A climate leadership program for the rest of us
“I want to make a difference: I can’t make a climate treaty, I already compost … what’s in between?”
It’s a sentiment Mike Byerley hears often: More and more people want to get involved in climate action, but don’t know where to start.
Byerley is the director of programming with the Regeneration Learning Society, and runs the annual Alberta Climate Leadership Program.
“The program is for people outside the climate enterprise,” said Byerley, a geologist by training who worked in the Alberta oil patch for 13 years. “They are not activists, they are not climate scientists, they are not working in the policy sector or government.
“The people in the program are basically the 85 per cent of people excluded from participation on climate change.”
The five-month program, which is spread over five weekends, aims to help Alberta residents gain an understanding of the systemic nature of climate change and then apply that understanding to their own situations.
“It’s our belief that the people closest to the system are not the best to change the system,” he said.
Each year the program accepts 25 participants over the age of 25 who are more established in their professional lives, understand the context in which they are working, and are on a leadership track. Sometimes these are people who have acquired the role of “climate person” or “environmental liaison” at their current jobs.
For example, the program’s alumni include a National Energy Board employee who manages stakeholder relationships with indigenous communities, a climate coordinator for a local governance council, as well as people from the regulatory sector and from oil and gas companies.
“They have the same cares and concerns and interests,” said Byerley, particularly people working in the oil and gas sector, “and they don’t feel like they can do anything.”
The program includes five weekend retreats in different locations (Calgary, Edmonton, Kananaskis and Red Deer). While it doesn’t have an academic focus, the program does begin with some classroom theory on economics, the petro-state, neoliberalism, and how justice affects social change.
“If you are working to change the world, people need to understand what you are asking and be interested in what you are asking,” said Byerley.
Participants then move on to develop their own projects, learning how to design, test and operationalize ideas.
Byerley said more than half of the participants carry their projects through to the end, even after they’ve completed the course. Some of the projects started during the program have led to an oil field company setting up a $2 million green tech fund, a food waste and surplus food recovery program, and an unlikely partnership between a solar energy company and an immigration resettlement worker doing home energy audits.
In addition to the theory and project work, a third aspect of the program is peer-based learning, where participants have the chance to work in groups and learn from each other.
“[We want people] saying lots of things out loud, because that changes your relationship to an idea,” said Byerley.
At the end of the five-month program, the intent is for participants to have the tools, skills and knowledge to add a climate change twist to the work they are already doing.
“We’re not asking people to do new work, we are asking people to add to their work,” said Byerley. “No one wants to do something new, but they don’t mind doing a little more.”