Instant Quantum

Everyday Changemakers: Rebecca Gibbs, SCCAN

Listen to 1000 Better Stories on your favourite podcast app or here.

Our Story Weaver, Kaska Hempel, talks to Rebecca Gibbs from SCCAN about rollerblading for sanity, turning NET zero into NOT zero and the invitation to get into climate adaptation planning with us.

Credits

Interview, recording and sound production: Kaska Hempel.

Transcript

Narration

Kaska Hempel: Hello, it’s Kaska, your Story Weaver. Today I catch up with one of our own Everyday Changemakers – Rebecca Gibbs. She recently joined SCCAN to support a team of Regional Network Coordinators facilitating the development of regional Climate Hubs for the Scottish Government. As this project wrapped up earlier this year with most hubs now in place and under government’s oversight, Rebecca’s moved her attention to another urgent matter. 

She’s developing SCCAN’s support for communities in planning for impacts of the changing climate. Impacts which are already increasingly visible and becoming severe, even here in Scotland. Impacts which have definitely been increasingly playing on my mind over the last couple of years as the area where I live has been experiencing more extreme weather. 

Storms that brought down large swathes of trees in our local forest, alongside the local power lines, and even flattened our community garden polytunnel. Droughts that nearly cut off water supply for local food production a year ago. And last October the double whammy of storms that so severely flooded our neighbours in Angus leading to a heartbreaking loss of property, livelihood and life. 

So, I was very keen to talk to Rebecca to see where her thinking is on this.

I caught up with her online, and started by asking her to introduce herself. 

Rebecca Gibbs: I’m Rebecca Gibbs. I have worked at SCCAN for about nine months now and I came originally to work on the Climate Hub programme. I think I was described as the Programme Lead. And I did that jointly with Tara O’Leary. Yeah, we were kind of a double act.

The Climate Hubs programme is a Scottish Government funded programme to establish a range of climate hubs across Scotland. they’re funded by the Scottish government at the moment, but they’re community led. 

There’s probably one near you, if you’re interested in going and finding it and I now work on adaptation.

I also work for something called the Cadence Roundtable which is an online forum for people who want to plan for environmental change.

Kaska Hempel: Tell me about a favourite place where you live or maybe somewhere you visited as part of your project.

Rebecca Gibbs: So I’m fairly new to Glasgow. I’ve lived in Glasgow for about four years and it’s no exaggeration to say I’m grateful every day to be in Glasgow. I think it’s an amazing place. And one of my favourite places in Glasgow is Pollock Park.

And for a multitude of reasons, it’s an extraordinary green space, which was bequeathed to the city by the landowners. I mean, it’s a very unusual place. It’s got a lot of biodiversity. You’ll also see Highland cows and all sorts of things. But it’s also the kind of totem for, activism really, road activism, because a portion of it was lost to the motorway. But before that happened, there was a real groundswell of community activism and the Galgael Trust came out of that activism. So it’s kind of representative of loads of different things, as well as being a great day out. So I really recommend it.

Kaska Hempel: Can you tell me how you got to where you are and your personal climate action journey. Is this something that was a gradual process of you getting involved in this work? or whether there was like an aha moment, some kind of transformational realisation at some point.

Rebecca Gibbs: I’m quite old, so I won’t go all the way back, but I’ll go back to when I was doing my Masters. So, I was doing a MSc in social policy and my interest was social justice and predominantly really poverty alleviation.

So that’s my kind of entry point into climate change. And there was a Damascene moment, really. So, I’d always been a greenie and probably fairly committed greenie. But there was a moment where the two bits of my life intersected. And I went to a lecture by somebody called Ann Powers, who’s kind of the doyen of housing policy. 

And she talked about climate being the central issue. In terms of social justice. And she talked a little bit about how it would affect predominantly people at the bottom of the income scale. At that point, that’s what we thought. This was 15 years ago. And I suddenly realised that if I wanted to do some of the things I wanted to do on social justice, then I had to start thinking more seriously about climate change.

