ClimateX Principles: Learning is our Theory of Change
This is the first in a series of reflections on ClimateX's mission - it's a combination of personal and collective thinking so I would greatly appreciate your feedback!
As an all-encompassing problem, climate change requires interventions at many scales. Some of us will protest first world hypocrisy at COP summits and others will organize teach-ins at their local school. Diversity of means and goals is natural as well as desirable in a broad based democratic movement.
At the same time, the ambition of a new initiative has to be commensurate with the capacity of its initiators, their skills and experience and their target community. We wouldn’t applaud the president of the United States if his climate actions consisted of teach-ins at DC schools. Of course, even that degree of support would be a welcome new turn for the current presidency.
As ClimateX matures, we want to take stock of our capacities, skills and community and ask ourselves: “what’s our theory of change?” ClimateX arose out of MIT alumni efforts to hold the institute accountable for its continuing links to fossil fuel companies. Then, as now, ClimateX’s leadership supports complete divestment from fossil fuel companies in the MIT corporation’s portfolio and the urgent refocusing of the institute’s research and teaching efforts towards a sustainable future for all of us.
However, those demands are not ClimateX’s demands. Instead, ClimateX wants to build upon and advance networks of technology enabled learning that have emerged in the last few years. We believe that large scale action supported by knowledge is a better long term choice for us than protest or divestment. There are several reasons for thinking so, let me just mention four:
- Online learning has exploded in the last few years - Class Central reports that over 58 million students participated in massive online courses in 2016. Bringing the message of climate action via knowledge to this massive (potential) audience is a fantastic opportunity, especially when we can leverage the enormous goodwill of the MIT community of 130,000 alumni, students, staff and faculty to reach those 58+ million people.
- With our partnership with MIT’s Office of Digital Learning, we have a ringside view of these momentous developments in learning technologies and we have the opportunity to build social learning tools for climate action at a scale no one has done before.
- Our worldwide audience has varied interests and backgrounds. Climate action in Qatar is different from climate action in Mumbai. Even more importantly, we want to enable peer to peer learning of climate action, so that the student in Bogota can learn from the successes of actors in Bangkok.
- Learning is the primary route through which ClimateX will reach future generations, and for better or worse, those future generations will face more extreme challenges than we ever will. It’s worth investing in long term learn-act cycles that will prepare our children and grandchildren for the future. We trust that they will create the tools, campaigns and movements needed.
As individuals we may participate in civil disobedience and court arrest against gas pipelines or corporate influence - and some of us have done so - but as ClimateX we will focus our efforts on climate actions clearly tied to learning. Our goal is to create a portfolio of learning content and projects of a size and complexity that can be supported in classrooms, community groups and other learning spaces and to use that portfolio to build a movement of climate actors worldwide.
Therefore, the answer to the question “what’s our theory of change?” is “our theory of change is our theory of learning.” Which prompts the obvious question:
What’s our theory of learning?