Ordinary people, extraordinary change: addressing the climate emergency through ‘quiet activism’


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Wendy Steele, RMIT University; Diana MacCallum, Curtin University; Donna Houston, Macquarie University; Jason Byrne, University of Tasmania, and Jean Hillier, RMIT UniversityAcross the world, people worried about the impacts of climate change are seeking creative and meaningful ways to transform their urban environments. One such approach is known as “quiet activism”.

“Quiet activism” refers to the extraordinary measures taken by ordinary people as part of their everyday lives, to address the climate emergency at the local level.

In the absence of national leadership, local communities are forging new responses to the climate crisis in places where they live, work and play.

As we outline in a book released this month, these responses work best when they are collaborative, ongoing and tailored to local circumstances.

Here are three examples that show how it can be done.




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Climate for Change: a Tupperware party but make it climate

Climate for Change is a democratic project in citizen-led climate education and participation.

This group has engaged thousands of Australians about the need for climate action — not through public lectures or rallies, but via kitchen table-style local gatherings with family and friends.

As they put it:

We’ve taken the party-plan model made famous by Tupperware and adapted it to allow meaningful discussions about climate change to happen at scale.

Their website quotes “Jarrod”, who hosted one such party, saying:

I’ve been truly surprised by the lasting impact of my conversation amongst friends who were previously silent on the issue – we are still talking about it nine months on.

Climate for Change has published a “climate conversation guide” to help people tackle tricky talks with friends and family about climate change.

It has also produced a resource on how to engage your local MP on climate change.

EnviroHouse: hands-on community education

EnviroHouse is a not-for-profit organisation based in Western Australia committed to local-scale climate action through hands-on community education and engagement projects, such as:

  • facilitating workshops on energy efficiency
  • visiting schools on request to provide sustainability services
  • collecting seeds to grow thousands of she-oaks, paperbarks and rushes along the eroded Maylands foreshore in Perth
  • teaching workshops on composting, worm farming and bokashi techniques to community members
  • giving talks on sustainable living
  • running a home and workplace energy and water auditing program.

Climarte: arts for a safe climate

Climarte is a group that

collaborates with a wide range of artists, art professionals, and scientists to produce compelling programs for change. Through festivals, events and interventions, we invite those who live, work and play in the arts to join us.

This group aims to create a space which brings together artists and the public to work, think and talk through the implications of climate change.

Why quiet?

Quiet activism raises questions around what it means to be an activist, or to “do activism”.

While loud, attention-grabbing and disruptive protests are important, local-scale activities are also challenging the “business as usual” model. These quiet approaches highlight how ordinary citizens can take action every day to generate transformative change.

There is a tendency within climate activism to dismiss “quiet” activities as merely a precursor to bigger, more effective (that is, “louder”) political action.

Everyday local-scale activities are sometimes seen as disempowering or conservative; they’re sometimes cast as privileging individual roles and responsibility over collective action.

However, a growing range of voices draws attention to the transformative potential of small, purposeful everyday action.

UK-based researcher Laura Pottinger emphasises that these everyday practices are acts of care and kindness to community — both human and non-human.

Her interest is a “dirt under the fingernails” kind of activism, which gains strength from a quiet commitment to practical action.

A wetlands restoration project is in progress.
Researcher Laura Pottinger argues that a kind of ‘dirt under the fingernails’ activism gains strength from a quiet commitment to practical action.
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Climate action, here and how

The climate crisis has arrived and urgent action is required.

By creatively participating in local climate action, we can collectively reimagine our experience of, and responses to, the climate emergency.

In doing so, we lay the foundation for new possibilities.

Quiet activism is not a panacea. Like any other form of activism, it can be ineffective or, worse, damaging. Without an ethical framework, it risks enabling only short-lived action, or leading to only small pockets of localised activity.

But when done ethically and sustainably — with long-term impact in mind — quiet activism can make a profound difference to lives and communities.




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The Conversation


Wendy Steele, Associate Professor, Centre for Urban Research, RMIT University; Diana MacCallum, Adjunct research academic, Curtin University; Donna Houston, Associate Professor, School of Social Sciences, Macquarie University; Jason Byrne, Professor of Human Geography and Planning, University of Tasmania, and Jean Hillier, Professor Emerita, RMIT University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Cockatoos and rainbow lorikeets battle for nest space as the best old trees disappear


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Gregory Moore, The University of MelbourneThe housing market in most parts of Australia is notoriously competitive. You might be surprised to learn we humans are not the only ones facing such difficulties.

With spring rapidly approaching, and perhaps a little earlier due to climate change, many birds are currently on the hunt for the best nesting sites.

