A unique University project is empowering people to join in the battle against climate change
Linh Do believes in the power of individuals to effect change, and she has the personal experience to prove it. She was 15 in 2006, when she started a successful campaign to swap all the incandescent light bulbs in her school for more energy-efficient ones.
The campaign spread to schools across the country and the following year Linh was invited to attend a three-day activism training workshop hosted by former US Vice-President Al Gore, just a year after the release of Gore’s Oscar-winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth.
“It was an extremely formative experience,” she says, “just to see the diversity of people in the room and the multitude of possible ways that one could approach climate change.
“We had people like me, school students, as well as teachers, engineers, doctors, farmers, all sorts of people who understood the implications of what climate change will mean in the coming decades.”
The training session Linh attended became the foundation for Gore’s Climate Reality Project, a global non-profit organisation dedicated to supporting grassroots action on climate change.
More than a decade later, Linh serves as the project manager for its Australian branch, which is now hosted by the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute at the University of Melbourne.
“It feels like coming full circle,” Linh says.
The University of Melbourne office works as the co-ordinating hub for the Climate Reality Project in the Asia-Pacific Region. It’s a big task, but Linh says the organisation is still committed to helping individuals fight climate change within their own communities.
“At Climate Reality we’re all about empowering people to go out there and create change in a way that makes sense for them, and recognising that there is no cookie-cutter approach.
“Everyone has a role to play no matter how small or big that role is.”
Linh says the Climate Reality Project focuses on talking to the public about climate change. And it also works to build a diverse group of Australian Climate Leaders – people who have participated in Gore’s training sessions – to take action on climate change in their local communities.
“That’s everything from the individuals who are going out there trying to change local government policy through starting a petition or engaging with their community, or hosting a town hall, to the people who end up running for public office,” she says.
“You probably encounter our Climate Leaders in everyday life without necessarily realising it.”
For example, the Climate Reality Project Australia supported the work of Natalie Isaacs, founder of 1 Million Women, which calls on women to take practical action on climate change. It has worked with local activists, such as Peter Hormann, an Honorary Research Fellow at the University, who organises community climate stalls at local markets. Other examples of Climate Leaders include ABC radio host and singer Clare Bowditch, landscape designer and television personality Jamie Durie, and journalist Indira Naidoo.
Linh says the Climate Reality Project places an emphasis on local initiatives because they personalise climate change, which can feel like an overwhelming and impenetrable problem.
“People trust the message when they trust the messenger, which is important given how complex climate change is as an issue and how abstract and scientific.”
The project is integral to the work of the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, which aims to connect sustainability research to public discourse about climate change. Don Henry AM, Melbourne Enterprise Professor of Environmentalism and international board member of the Climate Reality Project, is also based at MSSI.
It is the first time that a global branch of Climate Reality has been hosted within a university.
“It’s been really exciting to have access to experts who are doing cutting-edge innovative research – in terms of the scientific impacts and the various solutions to climate change,” she adds. “And we’re helping them communicate that information to a broader audience.”
The project, which moved to the MSSI from the Australian Conservation Foundation in 2016, is still in its early days at the University, but Linh hopes to focus on making connections between the academic world and general public.
Bridging what’s happening in the academic world and translating that into things that are much more accessible and relatable to people has been a really exciting opportunity for both us and the University of Melbourne.
“Universities are big places of experimentation and this last year has been a really good opportunity to experiment with different forms of engagement, different forms of change making in a really vibrant community that’s constantly changing.”
- The Melbourne Chapter of the Climate Reality Project has received support from the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation.