When faced with the realities of the climate crisis through severe weather events like flooding, hurricanes, and heat waves, we often shut down emotionally due to overwhelming feelings of fear and sadness. But these events are real, and ignoring their devastating impacts won’t make them go away. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), extreme weather will have a detrimental impact on human life, exposing millions of people to acute food and water insecurity.
The Week is a recipient of funding through the Cisco Foundation’s $100 million climate portfolio, and the mission of the organization is to shift the cultural norm on climate engagement, offering a path through those feelings of shut-down to open up to envisioning the shared climate future we all want. Simply being concerned is no longer enough, and The Week wants to assist people to move from concern to action, to find pride, joy, and social recognition in facing the realities of climate change and becoming more involved.
The Week offers a carefully planned and guided journey that takes people from awareness and devastation to energized inspiration, and finally to action and outreach to others. This program is delivered through one documentary film in three parts, designed (and proven) for maximum emotional impact with a built-in community to process the experience through guided conversation and next-step action items.
I recently sat down with nonfiction writer and business luminary, Frederic Laloux, who co-founded The Week with his wife Helene Gerin, a grief expert, to learn more about their unique approach to helping people get more proximate to the climate crisis.
What made you realize that you needed to do something to shift the cultural norm and make climate action a reality?
Frederic: It really started when some friends visited for a week. We thought we knew what was going on with climate change, and we were already taking some action, like recycling and composting and living in a well-insulated house. But when these friends came, we were impressed by their choice to be aware of the realities of climate change and what it would mean for them and their kids.
We realized that we were still in denial and were uncomfortable with the truth of what is happening. Whenever we read an article about climate change, we would read the headline and maybe the first few lines then push it away because it sounded depressing.
When those friends left, my wife and I looked at each other and said, ‘Hey, if they can do it, we should be able to do it.’ We decided to look at this almost as a spiritual journey and find out what’s happening, what will happen to us, our kids, and other people around the world, and welcome whatever sadness, fear, or anger might show up.
Sure enough, those feelings showed up quickly, which led to us simplifying The Week into a U-shaped journey that takes you down through those emotions but comes up on the other side with this absolute clarity that you need to take action. Luckily you don’t get stuck for too long in grief or despair, but there’s a moment where you feel the energy to fight for what’s precious and important.
My wife and I were nonfiction writers working from home before this, and she wrote a book about grief and how to feel community in those moments when people feel the most lonely. The premise is that in recent years we’ve individualized grief, and we completely lost track of the fact that historically, grieving has always been more of a communal process. There are commonalities around the grief process we are more familiar with and some of the insights that carry into the work we’re doing now with climate.
There is a lot of sadness, anger, shock, and despair when we think about the devastating impact of climate change. How does your work help move people towards hope, and what do you see as the role of hope as we co-create the shared climate future we want?
Frederic: We’ve been thinking and talking internally about hope and have recognized the difference between two types of hope. There is external hope that can come from an expert telling us it’s possible we could turn this around. For example, Project Drawdown, which shows 80 climate solutions, and demonstrates that if we do them at scale, we could actually not only stop global warming, but then draw down carbon in the atmosphere and cool the climate.
There is a role for external hope, but we feel the more critical hope is inner hope, which is a disposition for action. We named it ‘internal hope’ after I remembered the story of a young friend diagnosed with cancer. At first, she would ask doctors to tell her if she would make it until she realized that whatever the doctors would say didn’t matter because this was now her fight. Whether they would tell her she had a 10 percent chance or a 50 percent chance, she was going to do whatever it would take, and so that’s the sort of active hope, the inner hope, the fire in your belly that we’re trying to activate with The Week.
How are you using technology to help people face the reality of the situation and get involved?
Frederic: We try to make it simple for groups to self-organize, for somebody to host an evening at home, or for a colleague to do a screening at work. What we’re talking about here is a space where friends, family, and colleagues who are not used to talking about this topic can meet virtually and talk about the emotions that come up, including some of these emotions that we’re often told not to share. Like dread, fear, anger, and sadness. We want to integrate the whole conversation kit into our online platform to make it as easy as possible for the organizer, who is most likely not somebody who has ever facilitated a difficult conversation.
The consistent feedback we get from test groups is people saying at the end, ‘That was brutal, thank you.’ At first, that made no sense to me, but when we asked people, they shared that finally, they have a space where they can deal with this. They knew this topic existed and were done pushing it away and not dealing with it.
What role does the peer-to-peer aspect of The Week play in this?
Frederic: The peer-to-peer aspect is essential; we explicitly say ‘Don’t do The Week alone.’ Even if people want to sample it first before inviting their friends and colleagues, we want to put them in groups with others in the same situation.
We find that people go so much deeper into this when they do it in groups. But also, the most significant aspect of this is to create a change in social norms. If you watch this on your own and you’re deeply affected, and you decide you want to make changes, but you’re the only one who’s gone through this experience, it will be harder to do that without support.
But if others have done it with you, suddenly you have a shared experience. When there are shared tears around this, and you open up for the first time about how anxious you are for your children, and somebody else echoes that, you suddenly see that not only is it possible for you to talk about it, but other people feel the same way.
And suddenly, it shifts a social norm in your new group, and the next time you’re thinking about going on a vacation, you may decide that you won’t fly and will instead do a local break. And the people you have that shared experience with will be supportive of that, instead of wondering what happened to you.
Can you tell us more about the benefits people have gained from interacting with the realities of climate change?
Frederic: This interesting phenomenon we’ve noticed in the test versions of The Week is that people seem relieved after facing the most challenging aspects of this topic. In some ways, people have lost some innocence about the future, but none of them would want to go back to not knowing the realities of climate change.
There is something about our culture where many of us sense that there is more to life, and there is a longing for more adventure beyond material goods or professional accolades. And when you think about it, every few generations get thrown a challenge, like the generation that fought for democracy or the generation that fought for civil rights. There is no doubt in my mind that climate change is going to be the defining adventure of the next 20 to 30 years. Who would want to stay on the sidelines rather than have your life become meaningful by joining this type of movement?
But the precondition to joining that adventure is, at some point, having the courage to understand where we’re at and how it impacts us. That’s what we are hoping to do with The Week. To provide a space that makes it easy to do that and to not be alone in it but to experience the realities of climate change with your friends, family, and colleagues.
Interested in climate engagement and how to become more aware and involved? Learn how to experience The Week here.