Creating Technology for Social Change

Boston Civic Media Consortium: Teaching Climate, Inspiring Action


Boston Civic Media Consortium: Teaching Climate, Inspiring Action

Friday 24th March 2017

Organized by the Boston Civic Media Consortium with Sara Wylie and Sharon Harlan of Northeastern University’s Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute (SSEHRI), the event on Teaching Climate, Inspiring Action bought together academics, students, community groups, journalists, artists, members of government, and many more, to discuss how we can partner effectively across the Greater Boston area to mobilise climate action.




Lightning Talks:


David Abel, Environmental Reporter, The Boston Globe

David begins with quotes from emails he has received over the past few weeks in response to stories he has written for the Globe on the environment. Some are from climate denier companies, others from readers. As a journalist contesting such deliberately misleading assertions can be challenging. David argues that as the science of global warming has become more definitive, we now have to ask what constitutes fair balance in the journalism industry.

When faced with mounting evidence that smoking causes cancer, journalists moved away from quoting scientists arguing the opposite and creating false equivalences. Speaking to the EPA, David has heard that the science of climate change is more robust than the science correlating smoking with cancer. As such, journalism needs to move away from making false equivalences with climate change.

As such, David tries to respond to denialism with facts. He recently responded to prominent climate change denier, Robert Lindzen. Where Lindzen argued that the melting ice is just natural variation, David used recent figures that show the depletion of arctic sea ice has peaked in recent years. David also noted that Linzen has received money from fossil fuel companies.

Today David is off to D.C. to screen one of his films. David has begun making films to document the real effects of climate change that are already happening. He shows us the trailer to Sacred Cod, which documents the effects of climate change on the gulf of Maine, which has warmed faster than nearly any other body of water on the planet.

As Environmental Reporter at The Boston Globe, David is constantly writing about climate change. He states that his films also attempt to lay out the facts and invite the audience to make decisions.


Roseann Bongiovanni, Associate Executive Director, Chelsea Collaborative

Roseann begins by telling us about Chelsea, MA, which often gets overlooked when we think about the Greater Boston area. Chelsea has over 40,000 residents within 1.4 sq miles due to city zoning limits. Roseann explains the aerial photo she is displaying shows lots of grey infrastructure, surrounded by water on three sides. 100% of Logan Airport’s jet-fuel is stored in Chelsea with road salt for 350 towns stored on the banks of the creek. 24% of Chelsea’s population lives under poverty level and 72% identify as an ethnic minority.

The most densely populated, most ethnically diverse neighbourhoods are surrounded by industry due to the entirety of Chelsea being designated as a port area, which means industry has city planning permissions to property along the waterfront. Chelsea experiences high rates of cancer and cardiovascular conditions. Not only are there issues with industry but predictions of flooding in 2070 show much of the city submerged underwater, rendering much of the population homeless.

Roseann works with Green Roots Chelsea, ensuring that the residents of Chelsea, including those who are the hardest to reach, are heard. The group speaks on a neighbourhood level to strive for environmental justice. Green Roots Chelsea works with businesses to ensure industry is working for climate protections in the interest of the residents, as well as taking action to sue companies like Exxon who are denying climate change. Environmental Chelsea Organisers is a youth led organisation that works on environmental justice.

Roseann finished by inviting us to the clean-up run by ECO on Earth Day, April 22nd. She provided the groups website,, and said that if people want to take action right now they should donate, because money is not coming from the federal government any more and that impact is real.



James DeCunzo, Organizer, All Campus Divestment Collaborative

James introduces himself as a member of DivestNU. James tells us that the divestment campaign at Northeastern begun in 2014, when 75% of the student body voted in favour of divestment. A recent Social Impact Council Report released by the DivestNU group in Spring 2016 recommended full divestment, however Northeastern did not divest and created a sustainability fund, which although a success for the group is still a half-measure on the road to divestment.

James explains that the creation of a Faculty Working group saw a power dynamic shift within DivestNU and helped the group accumulate important gains in staff support by overriding different concerns including those surrounding nontenured positions.

The All Campus Divestment Collaboration (ACDC) was an effort to share resources and show solidarity across the Greater Boston area. One of the key tools was a shared calendar along with other tools which enabled the different divestment groups to expand their network.

James recalls some of the challenges DivestNU have faced. The issue of reliable communication with professors as well as within the group is central, as well as redundancy issues across different groups trying to share work and find new strategies.

