Irish Ambassadors and Champions of Climate Change
Coming soon to a community near you
Recently there has been an announcement about a new program for Ambassadors of climate change to work with secondary schools, college campuses and communities across the Republic of Ireland, co-ordinated by the Environmental Education Unit of An Taisce, with support from the Department of Communication, Climate Action and Environment. The Environmental Education Unit also operates the widely successful Green Schools, Blue Flag, Green Campus, Clean Coasts and National Spring Clean programs.
Around the same time there has been an announcement of the development of a Cool Planet Climate Champion program sponsored by Cool Plant Experience and the Irish Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The program will select and train 26 Champions, presumably one champion appointed for each of the 26 counties in the Republic of Ireland.
The impetus for both seems to come from the recognition that the general public in Ireland, as elsewhere, needs more exposure to the fundamentals of the problems of climate change, and how they can be understood and addressed. There also seems to be a shared assumption that using climate change experts to reach the public, through national forums (conferences and media appearances), has not been sufficient to build a consensus for the need for progressive climate policies and actions. More direct engagement with the public, in their own communities or schools, from spokespersons closely tied to those communities is what is needed to address climate change. This focus on citizen engagement is also reflected in the on-going Ireland’s Citizens Assembly, a randomly selected group of 99 people representative of the Irish electorate examining a number of critical “political” issues, including abortion, fixed term parliaments, referendums, population ageing, and climate change. And perhaps the development of the Public Participation Networks in local governments also reflects this focus on citizen engagement. See iePEDIA in Sources.
Cool Planet Champions will be selected from those who apply and are over 18 and have a passion for making a difference to people in their local community. The deadline for applying is October 9, 2017. The An Taisce Climate Ambassadors program is open to secondary level students, college students and members of the wider community who are 18 or older. The deadline for applying is October 20, 2017.
The Cool Planet program selection process requires that applicants submit a video of no more than 2 minutes about themselves and why they would make a great Cool Planet Champion. Presumably such a requirement will appeal to younger, more technically capable citizens who own or have access to a video camera (including smart phones) and know how to shoot, edit and deliver the video electronically. An Taisce requires its applicants to submit electronically written answers to questions.
The training for both programs is similar: material covering all dimensions of climate change, including causes, effects and solutions, as well as skills in communication. The Cool Planet Champions will receive a weekend of training, with complimentary room and board, at the Powerscourt Estate in county Wicklow, the home of Cool Planet experience. The communications trainng will be provided, in part, by Dr. Cara Augustenborg and Raoul Empey, participants in Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project and Climate Talk Ireland.
Champions – St Francis Assisi by Giotto
An Taisce Ambassadors will be obliged to implement 4 actions, over a year period, within schools or campuses or communities. An Taisce offers examples of a wide variety of actions on climate change that Ambassadors can apply or adapt to their local communities, or use to develop other actions, with support and advice from An Taisce’s Climate Action Officers. The Cool Planet Champions will be responsible for delivering 10 climate talks in their county, to schools, businesses or the general public.
Challenges and Opportunities Ahead
Assuming the selection process leads to a broad spectrum of Ambassadors/Champions, the possibilities seem unlimited. What will be interesting is to see how Champions/Ambassadors from different regions and different backgrounds respond to the perceived needs of their communities. What flies in Cork may die in Donegal.
Another interesting issue is how the training program prepares the Ambassadors/Champions to handle the contributions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) to climate change from the transportation and agricultural sectors, two leading contributors. While addressing these sectors can be politically sensitive, at times explosive, they are also central to confronting Ireland’s obligations to reduce GHGs. If anything needs to be talked about, it is these two sectors.
Yet it is expecting a lot of these Champions/Ambassadors to be trained in all aspects of climate change, in a day or weekend, and then to be turned loose on their communities, albeit with some guidance and advice from program staff, to communicate and advocate the need for reduced emissions from all those in their audience who drive and/or farm.
Finally, those of us who have talking about climate change for some time understand that whatever we have all been doing so far, it has not worked well enough. Any attempt to open lines of communication between those committed to dealing with climate change and those in the wider community, is to be applauded.
Keep an eye on these two imaginative initiatives.
An Taisce, Climate Ambassador climateambassador.ie/about/
Cool Planet Climate Champions www.coolplanetexperience.org/championapplication/
“Public Participation Networks” in iePEDIA section of irish environment online magazine www.irishenvironment.com/iepedia/public-participation-networks-ppn/