Authentic Action

At first glance, the ability to have agency over, to influence and to shape what matters most in our lives would seem to run in almost direct opposition to the reckoning with climate impacts that adaptation planning requires. Simply put, “the global nature of the climate change problem tends to make people feel powerless,” write van der Linden, Maibach, and Leiserowitz (2015, p. 2). At the same time, tokenistic pathways for action or involvement (whether mitigation or adaptation focused) fail to build the kind of short or long-term adaptive capacity of individuals and communities that is needed for viable and sustainable solutions. As Latour (2011) argues, “Right now there is no path leading from my changing the light bulbs in my home straight to the Earth’s destiny: such a stair has no step; such a ladder has no rung” (p. 7). While it could be argued that changing lightbulbs is no longer the go-to pro-environmental behaviour, the spirit of individual responsibility still pervades climate communications and engagement practices, with increasingly problematic outcomes as the reality of climate impacts becomes increasingly unavoidable. As Moser (2019) argues, “the cardinal mistake of risk communicators is to assume that audiences know what to do and know how to implement an effective risk response without being told. Solutions need to be specific, audience-appropriate and meaningful, motivational, doable, and clear. Solutions communication must spell out the pathway of how an enacted solution actually leads to the desired risk reduction” (Moser, 2019).

It is in the space of authentic action where we can bring together practices that support safety and connection and center what van der Linden, Maibach and Leiserowitz (2015) call “collective efficacy” (p. 2). For action to be authentic and to respond to the need for efficacy, it requires the safety to “get real” as Moser (2012) calls it, about the implications of a changing climate, and, in doing so, to find space to grieve what may not be able to be saved. Once this space of authenticity is nurtured, action in community can emerge that is less likely to be hindered by denial or defensiveness and that is more responsive to the real urgency of the realities we face. Collective efficacy also has the potential to build longer-term resilience within communities, improving their ability to respond to future climate impacts (Silka, 2017).

In application, what can it look like to address the need for authentic action in our engagement dialogue efforts? Collective efficacy can be nurtured through early-stage and co-creative involvement in planning processes, something that will be discussed in the community engagement module. As Silka writes, “when community members are involved in planning, there is a greater sense of autonomy and ownership, which is likely to increase their sense of efficacy… [and] can help combat the denial and passivity that undermine effective response (Ojala, 2012; van Zomeren, Spears, & Leach, 2010)” (Silka, 2017, p. 51).


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