How would you talk to a parent about climate change when they are struggling to put food on the table or when their child is currently having frequent asthma attacks?
How would you talk about climate change with a group devoted to racial justice when there is so much urgent work needed to dismantle systemic barriers to safety, economic security, health, and opportunity that threaten people’s lives today?
How would you talk about shutting down a coal plant in a mining town when that means loss of livelihood for town residents if there isn’t policy in place for alternative sources of employment and energy?
Building a more just and more powerful climate movement means we need to reach people where they currently stand and connect with them on the here-and-now issues. Many communities on the frontlines of growing climate change impacts have for decades been struggling with economic injustice, housing and food insecurity, unhealthy air and water, and unmanageable transportation. The newer threats posed by climate change — extreme heat, sea level rise, more intense storms — are added to a long history of struggle and a growing list of concerns.
In a traditional En-ROADS workshop, we might start with people sharing their favorite climate policies. “Look at how this climate policy works, see its impact on temperature, and how it influences other parts of the system.” The power of En-ROADS is its grounding in consensus science and validated data. Focusing on policies with more readily quantified impacts can tell a compelling story and reach some otherwise skeptical stakeholders.
However, most equity considerations are harder to quantify and therefore not directly included in En-ROADS. (PM2.5 air pollution is a welcome addition!). If we’re not careful, that exclusion can lead to an impression that the goal of improving equity is somehow secondary to, or less-than, the goal of emissions reductions.
That’s contradictory to how many people experience these issues in their lives. For instance, in her 2019 essay, “Climate Change Isn’t the First Existential Threat,” climate justice writer Mary Annaïse Heglar explains:
I’ll grant that we’ve never seen an existential threat to all of humankind before. It’s true that the planet itself has never become hostile to our collective existence. But history is littered with targeted — but no less deadly — existential threats for specific populations. For 400 years and counting, the United States itself has been an existential threat to Black people…
Fortunately, we are encouraged to use En-ROADS as a spur for discussion and reflection, to resist the pull to use it as an “answer machine.” Multisolving provides us with a rich framework along with inspiring examples to guide those conversations.
Can we expand our imagination and together build a deeper practice, one that centers equity and justice — not as a side benefit of climate action, but as a core ingredient to mitigating climate change?
What if we begin an En-ROADS workshop not on climate change, but with multisolving questions? Such as:
- What are your most pressing social justice concerns?
- How are they impacting your community?
- What do solutions look like?
We’re experimenting with alternative En-ROADS workshop approaches that center equity considerations by using a multisolving perspective. We each ran such a workshop in mid-April 2021 and individually piloted different techniques.
A Hybrid Workshop
Cassandra Breeze Ceballos co-facilitated a ‘Multisolving + En-ROADS’ workshop with the support of Allison Bender, an En-ROADS Climate Ambassador affiliated with the Wisconsin Energy Institute. The session took place on April 13th and ran for approximately one hour as part of a two-hour virtual event* on equitable climate solutions in Wisconsin and Minnesota.
Typically, a key insight derived from experiencing an En-ROADS Climate Workshop is that there is no “silver bullet” to combating climate change. For example, imagine the 18 climate solution sliders were each a different type of seed — you must plant many varieties to grow a proper garden. The same is true for effective climate policy, as evidenced by a new report from the IEA. We cannot limit warming to below 2°C without a multi-pronged approach that moves virtually all 18 sliders to some degree.
While important, guiding participants toward that insight was not a priority for the April 13th event. Rather, the main objective was for participants to understand the complexity of climate solutions, including the possible co-benefits and equity implications (both intended and unintended) of certain actions. Perhaps a longer ‘Multisolving + En-ROADS’ workshop would allow for both moving enough levers to limit temperature increase below 2°C and successfully incorporating a multisolving perspective. However, it is difficult to do both well within a 60-minute timeframe.
To mitigate this limitation, Cassandra made a conscious decision to step away from the traditional En-ROADS workshop goal of reaching 2°C. Instead of focusing on moving over a dozen sliders in the drive toward 2°C or below, Cassandra and Allison focused on only a handful of solutions, taking time to illuminate the multisolving dynamics of each one.
The ‘Multisolving + En-ROADS’ hour-long portion of the event began with an overview of multisolving that included a definition and applied examples. We asked folks to think about what multisolving might look like in their own community and to share those in the chat box. We then gave a brief introduction to En-ROADS before sending participants to breakout rooms. The goal of the first breakout session was to have groups discuss and come to a consensus on their top ~4 “interventions” (sliders) with multisolving in mind. Participants did not go into the En-ROADS simulation itself; instead, each group was given a copy the “One page guide to the En-ROADS Control Panel” to help guide the discussion.
