Finding hope for the climate: Lessons from a community climate party

The more you learn, talk, and act on climate change, the more opportunities you have to experience some seriously dark emotions. I certainly have — I know climate dread, fear, and anger pretty well. I allow myself to feel them sometimes, but I also believe that too much of those dark emotions will be our undoing. It’s a constant challenge to find hope amidst the crisis, to see progress amidst the chaos, and to keep trying to do my part to stop this runaway train when I feel so insignificant.

Last week, I found one antidote to my dark feelings, and with it, a renewed commitment to climate action. My local Citizens’ Climate Lobby chapter (Fairfax County, VA) held a community climate party to create a space where neighbors, friends, and families could learn and discuss climate change and solutions. Many of our guests shared their new understandings and ideas with us as they left, and we made connections with people we might not otherwise meet thanks to a shared commitment to improving our planet.

If you’re interested in throwing your own community climate party, here are some of the things we did and what we learned:

Carbon dividends: Since a big goal of this party was to talk about the Energy Innovation & Carbon Dividend Act, we introduced everyone to an important component of the bill as soon as they arrived. We gave each person a “carbon dividend” — a hand-designed card that could be used to “purchase” refreshments. This setup gave people a sense of how the bill works, since it will provide each adult with a monthly dividend that they can use on anything they want. We placed a collection box for dividends by the refreshments and people were surprisingly diligent about “paying” for their snacks and drinks.

Refreshments: Many members of our chapter brought a snack or baked good, and many of our guests brought something too. We served beer from breweries who have signed the Brewers’ Climate Declaration, indicating their support for the Energy Innovation & Carbon Dividend Act. We encouraged people to bring their own cups to reduce waste, but we also had compostable paper goods and a compost bin on hand.

Games: Another premise of this party was that people could earn extra dividends by playing games (we acknowledged that the Energy Innovation & Carbon Dividend Act does not allow people to earn extra dividends, but by lowering their carbon footprint, people will effectively be saving money).

First, we had the carbon footprint game. People were invited to use stickers to write an action they currently do and one they plan to do to reduce their carbon footprint. They stuck these stickers on a large black paper foot that was taped to the garage door (the different feet represented different broad categories of action, like food or transportation). There was a list of possibilities to spark ideas, which encouraged people to discover new actions they could do (for example, quite a few people were surprised to hear the positive effect of washing their clothes in cold water) or to engage in curious discussions (I was especially intrigued by the suggestion to eat more invasive species, which apparently can be a beneficial thing to do). This table had some extra resources for those who wanted to learn more about carbon footprints, and we recommended that people check out from the Union of Concerned Scientists to better understand their own habits and opportunities for improvement.

We also had our climate trivia wheel. The wheel lists different categories like food, water, oceans, security, and history. People spin it and receive a trivia question for the category the wheel lands on. Kids and adults alike tend to get into this game.

We decided to incorporate some lawn games as well. We set up horseshoes with a stake that was nearer to the starting line (labeled “Reduce emissions 40% in 12 years,” which the Energy Innovation & Carbon Dividend Act would do) and another farther away (“Reduce emissions 90% in 50 years”). There was also a croquet set that encouraged players to hit their ball (representing the bill) through the hoops, which were labeled with important milestones like “Bill passes the House of Representatives” and “Bill goes to Senate Committee.” We had a disc golf game with a similar goal — can you throw the frisbee and knock down your target? It’s challenging, just like passing important legislation is.

Information: Of course, we set up a table with information about the Energy Innovation & Carbon Dividend Act, including an overview of how it works, its benefits, and a list of the members of Congress who have cosponsored it. We also provided templates for people to write letters to their member of Congress at the party, which we’ll hand deliver when we visit their offices. We were excited to have a volunteer from another community climate organization, Mothers Out Front. Even veteran CCLers could learn about why and how they’re advocating for electric school buses, among other things.

Feedback: Most of the feedback we received was informal — people sharing how glad they were to learn about the Energy Innovation & Carbon Dividend Act or to engage in great discussion with people they hadn’t met before. We did make a survey to understand what people thought of the party and their thoughts about the bill after the event. We shared this with a few guests who we knew well and who aren’t (yet) part of our organization, and we received 6 responses. Most of these guests reported greater understanding of a carbon fee and dividend and were more likely to support the Energy Innovation & Carbon Dividend Act after the party. They also shared a range of activities that they plan to start doing to contribute to climate action, like engaging in more conversations about the topic.

Looking back on the party, I’m confident that we shared helpful information about Citizens’ Climate Lobby and the Energy Innovation & Carbon Dividend Act with new audiences, which is great. But to me, the opportunity to talk to new people with different backgrounds and perspectives from mine, to learn from each other, and to walk away with a renewed optimism and commitment to working on climate were what made the event such a success.