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Notes from the Executive Director – September 2018

It could have been any hot-button issue: Immigration reform. Police violence. Gun control. The topic this time was climate change. Online commenters to Montana’s Bozeman Daily Chronicle online chat room were slugging it out in a flame war. But in this case, the commenters hammering away weren’t unknown to each other; they were neighbors with real-life relationships. Two of them decided to meet over lunch to try to understand their opponent’s perspectives. That was the beginning of monthly civil dialogues about climate change. Eventually opened to anyone in town, the conversations led to shared understandings and agreement on actions that could be taken to mitigate climate change.

Librarians across the country have begun to encourage dialogues and conversation like this. One of them is Madeleine Charney, Research Librarian at University of Massachusetts Amherst. She is part of a team at the university called “Talking Truth,” whose tag line is, “We Are Finding Our Voices Around the Climate Crisis.” Talking Truth organizes a series of meetings and workshops each semester to help participants find ways to deal with the enormity of climate change. Madeleine has also created a workshop called Face the Future: Facilitating Climate Change Conversations in your Library, which she took to public libraries throughout New England earlier this year.

Using the World Café dialogue format, Madeleine provided space for participants to share their responses to climate change by answering questions such as, “What gives you hope regarding climate change?,” “To whom would you turn in your local community in the event of a climate change crisis?,” “What tools (inner and/or outer) would you activate in the event of a climate change crisis — to support yourself and others in your community?,” and “What do you fear re: climate change?” In her series of workshops, Madeleine used mindfulness, art, and reflective writing to help participants develop personal resilience as well as connections with others.

World Café is a great conversation technique, which, as Madeleine showed, can be adapted to bring in contemplative modalities as well.

Two other dialogue methods that have been used to facilitate discussion about climate change are National Issues Forum Institute (NIFI) and Living Room Conversations. NIFI has an entire conversation set devoted to climate choices, including a moderator’s guide, an issue guide, and a post-forum questionnaire. There is also a starter video. Everything is free except for the video, which costs $6.00 to license.

Over at Living Room Conversations, you can also find free resources to help you plan and facilitate your conversations. Living Room Conversations has a lively Facebook group where you can even join a virtual conversation to get a feel for how it works. If you’ve led or participated in a Harwood-style Community Conversation, you will likely feel right at home with the Living Room Conversations format.

If you’re feeling a little more adventurous or looking for a different perspective, consider two other conversation starters. In Scotland, the government helped facilitate a series of conversations about their ambitious plan to tackle climate change. The resources are all available at no charge. For a faith-based approach to climate solutions, check out this conversation guide from the Christian Reformed Church Office of Social Justice. They use work done in Kenya over the last several years as a door to discussion of the responsibility we all have for respecting and protecting the natural world.

You don’t have to do it alone. Look for local partners. Nearly every community has at least one organization devoted to climate change mitigation and climate justice. Seek them out. They may be affiliated with national organizations such as, the Sierra Club, Citizens Climate Lobby, or republicEn.

Libraries are natural places to go for difficult conversations. With resources that span the range of opinions, we can facilitate dialogues that allow people with all sorts of views about climate change to come and be heard. We can help our communities become more resilient as people listen to each other and realize that the social glue binding our communities together strengthens as we talk and listen deeply to each other.