And so, yeah, the rest in some ways is history. But what I’ve done since then is to move. And this kind of came out of social policy interest really, but to move between kind of strategic roles and ground level work. And my hope was that I would, one, not become too overly integrated or I don’t know what the phrase would be really, but I wouldn’t go native in any area.

But I would continue to be useful in both spaces and kind of hopefully import understanding between the two. So yeah, so that’s what I’ve been up to really. And then that led to kind of 15 years of carbon reduction work mostly, because most people who work on climate change work on carbon reduction. And then when I finished the last big piece of work that I was doing, that was mostly carbon reduction related, I kind of was able to pay attention to this nascent nag that I’d had probably for about 10 years about how we were preparing for climate impacts. And once I started to open that box, it was impossible not to become obsessed by it really. 

So, this was about five, six years ago. My sense was that we were very poorly prepared and that feeling has never gone away. I think, you know, I think there’s a lot of work to do. So, I then set about trying to become somebody who would work just as much as I could on climate preparedness. And that’s, yeah, that’s where that probably brings us up to the present day.

Kaska Hempel: What is the thing that you’re most proud of personal or professional?

Rebecca Gibbs: Oh, that’s, yeah, that’s a great question. Wow, that’s a difficult one to answer, I think.

So, during COP26. COP26 was in Glasgow. Conference of the Parties. For those of you who are not listening from Glasgow, it was a kind of big deal, took over the city. And I have a daughter and she has grown up in a very intense political and environmental household, and has managed to kind of remain fairly impervious to my efforts and her father’s efforts to turn her into an environmental activist.

And then during COP26 there were various people around, there were lots of demos and Greta Thunberg came and suddenly Rosa wanted to go. And she was really committed to doing this, even though it was going to be quite inconvenient and all the rest of it. So that was a real day of thinking, okay, there you go. Some stuff has gone in. And so we were able to go on the march together, which was really brilliant. And it was enormous, and that was really heartening. That’s a good personal one, although I think it’s probably more attributable to Greta Thunberg than me. And professionally I don’t know, actually, what am I most proud of.

I mean, I come from a low income background and so I feel like I’ve had a lot of luck, but I’ve also had the opportunity to learn a lot. And so I feel, I guess, proud of taking those chances and being able to make something of them. But again, I think that’s as much to do with the people around me as it is me. 

Kaska Hempel: Awesome. So, we want to demystify some of the jargon around climate change and climate action and adaptation. So do you have a favourite jargon term, your pet hate or pet love, that you could tell people what it means to you?

Rebecca Gibbs: For me, it would have to be net zero. This is a phrase that’s used to describe the goal for carbon reduction. So, the goal that we want to get to is where we’re emitting as little as possible. And the notion behind net zero is that we can carry on emitting some carbon and we use mostly negative emissions technologies to deal with the carbon that we emit. So, there are lots of problems with this. I think for a lot of people they assume it means zero and unfortunately it doesn’t. It’s actually to some extent a kind of get out of jail free card for government and big business. 

And one of the substantial problems we have, and it’s impossible then not to get into more jargon, which is one of the difficulties, is that the predominant negative emissions technology is carbon capture and storage. Which is a way of sucking, supposedly sucking, huge amounts of carbon out of the atmosphere. And we don’t have examples of that at scale. So, it’s a great idea but I have been hearing about carbon capture and storage for probably 20 years now. And I am afraid I describe it as the imaginary friend in the environment movement because we have no examples of it delivering at scale. It’s very expensive currently, and it’s also quite carbon intensive. So yeah, I think it would have to be net zero really.

Because It’s confusing for a lot of people who are starting to engage on climate change. But also within the kind of climate sector, it represents wishful thinking. I think. 

Kaska Hempel: Do you have an idea of a term that should replace it?

