We get it — sometimes it just feels awkward, uncomfortable, and just plain scary to address environmentalism and sustainability in our sphere of influence. What do we say? How do we start? Does it really make a difference? These are all legitimate questions, and you’re not alone in tackling them. We’re here to equip you with encouragement and practical advice so you feel ready to take on climate conversations with your friends, family, at your workplace and with your local government.
We sat down with Mia McBryde — who’s studying Environmental Conservation, certified in carbon analytics and life cycle assessment, and a public speaker on climate change adaptation — to pick her brain on how to start talking about the environment and sustainability with your local government.
Q: What are common barriers that you find inhibit yourself and others from taking meaningful action surrounding sustainability and the environment at the government level?
Feeling Like Our Voices Don’t Matter: we can easily feel like we’re too small to make a difference at a government level, and we don’t know how to make our voices heard.
It Feels Big & Complicated: approaching the government about topics can feel super intimidating at first, especially learning how to communicate at this level. It’s natural to wonder how to start the conversation.
Barriers To Taking Meaningful Action: on the government side, there’s a lot that can stand in the way of taking meaningful action, like financial budgeting, a party’s political platform, passing changes in regulation, and available resources to make changes.
Q: How do you go about approaching a local or national government about environmental issues? What are the different routes you can take?
Reach Out Directly
Making phone calls, writing emails and writing letters are all great ways to approach governments. Making phone calls is the best way to directly reach government workers. You can hear their responses and have an actual conversation. If you don’t know where to start with making calls or writing to governments, there are a ton of great online resources that provide outlines of how to go about these discussions (I’ve listed some below, or just hop on Google).
Communicate Through An Environmental Organization
Another option is connecting with an environmental organization that already works or communicates with the government. They may already have a government representative they work with, or you can develop a strategy with a team to communicate with the government. Petitions can be a useful way to bring an issue to light, but after signing a petition taking the next step to communicate more directly with the government keeps the momentum going.
Q: Different opinions are part of being in relationship with others, even our government. How do you recommend we approach differing opinions about sustainability and the environment that our government might uphold especially when we disagree?
Like any communication about the environment (or any topic, really) it’s extremely important to enter the conversation respectfully, listen to other’s opinions and be appreciative of the time others are taking to have this conversation.
Create A Network
Try building a network of other individuals, organizations, and businesses before entering conversations with the government on areas that you disagree on. There’s strength in numbers when it comes to research, writing emails, making calls, and ultimately gaining the attention of the government.
Hold Them Accountable
Hold the government accountable to promises they made, as well as international climate goals. Do this respectfully, of course, but it’s important that the government knows that people are holding them to their environmental goals.
Q: What are some practical tips you have around having conversations about sustainability and the environment with your local and national government that result in meaningful change?
Include A Variety of Voices
In order to create meaningful changes at the government level, it’s really important to include a variety of voices, including women, BIPOC & Indigenous individuals, LGBTQ+ individuals, and individuals with low income.
We need to make changes that are intersectional and involve consultation from a variety of representatives from various groups and identities. While making environmental changes, we need to be aware of the intersection between environmental and social change, and to be conscientious of how an environmental shift may benefit or harm different communities.
Be Well Researched
Be aware of past government action, legal challenges and budgets. It can be helpful to offer ideas that other governments have successfully implemented in order to show the feasibility of an action, and have a reference for the challenges and successes of making those environmental changes.
Find A Government “In”
If possible, find an ‘in’ in the government who’s interested in these topics, and connect with them. This can start in the municipal government, where these changes may feel more feasible at the beginning.
Communicate With Other Communities
Once changes are being implemented in one municipality, you can connect with other communities to share ideas and work together to make changes.
Involve The Public
Think about how non-government organizations, or individuals can participate in these shifts to take some of the workload off the government. By already having a network interested in participating to make these changes, the government may feel more receptive to taking on some of the work.
Finally, continue to push (call, email, petition) and hold the government accountable for their promises.
Q: Do you know of any resources, organizations or initiatives that could support someone looking to address sustainability and environmentalism with their local or national government?
Looking for community environmental organizations to engage with? Here you go.
- Volunteer Opportunities: Canadian Environmental Network
- Volunteer Opportunities and Jobs: GoodWork.ca
Use resources to help you write and call the government.
- What Can I Do About Global Carbon Emissions
- Tips For Writing To Government
- Tips for Writing Letters
- Calling Elected Officials
These links below provide the contact information for MLAs in each province in Canada. If you’re in the USA, the link provided can be used to find state, local and federal government officials’ contact information.
- New Brunswick
- Nova Scotia
- NorthWest Territories