This can be hard enough for birds that construct nests from leaves and twigs in the canopies of shrubs and trees, but imagine how hard it must be for species that nest in tree hollows.

They are looking for hollows of just the right size, in just the right place. Competition for these prime locations is cut-throat.

Sulphur-crested cockatoos battling for spots

Sulphur-crested cockatoos, Cacatua galerita, are relatively large birds, so naturally the hollows they nest in need to be quite large.

Unfortunately, large hollows are only found in old trees.

It can take 150 years or more before the hollows in the eucalypts that many native parrot species nest in are large enough to accommodate nesting sulphur-crested cockatoos. Such old trees are becoming rarer as old trees on farms die and old trees in cities are cleared for urban growth.

In late winter, early spring you quite often find sulphur crested-cockatoos squabbling among themselves over hollows in trees.

A cockatoo sits in a hollow.
It can take 150 years or more before the hollows in the eucalypts that many native parrot species nest in are large enough to accommodate nesting sulphur-crested cockatoos.
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These squabbles can be very loud and raucous. They can last from a few minutes to over an hour, if the site is good one. Once a pair of birds takes possession and begins nesting, they defend their spot and things tend to quieten down.

The stakes are high, because sulphur-crested cockatoos cannot breed if they don’t have a nesting hollow.




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Enter the rainbow lorikeets

In parts of southeastern Australia, rainbow lorikeets, Trichoglossus moluccanus (and/or Trichoglossus haematodus), have expanded their range over the past couple of decades. It is not uncommon to see sulphur-crested cockatoos in dispute with them over a hollow.

The din can be deafening and if you watch you will see both comedy and drama unfold. The sulphur-crested cockatoos usually win and drive the lorikeets away, but all is not lost for the lorikeets.

Sometimes the hollows prove unsuitable — usually if they are too small for the cockatoos — and a few days later the lorikeets have taken up residence. Larger hollows are rarer and so more highly prized.

A rainbow lorikeet shelters in the hollow of a tree.
It is not uncommon to see sulphur-crested cockatoos in dispute with rainbow lorikeets over a hollow.
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How hollows form

Many hollows begin at the stubs of branches that have been shed either as part of the tree’s growth cycle or after storm damage. The wood at the centre of the branch often lacks protective defences and so begins to decay while the healthy tree continues to grow over and around the hollow.

Other hollows develop after damage to the trunk or on a large branch, following lightning damage or insect attack. Parrots will often peck at the hollow to expand it or stop it growing over completely. Just a bit of regular home maintenance.

Sulphur-crested cockatoos can often be seen pecking at the top of large branches on old trees, where the branch meets the trunk. They can do considerable damage. When this area begins to decay, it can provide an ideal hollow for future nesting.

Sadly, for the cockatoo, it may take another century or so and the tree might shed the limb in the interim. Cockatoos apparently play a long game and take a very long term perspective on future nesting sites.

A cockatoo sits in a hollow.
Every effort must be made to ensure old, hollow-forming trees are preserved.
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Which trees are best for hollows?

In watching the local battles for parrot nesting sites, some tree species are the scenes of many a conflict.

Sugar gums, Eucalyptus cladocalyx, were widely planted as wind breaks in southern Australia and they were often lopped to encourage a bushier habit that provided greater shade.

Poor pruning often leads to hollows and cavities, which are now proving ideal for nesting — but it also resulted in poor tree structure. Sugar gums are being removed and nesting sites lost in many country towns and peri-urban areas (usually the areas around the edges of suburbs with some remaining natural vegetation, or the areas around waterways).

A rainbow lorikeet hides in a hollow.
Many species need hollows for nests.
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Old river red gums, (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) growing along our creeks and rivers are also great nesting sites. They are so big they provide ideal sites for even the largest of birds.

These, too, are ageing and in many places are declining as riverine ecosystems suffer in general. Even the old elms, Ulmus, and London plane trees, Platanus x acerifolia — which were once lopped back to major branch stubs each year, leading hollows to develop — are disappearing as they age and old blocks are cleared for townhouses.




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Protecting tree hollows

Cavities in trees are not that common. Large cavities are especially valuable assets. They are essential to maintaining biodiversity because it is not just birds, but mammals, reptiles, insects and arachnids that rely on them for nesting and refuge.

If you have a tree with a hollow, look after it. And while some trees with hollows might be hazardous, most are not. Every effort must be made to ensure old, hollow-forming trees are preserved. Just as importantly, we must allow hollow-forming trees to persist for long enough to from hollows.

We consider our homes to be our castles. Other species value their homes just as highly, so let’s make sure there are plenty of tree hollows in future.The Conversation

Gregory Moore, Doctor of Botany, The University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.