Youth Action

July 31, 2023
By: Ramier Villarama

Building Community Virtually and In-Person

Building Community Virtually and In-Person - Photo

It is a known fact that climate change is one of the biggest challenges of our time. Whether you care about it or not, its impacts on different sectors of society are interrelated. There are many people out there who are willing and trying their hardest to fight against climate change, but they cannot do it alone. We cannot just focus on individual choices, but rather address the issue of climate change as a collective, as it is a shared problem. One way we can do this is with community conversations. 

Community conversations are when community members come together to discuss and address pressing issues facing a group of people.

Community Conversation

It also serves as a way to authentically engage members of the community and generate public knowledge. To me, these conversations can happen anywhere, in-person or virtually, and on a local, regional, and/or global scale.

In May I had the opportunity to attend the Talk Climate Gathering, a virtual three-day event that offered a space to “celebrate and connect around the transformational power of climate storytelling.” This event was held on Zoom, and in order for it to run effortlessly, it required a lot of planning and a lot of hands on deck. My supervisor, Cassandra, and their team at Climate Generation did just that. The gathering’s schedule included space for an opening and closing time every day, screen breaks, lunchtime, workshops and panels, the Circle Jams, and share-outs/reflections. This thoughtful schedule, in addition to all the resources provided for the event, allowed conversations to run smoothly. 

The community members that joined this event were people of different ages and diverse backgrounds who came together to talk about climate change and to create and share their climate stories. Everyone’s own vulnerability and that ability to connect with one another was so special. Even though the space was virtual, we were still able to make meaningful connections with one another through the screen. As the youngest participant, I found it insightful to hear from the different speakers, facilitators, and other community members who take part in climate action in their own unique and individual ways. 

A month later, I came across an advertisement for a Ramsey County “Climate Action Community Conversation” while scrolling through Instagram one day. This time, the community conversation would take place in person, face-to-face. The goal was to discuss actions that the county could take to respond to climate change. As a current resident of St. Paul, MN, which sits in Ramsey County, I was interested in this event and eager to learn more and decided to register. 

I did not know Minnesota’s, let alone Ramsey County’s, plans to address and prepare for climate change prior to this event.

The event started with a storytelling exercise that allowed community members to introduce themselves to one another and talk about activities we loved to do as a child and how climate change affects those activities. We were then asked to separate and choose the sector we wanted to focus on (transportation, clean energy and buildings, economy, etc). In these groups, we talked about what actions we think Ramsey County should take to prioritize these different sectors. We also looked at the county’s framework goals and comprehensive plan, allowing for community feedback and collaboration. These conversations reminded me of the Talk Climate Gathering’s storytelling workshop and Circle Jams. Climate change continues to impact the health and well-being of Ramsey County residents. By allowing these residents to provide their own input and experiences, these local solutions can prosper and actually take place, minimizing the impacts on the communities.

Steps in Ramsey County’s Climate Action Plan

Looking back to finding the Ramsey County event advertisement online, it proves the powerful role social media can play in fighting climate change. It can help humans communicate, spread knowledge about the world and current events, organize campaigns, and just like the Ramsey County community conversation, encourage people to get involved in climate activism. 

Whether virtual or in-person, community conversations can be used to promote this mutual understanding of a shared problem and to identify ideas and directions for solutions.

I want to leave you with a few questions to think about: 

“What can I do to fight climate change?”
“What can we do for climate change as a community?” 

We need to be aware of this challenge and we need to act now. No action is too small.

Ramier Villarama

Ramier Villarama (he/him) was born in the Philippines, but moved to New Jersey with his family at a young age. He is a current rising third-year student at Macalester College in St. Paul, MN. In addition to being a part of the Men’s Swimming and Diving team, he is a double major in Environmental Studies and Studio Art, with a minor in Asian Studies and a concentration in Food, Agriculture, and Society. He has been recently learning more about his Filipino culture and his relationship with nature, and has been connecting both with his art and the work that he creates.