Rebecca Gibbs: We need to do is get to a point where we are living with as little carbon as possible or emitting as little carbon as possible. And this is in some bits of thinking around climate change. This is quite an unfashionable idea because it involves changing what we’re doing quite a lot.

And I think if you go back to the 1970s and you start to look at what we need to do to avoid serious runaway climate change, we could have done quite incremental stuff. But I think now the only options we have are quite radical. And so, what would I replace it with? Well, I would replace “net zero” with “not zero” so that people can understand that it’s not zero. And I think probably what we would need to replace it with is “zero”. And then we would need to be honest about what we’re trying to do.

Kaska Hempel: It can be quite a mentally exhausting space to work in and people often suffer from anxiety or burnout. Do you have any good ways to keep sane and relax? 

Rebecca Gibbs: Yeah, well, I get a lot of physical exercise. So, I cycle everywhere. I’m an inveterate off grid kind of person really. So, my main fun, if I was to describe pure fun, because I don’t think cycling counts really because it’s transport, but I do enjoy it. But my main fun would be roller skating.

And in Glasgow we’re really lucky because we have something called Roller Stop, where you can go and dance the night away. It’s really, really great. So that would be what I would do for fun. 

I’d love to say a little bit about climate anxiety, actually. I’m sure that others on this podcast have mentioned Climate Psychology Alliance, but they have really, really excellent stuff on their website and I try to refer to them every time I’m doing something on climate change. So there’s really good resources there, particularly for young people. But the way that I think about burnout may have some relevance here. 

So, there’s something called the Giddens Paradox in climate change. And the Giddens Paradox is really around how, if we knew what was coming, if we knew the seriousness of what we face as a society, everything would be on the table. So, we wouldn’t be going to COP meetings and talking about what we’re not prepared to do. We would be heaping options onto the table. We would be so desperate to avoid what’s coming. And actually, I think this is a really good analogy for burnout. I think those of us who face real difficulties in terms of burnout, and there’s always more you can do in climate change.

You know, there’s just so much for everyone to do, that it is really susceptible, I think, to running people too hard and burning out. But burnout is similar. If you can get into the mindset of the risks of burnout and think about what that would do to your life. Then you can start to think about putting everything on the table and reducing your workload and thinking creatively about how to look after yourself.

So, it’s very similar to the Giddens Paradox. You need to get into the mindset of having burnt out and then you would look back and think, no, no, there were loads of things I could do to make my life nicer and easier. So, I would encourage folk to think about it in that way if it’s helpful.

Kaska Hempel: That’s a really interesting framing of it. 

So, obviously, you’ve worked for nine months on the Climate Hub projects or regional network development in the run up to Climate Hubs with SCCAN. And it’s quite an ambitious project nationally. It’s quite complex and working with lots of community groups on the ground.

And I wonder whether you could share the biggest challenge this project faced in building the networks that you had to overcome and what you learned from it. Because that’s really the stage that we’re at with climate action.

Lots of networks are being formed, networks crossing each other and building up that kind of momentum, hopefully.

Rebecca Gibbs: So, I’ll just explain a bit about my role. So, my role really was to support the Network Coordinators in the regions. And they were the people doing the real kind of contact on the ground. And I think the challenges are myriad, to be honest. It’s a really, really difficult thing to do. 

The principal difficulty, I think, is engaging what I would call the unusual suspects. And by that I mean people who aren’t thinking about climate change already. I think that’s a really, really difficult thing to do. I think it’s quite easy to work with people who are interested in climate change and who see a Climate Hub as being really valuable. So, I think that’s been a really difficult thing for people.

I think also, you know, where we are with the community sector at the moment, and maybe with climate change too, is it’s a fairly competitive environment. We have a limited amount of funding. Groups have no choice but to compete over funding. And I think it creates an environment fertile for conflict. So, one of the things that I think about in relation to the Climate Hub programme, but it really, really also relates to work on climate impacts and preparing for climate impacts is that we all need better skills on resolving conflict.