To conclude James points to some of the actions the ACDC has taken including teach-ins, direct support of campaigns, and reaching out to work with community organisations. He mentions that Professor Jennie Stephen’s teamed with ACDC to increase collaborative skill-sharing and transfer experience from older members to newer students. Following this, James leaves us with the question of how we can affect change by promoting allyship and skill-sharing.


Paula Garcia, Energy Analyst, Union of Concerned Scientists

Paula explains that the Union of Concerned Scientists was formed in 1969 by scientists and students from MIT. The groups focuses on a range of issues including nuclear weapons and power; climate and energy; and science and democracy.

Paula says that one of the solutions to climate change we have is reducing emissions and as the US is one of the countries that pollutes most in the world it has a particularly important role in this. Renewable energy is a viable alternative for the US and the Union of Concerned Scientists helps create models to inform policy decision-making in this area.

For Massachusetts, the Union found that the state could produce electricity in a sustainable way without building any more pipelines. Instead, deploying offshore wind energy could decrease bills and reduce emissions, as well as the state’s reliance on natural gas. After a recent intervention the group helped achieve a state commitment to renewable energy.

Paula invites the audience to join the Union of Concerned Scientists, saying the group provides training and development opportunities. She also invites everyone to join the Union for the People’s Climate March in D.C. April 29th, urging people to RSVP at:


Jane Marsching, Artist, Professor and Sustainability Fellow at Massachusetts College of Art and Design

Jane talks about embedding sustainability in art and design practices in higher education institutions, from class curriculums, to student clubs, to the financial structuring of educational institutions. Jane talks about the incubation package she has been working on at Massachusetts College of Art and Design. Some of the big aims of the project included:

-Creating interdisciplinary opportunities for a school where departments are often defined by mediums

-Identifying deep themes to introduce sustainability as “everything”

-Unpacking the college’s aims to make practitioners “citizens”

The incubation program begun with the UN definition of sustainable practice as “that which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.” However a year into the incubator program the group decided that the UN definition of sustainability was not working for what they were trying to achieve. Jane tells us that The Sustainable MassArt Initiative defines “MassArt as an ecosystem in which everything we do is part of an interconnected web of economic, environmental, and human resources. The Sustainable MassArt Initiative works to define, develop, support, and communicate visionary work in the field of sustainable art and design by students, faculty, and staff. The primary goal of the Sustainable MassArt Initiative is to foster and support sustainable curriculum throughout the college.”

Jane tells us that she strove to make the classroom or laboratory the teacher with DIY products, tea stations, and other aspects which morphed over the course of the semester to allow anyone who entered the room to reorient themselves. She poses the question of how to create a strategy of knowledge and focus when many are uninterested to the group, and cites one-off classes by professors on an aspect of sustainability in their subject which were free and open to the public as a way to engage a broader range of people beyond the student body.

This year Jane tells us that the program is focusing on not creating a top-down series of events. Instead they have asked faculty to design from the ground up. She reminds us how important and necessary this type of work is when so much is judged on profits and quantitative metrics these days.To end, Jane urges us to work together to create systemic discontinuity with business as usual across all institutions of higher education.


Dr. Atiya Martin, Chief Resilience Officer, City of Boston

Atiya introduces us to Boston’s Resilience Strategy, providing a brief overview of the cities approach to resilience and the links between racial equity and social justice.

The Resilient City project was funded by the 100 Resilient Cities scheme by the Rockefeller Foundation. The project defines resilience as the ability of cities and individuals within cities to survive, adapt, and grow after emergencies. Atiya explains that anything from high unemployment to environmental justice issues can be considered emergencies, and that it includes racism as well as acute shocks like terrorism and natural disasters. The concept of resilience has helped the emergency management world to re-assess the impacts of issues like climate change within the different problems localities face every day.

Atiya tells us that the Mayor’s Office of Resilience had over 100 folks from different sectors attend two events to help us frame resilience in the City of Boston. The events asks what the vision for resilience in Boston is, what goals we need to achieve to get there, and what initiatives will help that happen. The two collaborative sessions created a Boston’s Blueprint for Resilience Strategy which includes the group’s focus on racial equity. Overview of vision areas includes: Reflective city, stronger people; collaborative, proactive governance; equitable economic development; and connected adaptive city.

Atiya says that we should conceive of the event or experience as the tip of the iceberg, whilst beneath there are patterns of behaviour and thought that derive from the historical and social context we are in which themselves are part of ingrained cultural and institutional values. Atiya reminds us we all embody these values, sometimes in ways that we cannot recognise any more.

