Building a fast and fair climate transition from the bottom up

In her first blog for TASC, Suzie Cahn gives her thoughts on the need to empower community actors to advance climate justice in Ireland.

Suzie Cahn04/05/2021

The pandemic highlights the need for climate justice

Communities across Ireland have been adapting to the rapid changes brought about by the pandemic. These responses range from daily phone calls to isolated elderly, expansions of Meals on Wheels, Local Link drivers doing shopping, to asylum seekers manufacturing masks while living in Direct Provision centres. 

This multitude of group and individual actions have demonstrated the care that has always been there, but also the degree to which pre-pandemic policy marginalized care, especially for those looking after the most vulnerable. Over this past year, talking with community members across Ireland, many have witnessed the transformative nature of conversations in the community sector about both the needs and vulnerabilities brought into sharper relief by the pandemic and the need to address them at their roots. 

People have had to consider how inclusive and aware of intersectional disadvantages they and their organizations actually have been in the past. Those seldom heard in central spaces are becoming more vocal. In addition, more people than ever before are recognizing that all climate action must be on the side, not only of all life on earth, but fundamentally on the side of justice and of rights. 

Covid has fully exposed structural vulnerabilities, such as the income and housing inequality, digital divides, spatial injustice and other forms of disadvantage visible in Ireland and globally. There is a growing sense of the increased level of awareness about how this has come about in Ireland through years of neo-liberal policies which have shifted our sense of identity away from community and towards a more individualised and atomised society. 

Communities are also facing additional threats to local livelihoods due to climate change and the resulting system changes needed. This is both a deepening crisis and an opportunity. 

An opportunity to connect community to decision making

At almost every community event, dialogue, and course discussion I have been privy to over my career, I have heard the lament of the level of disconnection from policy makers that don’t seem to know what is happening in terms of fragmentation and threats to communities, but also do not understand what is possible from the ground up. The mechanisms for consultation that exist have huge gaps in terms of meaningful inclusion of marginalised voices and therefore cannot address their needs. There has been scant support for on-going co-creation at both the policy creation and implementation stages.

An abiding thread in my ‘career’ path has been creating spaces for regeneration, exploring and learning, and trying to bring about a more just society, one that truly respects our connection to the natural world. I believe that in my new role I am part of an organisation that is co-creating a dynamic on-going conversation where co-production at every level is informed by all members of our communities. 

The role of TASC

TASC is the Think-tank for Social Change.  What might this mean in the context of the work at community level that I am about to undertake? 

I believe that the niche that TASC’s new Climate Justice Centre can occupy is to be a conduit for developing closer connection between people in communities and their needs and those creating and implementing policies at local and national government levels and their agencies that direct funding and supports. 

As the new project coordinator for the Climate Justice Centre, I will be a community development field worker connected to a team of researchers and policy analysts, who are in turn connected to policy makers. I will be working alongside communities to co-create community-led Just Transition plans and actions that build on local knowledge of needs and opportunities. Inclusion is central to this work. When the resulting diversity is celebrated, a community dialogue levels the playing field and yields knowledge and learning that is both acted on locally but also fed back to the relevant policy agencies through an on-going information exchange cycle, improving the quality of the decisions reached. 

Implementing the People's Transition model

Social change requires bottom up pressure. Policy makers need to have more understanding of real world barriers to local climate action and climate justice and be communicated with regularly to remove these barriers and create an enabling policy environment.  The People’s Transition supports the growing demand from communities, voluntary groups and organisations for co-production and participation in policy processes. The on-going information exchange cycle can enhance community knowledge, understanding of awareness of various policy initiatives and the policy-making process. 

Climate Action funding will be the biggest investment by the Irish state in its history. The potential for climate justice is implicit but needs centered in local community development processes. It is clear from my early days in TASC that there is an understanding that in order to access community-level information and have it considered by policy makers, the researchers at TASC need to invest time in building strong personal relationships with both groups. 

I hope my contribution on the ground helps more communities to realize their potential as highlighted so well in Sean McCabes’s People’s Transition report launched by TASC in November 2020. In particular, I can support communities calling for economic relief that flows more directly to the people in communities through making community led development plans. Workers and communities themselves can act on these plans to co-create community wealth and local climate actions that build real resilience for future crises. 

The lessons learned from the first communities where The People’s Transition model is currently being piloted (Phibsborough and Ardara) will be built on and shared with communities across Ireland. The main outputs of a People’s Transition process are expected to be an inclusive plan that highlights local needs and opportunities and fully developed and costed initial project plans for community wealth building. 

Suzie Cahn

Suzie Cahn Face Pic

Suzie has broad experience in community development, education, project management and programme design. Suzie worked with VOICE Ireland to deliver the nationwide Recycling Ambassador Programme and most recently with An Cosán as their Social Enterprise Officer and Higher Education Tutor with non-traditional marginalized adult learners.

She co-founded Carraig Dúlra Social Enterprise, a regenerative community education and nature connection and permaculture hub in Co Wicklow in 2008. She has been a catalyst, co-creator and network weaver in TINI (Transition Ireland and Northern Ireland), Transition Global Network (Training Circle Advisory Group), Permaculture Ireland Network, WWOOF Ireland, and the Active Hope Network. 


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