And that’s something that I want to spend a bit of time thinking about over the next couple of months. And I’d love to hear from people who know of really good work on reducing conflict. It’s so easy for us to fall into conflict when we’re under pressure and the community sector is really under pressure at the moment, and that will be the same when we start to experience serious climate impacts or for those that already are. And what we know about communities as things like serious weather events start to bite is that we’re really, really sophisticated at cooperating at the beginning. 

There’s something that emergency preparedness people call the honeymoon period. So right at the beginning of a flood event or a severe weather event of another sort of storm, we are really sophisticated cooperators. But it’s really, really hard to sustain. We get very tired, we’re under stress, and so we fall into conflict really easily, and it’s really hard to take on new information. But we can grow that zone of tolerance personally. So, I’d love to understand more about how that’s done. I spend too much time working on climate change to know about that, but that’s one of my goals for the next couple of months. So, I think it would be, yeah, I think it would be conflict and resolving conflict really, as being a real key thing.

Kaska Hempel: When you’re thinking about adaptation, I mean, you talked about dealing with conflict as an important aspect of preparing ourselves for what’s to come. But if you’re thinking about resources that you know about for communities right now, is there one that you would recommend?

Rebecca Gibbs: I think my mind about this changes quite a lot, really. But I came across something very recently which was organised by Manchester University. And it’s the approach to community resilience that’s being taken by the strategic emergency preparedness people in New Zealand, in an area of New Zealand, near Wellington. And they’re doing really, really good work there in enabling communities to take charge of their own situations. It’s really, really inspiring actually, I’d really encourage people to check it out.

So, I think it would be looking, having a look at that and seeing how we stand back and let communities do the things that they’re really, really good at and then resource them. But in terms of a resource that I would point to from the UK, Adaptation Scotland have put together a really beautiful community resilience route map, which I think would be really good for people to look at. And then I think the thing I would love to point people to actually is Flood Mary. 

So, Flood Mary is, Mary Long-Dhonau, who was flooded, I think, 15 years ago, and has turned herself into a really extraordinary expert on flooding. Works at community level. Really inspiring person actually, a lot of knowledge. She’s written a blog about how we might do low tech resilience to flooding. And it’s got some really, really good tips on it, like how you might deploy gaffer tape or children’s wellies to, you know, protect your furniture, that kind of thing. So, I think I would want to direct people to that. And if people want to find that, we’re going to do a link to that on our website. We’re putting some new pages on the SCCAN website on adaptation. So, the link will be on there. 

Kaska Hempel: What gives you hope?

Rebecca Gibbs: In respect to climate change, I think I’ve been around too long to feel very hopeful about serious carbon reduction happening quickly enough. I think we’re in quite a lot of trouble and I think we’re going to see serious temperature rises and impacts coming out of that. But there is one thing actually. So, a collaborator of mine, Jamie Kelsey-Fry has worked on something called the Global Assembly. And this is a really extraordinary piece of work, which is looking at how we engage with people across what he would describe as the human family, so the whole global population, and how you do a Citizens Assembly at a global scale.

And this is really in contrast to what we see happening with the Conference of the Parties, the COP meetings that deliver very little. But this would be a way of determining what non policy elites want to see happen on climate change. Yeah, it’s worth checking that out, actually. The Global Assembly is a really, really extraordinary project.

Kaska Hempel: And, final question, I usually ask people to imagine ten years from now. Everybody’s done as much as possible to tackle all the systemic issues we’ve got right now.

Place yourself physically somewhere. And tell us what place you picked and share one memory from that future with us.

Rebecca Gibbs: Yeah, this is great. This is a great question. I love it. I think I would go to where I live now, which is a part of Glasgow, and what I would be able to hear is bird song, children’s play, people in their gardens, the steady hum of people hanging out together, chatting. And what I wouldn’t be able to hear is road traffic, airplanes. And what I’d be able to smell is the kind of, oh gosh, I’ve forgotten the word. There’s this great word for the smell after rain and it relates to the smell of stone. Anyway, so that’s what I’d be able to smell. It would have rained. I don’t have to water my garden and no one else does because it’s rained overnight and we’ve got this great smell.

