23 Apr 2019

An intern's perspective on a climate action conference

Posted in: Toitū Together

The Intern Perspective – Generation Zero’s recent conference on Climate Action

The Intern Perspective is a series showcasing fresh views of interns who are studying sustainability. These interns hold a unique position as they look to build on their theoretical knowledge and step into the workforce. We value supporting new talent in our industry, and want to hear their voice as the future of our workforce.

By Jill Humecke, Commercial Team Intern, from Augustana College, US

I recently attended a conference held by Generation Zero, called “Talk, Act and Achieve Climate Action”. Generation Zero is an organization that advocates for a just and fair transition to carbon neutrality in New Zealand. They promote taking action to achieve livable cities, electric transport, and independence from fossil fuels. Getting to zero carbon at the national scale will require immediate action from both local and national governments, as well as from individuals.

My key take away from this conference was that collective action is the key to mitigating climate change and related issues. Individual behaviour changes are valuable, of course, but the effects are limited in scale. For collective action to successfully take place, society needs to move away from unconscious consumerism through structural change. We will need to overcome differing values and interests to act collectively and develop a more sustainable way of living. As mentioned by Generation Zero representatives during the presentation, the solutions to achieving carbon neutrality lie in both bottom-up and top-down approaches. A bottom-up approach to carbon neutrality would involve smaller changes, such as at the household and neighbourhood levels. This type of local community engagement is beneficial, but transformative and structural (top-down) changes will be necessary to achieve the action that is needed within our society (more so from the international and national level). Generation Zero expressed the importance of reaching out to local governments and other organisations about advancing climate change action. Collective action at this level may make it easier to achieve structural change at a national scale.

When considering a transition to carbon neutrality, Generation Zero claims that the focus of climate action is all about having hope. The amount of change that needs to happen to achieve carbon neutrality can seem very overwhelming, sometimes to the point that people start to repress and avoid confronting the situation. Some people might even start to give up on changing their lifestyles because they feel that no matter what they do, they will not be able to make a difference. Climate catastrophising can lead people to shut down and distance themselves from the problem. Hope is an important aspect because it can inspire people to take action. Local hope and inspiration work best for spreading awareness. By spreading awareness and changing our lifestyles one step at a time, the journey to becoming carbon neutral doesn’t have to feel so daunting.

So, who needs to take climate action? Everyone. So what can you do to be a part of it? Generation Zero emphasised reaching out to larger organisations and asking about their carbon management strategies, reconsidering your own modes of transport to minimise fossil fuel use, and being as energy efficient as possible. Achieving climate neutrality will also involve being an inclusive, ambitious, and critical friend and coming together to find new ways of becoming more sustainable. All of these have the potential to make a positive difference for both present and future generations.