With roughly thirty minutes remaining, participants reconvened in the main room where each breakout room presented its top interventions. These included: increasing renewables, afforestation, and energy efficiency (of both transportation and buildings & industry); decreasing coal, oil, and methane & other gases; and implementing a carbon price. Cassandra and Allison went through the sliders one by one, pausing on each to prompt participants to think about, and name, possible co-benefits as well as equity considerations of that intervention before moving to the next slider.
The exercise ended with audience members returning to their original breakout rooms for a short debrief to discuss the following questions:
- What surprised you? What were your key insights?
- What might multisolving interventions look like in your community?
- What will you take away from today, and what will that look like in the “real” world?
Cassandra concluded the session with a little bit of hope, grounding the group in the possibilities of a world that multisolves for equitable climate solutions.
*The April 13th event was hosted in partnership with Climate Generation, Wisconsin Green Muslims, and RE-AMP as part of an ongoing, collaborative grant funded by USCAN.
A Compact Workshop
Curt Newton designed and led a 20 minute ‘Multisolving + En-ROADS’ workshop, as the opening of a 90-minute session hosted by the MIT PKG Center to connect climate policies with justice and equity conditions in the city of Boston. About 30 participants came with social justice on their minds; they were university students and administrators involved in public service programs, as part of a Journeys Toward Justice “virtual road trip” of programs around the US.
Curt began the session by stating that this would be different than many climate conversations; we’re not leading with emissions and temperature graphs, though we’ll get there eventually. Participants were asked “What are your key social justice issues?” Responses spread evenly across public health, education, income inequality, food insecurity, gun violence, housing equity, and the ecological crisis. Only one of the 19 replies used the word “climate.”
Curt then spent 5 minutes introducing multisolving, using the example of how reduced coal use brings both short-term benefits (e.g. better air quality and health) and long-term benefits (less GHG emissions and global heating). The event closed with 10 minutes looking at the En-ROADS simulator, translating a few of the social justice policies that had been raised by participants into associated climate policies, and reflecting on how they might play out in Boston. For example: if not designed specifically with equity in mind, building retrofit and transportation electrification policies could produce more gentrification, housing displacement, weaker transit and less-livable streets.
You can watch a recording of the session here. Curt Newton’s part runs from 5:25 to 27:40.
Without an equity-centered approach, achieving the goal of limiting global temperature increase to below 2°C by 2100 is improbable. Therefore, depending on the audience for an En-ROADS workshop, one might downplay the importance of reaching 2°C, as a 2°C result without system transformations in the direction of justice isn’t the goal.
Rather than moving En-ROADS levers in an abstract way, we propose drilling down to a deeper level on certain levers that offer good entry points for bringing in a multisolving lens. Discussing things in concrete, more “grassroots terms” can help bring people from the global En-ROADS model to a local perspective. It can also allow people that are more skeptical about the science of climate change into the fold of the conversation.
Some issues, such as high rates of asthma, may be closely aligned with climate policy solutions; other issues, like gun violence, may feel less connected, or even unrelated, to En-ROADS levers. That’s okay, as sometimes the main goal is the conversation and reflection about how issues are connected and lead toward progress.
Call to action
We’d like to hear about other workshop experiences that incorporate multisolving:
- How do you bring multisolving into an En-ROADS demonstration?
- How do participants react to the concept? Does it resonate? Does it shift the tone of the conversation?
- What is the closing moment of silence and reflection like?
Where can you try this out? Can you think of justice-leading groups in your network or in your area, not directly focused on climate but on climate-adjacent issues, with whom you could do such a workshop? For example: a housing justice or public transportation coalition, a group that works to reduce violent crime through tree planting, or an organization devoted to equitable job training and employment?
Below are some suggestions for your workshops. We’d love to hear others.
- Invest in co-designing the event with the host organization. Work together with them, understand their issues and perspectives, and above all, build connections.
- Frame the workshop in their specific context and drill down into details of relevant policy intersections
- If possible, share introductory info on multisolving with participants prior to the event: for instance, Dr. Elizabeth Sawin’s TEDx talk.
- In the workshop, prioritize the time to discuss the community’s social justice drivers and the space for participants to think through the interconnections among issues.
- Come with a follow-up or action items for participants to carry momentum out of the session
- Remember that there is a space for everyone; each one of us has a role to play.
Finally, in this post, we’ve focused on the workshop experience. What about a Climate Action Simulation variation that centers multisolving? Perhaps we could develop a briefing sheet for a vibrant Social Justice Coalition, with advocates for fair employment, housing, food, and transportation. What would happen if the order of play always gives the Climate Justice Hawks and the Social Justice Coalition the last word? Could we have a multisolving dashboard alongside En-ROADS, to collect and synthesize all the ways that the modeled future is better and worth fighting for?
We challenge facilitators to integrate the concept of multisolving more explicitly when running future En-ROADS events. Every experience with the simulation provides an opportunity to illuminate multisolving, an approach we believe necessary to combat climate change both effectively and equitably.