And what I’d be able to see is clear spaces actually. So I live on a road like everyone else in an urban environment that’s predominantly given over to cars, and it would be great to see those spaces given over to children’s play, and people moving around, and I don’t know, maybe some donkey carts or something, if that doesn’t sound completely ridiculous, or golf buggies, or you know, we do need to get around, I totally get that, for those that can’t cycle. 

There’s just a more human scale way of using spaces. I wasn’t there, but I understand from those that were that the Reclaim The Streets activism in London, which was obviously about reclaiming road spaces. One of those actions ended with digging up the road and putting in a tree in the middle of the road.

And it was done covertly until it was kind of revealed. So, I think I’m okay with that, actually. I think I’m okay with some trees in the middle of the road. Yeah.

Kaska Hempel: Just anything else that you’d like to add or share.

Rebecca Gibbs: I would love to just remind folk really that SCCAN is really thinking hard about its work on adaptation just now, and there’s an open call out for people to get in touch with me. I’m rebecca@sccan.scot. To talk about adaptation if they want to, they can talk about some of the things that might be going on in their community or the gaps where they feel most worried about climate impacts and they don’t see things starting to happen. Yeah, I’d love to hear from folk.

Narration

Kaska Hempel: We’ve put Rebecca’s email in the episode notes for you alongside the link to the brand new adaptation page on SCCAN website. There are also links to all of the many other resources and ideas she mentioned. In particular, she recommended a couple of good starting points for those of you wanting to explore the intricacies of net zero, not zero and carbon capture and storage and what these mean for our government policy and our communities.

If you live in Angus and would like to share how you, your business or family were affected by the storms last winter, Angus Climate Hub is looking to collect your experiences to create a community record of these events. They will also feed into a community film to share with a wider audience across Scotland. Simply get in touch with Kate by emailing kate@sccan.scot – or check out the links to more info in the show notes.

We hope to cover more community climate adaptation stories this year as well so please get in touch with stories@sccan.scot if you know of good examples of communities successfully planning for what’s to come. 

Resources

Rebecca can be reached on rebecca@sccan.scot

SCCAN Adaptation for Communities resources and news

https://sccan.scot/climate-adaptation

Storm Angus – contribute your stories of impacts of recent storms on Angus 

https://www.angusclimatehub.co.uk/storm-angus

Climate Regional Networking Project

https://sccan.scot/network-building

Cadence Roundtable

https://cadenceroundtable.org.uk

Pollock Park

https://www.glasgow.gov.uk/article/4187/Pollok-Country-Park

Galgael Trust

https://www.galgael.org

Not Zero – How net zero targets disguise climate inaction (Report PDF) https://whatnext.org/research_pubs/not-zero-how-net-zero-targets-disguise-climate-inaction/

Prof Kevin Anderson on Net Zero 

Short video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pEk0uQ7nPV8 

In depth video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LUwSNuHlve8&t=3s

Carbon Capture and Storage explainer from Juice Media 

(sweary version) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MSZgoFyuHC8&t=2s

(PG version) https://youtu.be/ThnLghO3Pv8?si=EBXIgUAa8dKZ3ddf 

Roller Stop https://rollerstop.co.uk/ 

Climate Psychology Alliance

https://www.climatepsychologyalliance.org

National Consortium for Societal Resilience [UK+]: New Zealand Community Emergency Response Hubs 

https://youtu.be/yNdF9kWG1A4?si=H1yg5xeJId8eAAhq

Adaptation Scotland Community Climate Adaptation Routemap https://www.adaptationscotland.org.uk/how-adapt/tools-and-resources/community-climate-adaptation-routemap

Flood Mary

https://floodmary.com/

Global Assembly

https://globalassembly.org