Information about climate change and its implications can often leave people feeling anxious and even despondent. Countering those feelings and inspiring communities and businesses in Oxfordshire to think positively about the opportunities unveiled by climate change is a challenge being enthusiastically met by Oxford University researchers in the Environmental Change Institute (ECI).
ClimateXchange generates creative local responses
Events have included families making ‘low-carbon’ scarecrows and children playing climatic snakes and ladders on a giant county map. An anthology of local poems entitled Re-versing the Damage made its debut at this year’s Oxford Literary Festival. The project’s symbol, a leaping child forming the ‘X’ in its name, reflects the human approach to the issue. At the commercial end of the spectrum, ClimateXchange has provided the business community with events including Chamber of Commerce breakfasts and a climate day at the annual Venturefest enterprise conference, and also works with the leadership development organisation, Common Purpose.
‘If we’re going to engage people, we have to market our interests to them as professionally as possible – excite, “incentivise” and make people feel good about engagement,’ says Robin Buxton, Chairman of the local government Oxfordshire Environment Partnership. ‘ClimateXchange is reaching people who would not have engaged otherwise and in the process showing a way forward.’ ClimateXchange fosters new local networks by offering support and speaker training to volunteer ‘climate explorers’. Innovation is facilitated by a toolbox of creative and informal props including lightbulb libraries, attitude surveys, interactive poster displays, books and DVDs.
Collaboration between existing groups
The project has organised or participated in more than 120 events, attended by over 13,000 people. A key aim has been encouraging greater collaboration between existing groups: a ‘Joining the Dots’ meeting in February attracted representatives from more than 30 local community groups. ‘An absolutely brilliant evening which came at just the right time,’ enthuses Tim Hall of the Local Environment Network of Longworth. ‘It gave me a boost to know how many groups there were and how they were so similarly minded and experiencing the same problems as we are.’
Now in its second year, the programme is scaling even greater heights with, for example, the launch of an eco-renovation social enterprise. This project aims to bring Oxfordshire communities together with practitioners, suppliers and installers of eco-renovation materials (such as home insulation) and is being run with the Climate Outreach and Information Network, a leading provider of climate change communications training. It is based on the UK’s first and highly successful ‘Open eco-houses’ weekend, which was held in Oxfordshire in November 2007. The idea has won support from local benefactors and from the US-based Fund for the Environment and Urban Life, and is competing for a share of the £1m prize fund in NESTA’s Big Green Challenge scheme to encourage people to work together to develop new approaches to saving energy.
This wide-ranging approach to combating climate change has drawn attention and praise from across the county and indeed the UK, with Jo Hamilton recently giving a two-day briefing to the Scottish Education and Action for Development programme.