, so we don’t support cohorts. We let communities avail themselves of the tools and resources we offer however they see fit. (Autonomy and decentralisation is a core principle of XR.)
One of the biggest positive impacts of delivering online is the increase in accessibility to Carbon Literacy training. Individuals who wouldn’t have before been able to attend a physical training event have now been able to attend, gain Carbon Literacy certification, and enrich discussions with their opinions and lived experiences from outside of their geographical area. Likewise we’ve been able to expand the geographical reach of our Trainer Network – ‘Carbon Literacy Pioneers’, both through our virtual events and LinkedIn group – to share existing resources, best practice and opportunities for work. This has generated increased opportunities for collaboration between the Trainers and been a key element in recent successful work bids.
Our communities live far beyond the cohort. We organize frequent online mixers to have cohorts meet alums and mentors. Moreover, all learners (past & present) across all our programs live in a single online community (Slack). They can discover each other through online member directories and self-organize themselves into interest groups with their own calendar of events. We also use the Internet to power two critical outcomes:
- Virtual job fairs that bring climate employers in the same (zoom) room with our learners
- A 4-week pre-incubator that lets our community members form climate project teams and build in public in front of a supportive Terra community
How do you create different models of recognition/completion/graduation using the internet?
Our ethos is to help rebels be as effective and regenerative as they can be. But any form of recognition that allowed rebels to compare with each other and assert ‘bragging rights’ is anathema to us. We do offer badges as an incentive to completion for individuals who may find this motivational. This is a private, individual matter. We don’t publish any ‘results’.
To gain Carbon Literacy certification learners have to pledge both significant individual and group actions. Trainers have adapted the process of gathering this evidence for online using survey features or online editable docs. Carbon Literacy certificates are uniquely numbered and something that learners like to share on social media either as the electronic copy, or a picture of themselves with it, to display their knowledge, action and achievement
The biggest outcome for our community is when someone transitions into an active climate career. Our online community has a channel for #shoutouts that gets a lot of usage: learners use it to announce when they find a climate job, or get some help from a member of the community. The online graduation ceremony is a special event too where we now encourage learners to invite their friends & family members.
How do you manage challenges like turning new knowledge into action and not depression:
We have several courses on taking action, non-violent civil disobedience, witnessing arrests.
It’s really important to be able to manage learners’ emotions throughout a Carbon Literacy course. A lot of the information about climate change is pretty shocking and scary to many people who perhaps know climate change is an issue, but don’t understand the severity of the impacts, or time constraints we’re under to prevent the worst effects of climate change. Partly we manage this through a requirement for all the training to have a focus on positivity and the things we can do, rather than those we cannot. But mostly it’s about taking people on an emotional journey, or rollercoaster. We know that the best antidote for fear is action. So… by recognising that fear and the challenge we face, but using that and channeling it into climate action, we empower individuals.
Our program has a special module focused on processing climate knowledge and using it to power positive action. Outside of that, the entire program has a “doing” ethos – from speakers who are practitioners, to a “work plan” that learners make that lays out their actions for the 6 months after graduating, to job fairs and startup studios that keep emphasizing doing.
How do you turn learners into community leaders (if you do)?
I wonder if I detect in this a sense of training being used as a tool of corporate intervention and organisation shaping? That’s not how Rebellion Academy came into being. It was more ground-up, a response to the need for induction for (in 2019) large numbers of new rebels. Yes, we have courses for Internal Coordinators, a key role in our self-organising system, but this is no leadership programme.
Anyone can become a community leader with the right knowledge, skills, and motivation. These are the core elements of what Carbon Literacy looks to instill in it’s learners. Having done the training:
– learners take action on climate change both on their own, and with other groups of people
– they have more conversions with their friends and family about climate change
– they challenge their employers to do more about climate change
– and, very frequently, they go on to deliver Carbon Literacy themselves, amplifying the message and achieving far greater together than anyone of us could on our own.
Great question. Roughly half of our new programs are created by our former learners, and 2/3rd of our teaching assistants are former learners themselves. In turn, we request them to identify learners in their cohorts that they think exhibit strong initiative and we then run a 2-week online facilitation workshop to bring them up to speed.
Does misinformation come into play when it comes to climate change? How do you manage it?
While I don’t know of any glaring examples, there are almost certainly inconsistencies and contradictions between some of our courses. Sometimes these reflect genuine differences of opinion. We do have groups, including XR Scientists, who aim to check some of the claims made by and within the movement. We’ve probably got quite a way to go to having a robust and agreed methodology here.
Carbon Literacy courses rely on people at their heart. When misinformation inevitably crops up, we utilise people power to put it to bed. A great example of this was during some training for operatives at a Housing Association which was taking place across a number of morning sessions before they went out to carry out their tasks onsite. One guy was in a bit of a huff and said, ‘whats the point, it’s not like this is going to affect us anyway’, and one of his colleagues said ‘but it is affecting us, remember when we had those floods the other year and all the problems it caused us’, and then all the others chimed in saying yeah, and adding their own experiences. And that completely transformed the first guys attitude and engagement with the rest of the session. But as anshuman said, misinformation is less of an issue than climate apathy and inaction, we see governments declaring climate emergencies but then not acting or actively hindering progress such as allowing further oil drilling in the north sea, and it’s the action that we need to see
This is a constant challenge. While active misinformation is relatively easier to combat (our learners are committed, our program creators try to use the latest science), it’s harder to keep track of the field as it progresses so rapidly. Our approach has been to a) incentivize program creators to keep the program updated on a monthly basis and b) create an “academic advisory board” for each program made up of experts who validate the data & thrust of what we teach.
Is there such a thing as ‘basic knowledge requirements’ in the way you help people through your programs?
As more people have joined the movement, this has become trickier. To begin with a small core had a clear idea of the ‘DNA’ of the movement. New joiners inevitably have their own ideas and want to develop, elaborate, reframe etc. There’s probably an ongoing tension here, mostly but not always constructive. We have different ‘pathways’ through our material for different kinds of rebel – e.g. those most focused on nonviolent direct action and those more focused on supporting the movement behind the scenes, like me.
In terms of basic knowledge, we have The Carbon Literacy Standard. This is what makes us globally unique, as recognised by the United Nations at COP21 in Paris where we were awarded as a TAP100 – 1 of 100 global transformative action projects.
The Carbon Literacy Standard is a framework of learning which is both consistent everywhere, but completely adaptable to everyone anywhere to ensure maximum relevance to each sector, organisation and learner. The core elements of The Standard cover:
– Learning method
– and, Action
Our only screening is for intent. That is, are people committing to work part-time or full-time in climate within 6 months of graduating?
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