To prove this Atiya concludes with a demonstration of unconscious bias, having us read the colour of the word on the screen. Our unconscious brain wanted to read the word instead of looking at the colour of the word. Atiya says that we all have blind spots and we need to address them by expanding our networks, learning social and historical context, creating space in our personal and professional lives, and taking responsibility within our practices and policies.


Q&A with Dr. Atiya Martin, Jane Marsching, Paula Garcia, James DeCunzo, Roseann Bongiovanni.

Q: Can we work with fossil fuel companies from the inside?

JDC: Looking at the history of companies where that has happened I would say no. EXXON mobil has had shareholders and legal fights pushing for its transition to renewable energy from the inside. How can you work through those institutions when they are so resistant? As opposed to trying to work with these unjust companies we should depower them, and try to limit the power they hold in our institutions.


Q: Boston has the most poorly grounded racial justice lens of any group in the 100 Resilient Cities?

AM: All the Chief Resilience Officers meet, and each equity issue is different across cities. Initiatives tended to fall short of addressing the equity statement identified at the beginning. We are in close contact with Melbourne, who also have a large immigrant population and are seeing rising discrimination, particularly against muslims. We aim to share what we’re learning and what it means for government to address inequity.


Q: What are the primary obstacles for building a broader climate justice movement, and what are the important lessons we can build on?

AM: Climate justice has been predominantly white, where people of colour have been in the grassroots but separated from these movements. We can join the intersections around race by asking who disproportionately gets the burden of climate justice issues?

Communities Labour United joined communities and unions to develop a report on climate justice and how we can work together. It is important to ask how to connect the grassroots to broader movements, bringing climate justice into social justice beyond our comfort zones.

PG: Solar equity is a big movement across states like California and New York, where the benefits of solar reach lower income communities. It is important to invite lower-income communities to the table where these decisions are being made.


Q: How do we do better at reaching people who are not currently “in the choir”?

RB: We need to bring them into the choir – these people benefit from the exploitation of others and people need to be made aware of their benefits being a burden on other people. Racism is still a prominent issue, where people believe it is out of sight and out of mind, but we need to readdress the distribution of benefits and burdens.

AM: We need to focus on the larger group through “like me” mentality.

JM: It is important to have the opportunity to re-create our formulaic responses to an issue like climate change.

Community announcements:

Brookline Interactive are organising a 3 day hackathon. For more information visit:
Groups are welcomed to submit events to or contact  to join a coalition of groups in Greater Boston for Earth Day 2017.
ACDC highlight events for divestment at Harvard and Tufts over the coming weeks.
Physicians for Social Responsibility offer their partnership to interested parties.
Quincy Climate Action Network share their South Shore Science Festival event on Earth Day.
And Emerson’s Engagement Lab advise applications to their MA in Civic Media: Art and Practice are still open.

Moderated Small Group Discussions:

How do we teach climate change through action? and How do we take action on climate change through teaching?

Small break-out groups discussed the two questions above thinking of creative responses and case-studies that illuminate potential outcomes.


Group 1: It is important to finding scaleable projects and embed students within the community


Group 2: The group came up with several ideas to teach climate and take action through action. Use local library as resource to showcase climate change media; visit state or federal legislature to teach students how to lobby; map knowledge of what people do and don’t know about climate change, and be able to sum up basic climate change science in an accessible way; have ways for people to get involved in smaller ways; document history of work within movements; link student organisations to staff or national organisations


Group 3: This group discussed that it is important to not adding to people’s workloads, and promoted the idea of dovetailing rather than adding, i.e. partnering with urban farming groups where there is common interest. Useful examples for teaching climate include heatmapping local areas and using comic book to share information. The group recommended Public Lab for tools for teachers to download


Group 4: The group asked the question “where does teaching happen?” The focus of the group was on tone, as they said it was important with an issue like climate change to open opportunities for discourses of hope and imagination. The group noted that values matter and we should find the spaces of common values are and teach towards those. Network building (Climate College, BCM) and finding points of commonality and common language are especially important, particularly building them locally


Group 5: The group looked at moving the learning experiences outside the classroom, from collaborative class projects to teachers from different departments providing expertise within a class for a richer learning experience. Getting students out of school to do work in the world was seen as a good way to drive engagement, including using initiatives like The Beautiful Stuff Project and other recycling centers that have free materials for students to work with


Group 6: Meeting people where they’re at and understanding that people have different experiences of the environment and what climate change means to them was the key takeaway from Group 6. Enabling community partners with mutually beneficial research was central to teaching action and learning from action. The group pointed to and other uses of data which increases community investment and the quality of academic data. The group’s closing through was that outside of the classroom we are all experts and we are all students.