13. Serena

A few months ago, I took shelter from the predictably unpredictable Melbourne weather under the Spiegeltent at a Climate for Change crowdfunding launch. I hadn’t heard of the organisation so was just as interested in catching up with a friend over a glass of red than I was in the cause. But, when fresh-faced Serena took to the stage during the evening’s formalities, I was compelled to donate. Serena’s address was impassioned and articulate; she was moved to tears when reflecting on the momentum Climate for Change were gathering. I left the launch humbled to contribute to the evening’s $12,000 fundraising target, excited to approach Serena about featuring on this blog and hopeful that it’s not too late to realise effective action on climate change in this country.  


“My parents were marine biologists who met working on the Great Barrier Reef. Growing up on the edge of the reef and then moving to Tassie, with some of the most beautiful wilderness left in the world, I always had a bit of a greenie streak.

I studied criminology at uni but whenever I took time away from my studies I felt drawn to the environmental movement. I became really interested in the climate justice movement — thinking beyond coal mines and plastic bags to fight the systems that have normalised the domination of nature and certain groups of people. Through criminology I became increasingly frustrated by the implications of these systems of power. I felt like that was where I could make a contribution.

So, I started looking for opportunities in the climate change space and came across a volunteer facilitator role at Climate for Change. I volunteered last year and was then offered a paid position in December.

At Climate for Change, we are working towards creating the social climate in Australia that makes effective action on climate change possible by the time the next federal election rolls around.

Our end goal is that, come 2019, no politician, regardless of party, will feel able to run without a strong climate change policy.

Gatherings are our main method of engagement. We borrow the Tupperware party model — starting with a host who invites ten of their friends, family members or colleagues to their house. We provide a volunteer facilitator for the evening who guides the discussion, answers any questions, describes our theory of change and outlines our call to action.

Our gatherings help people see the bigger picture. The media and scientific institutions do a pretty poor job of communicating the full story on climate change. People may know about permafrost, or tipping points, or hurricanes, but they’ve never pieced it all together. When you begin to comprehend the scale of climate change you understand that one little shove pushes a whole world out of balance.

Our work is influenced by social diffusion theory which describes how change moves through society by categorising people into five groups: the innovators, the early adopters, the early majority, the late majority and the laggards.

Change starts with the innovators, moves to the early adopters and so on. While the early adopters are the tipping point from which change starts to grow exponentially, the early majority are the critical mass — once they’re on board change becomes unstoppable because it has been normalised.

We take two key things from this social diffusion theory. The first is that change moves between these groups through conversations. We all get bombarded by information from many different sources, but it just sits in our head until we have a conversation with someone we trust.

The second thing we take from this theory is that change moves progressively. It’s not about the innovators convincing the laggards, it’s about convincing the next person in line. So, I don’t need to convince a climate change skeptic that climate change is important, I just need to speak to someone that understands it’s serious and urgent, but who perhaps doesn’t know what action to take.  

I think in some ways this is obvious, but it’s also quite revolutionary. What we’re really asking people to do is connect in an increasingly disconnected world.

And our gatherings facilitate this. We rarely find ourselves having to debate the science of climate change with participants, but I have certainly had my fair share of difficult gatherings. One participant was so convinced of climate change that she was in complete denial that anything could be done. Another gathering was with a group of retirees who understood climate change, but believed it was a problem for the younger generation to fix.

But, the overwhelming majority of gatherings have been really positive.  

An old housemate of mine came to a gathering because I pestered her. We’d never talked about climate change at home and she had very little idea about its urgency and seriousness. She messaged me the following day to say that she had found the gathering really confronting but instead of burying her head in the sand, she immediately changed her bank and super provider. She then went on to volunteer on our phones and coordinate our monthly movie nights. Other participants with backgrounds in environmental science have had their spark reignited through our gathering because our theory of change has given them some renewed hope.

The most significant thing we can do as individuals is put pressure on those in government. They are surrounded by four key influencers, and we all have the power to reach out to those influencers and help create change:

  • The MP themselves and their personal views: we invite participants to put pressure on their MP directly through visiting, calling, writing, protesting, petitioning and inviting them to events.
  • Those that don’t want action on climate change or want to delay action: we encourage taking power away from this group by doing anything from letter writing to changing energy companies to exposing companies on social media.
  • Those that do want action on climate change and are prepared to vote on this basis: our key focus is growing this circle of people by having conversations — everyday conversations that are pretty short and superficial, intentional conversations like those at our gatherings and public conversations such as protests.
  • The rest of Australia who understand climate change is urgent but are confused about the detail: this is the largest group who we work to influence and move into the above group.

We recently raised over $150,000 in six weeks, which will allow us to rent our own office and expand interstate. But for me, our biggest achievement has been having 31 gatherings across 31 days in May. It goes to show how much momentum we’re building. We literally wouldn’t have had the people power to pull that off six months ago, and now we’ve got enough people to make that happen.

We’re a small team and we’re stretched pretty thin but we are all incredibly committed to our 2019 goal. Our founder, Katerina, has been a full time volunteer for three years. She keeps going because she couldn’t live with herself if her kids asked her why she had knowingly not taken action on climate change.  As an organisation, we keep going because so many people are prepared to dive in and go above and beyond. As staff we keep going because of the amazing team we have. We’re all best mates.

Personally, I keep going because I have a lot of anger that I can channel into something useful. And until we have an economic system, a political system and a system of relating to one another that is fair, respectful and supportive, I will stay angry.”

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