Even when approaches to climate justice vary, experiences of empathy are essential in building relationships based on mutual respect, appreciation, and trust.

artwork by Rae Landriau (@createchangecollective)

Lessons on radical collaboration: bringing land connection and empathy to the center of climate justice

reflections by RAD Cohort Program Lead & Community Manager, Celeste…

From Summer 2021 to January 2022, 10 Canadian youth  of different identities, ethnicities, and walks of life, all motivated by climate justice, came together with open minds to experiment in Youth Climate Lab’s RAD Cohort. RAD (Research, Activate, Deepen) Cohort is a climate leadership program aimed at fostering and highlighting the importance of youth-led radical collaboration to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The concept of radical collaboration is a guiding compass that offers us a way into effective and wide-reaching collaboration strategies towards climate action and justice — it is an open invitation for deeper reflections on how we collaborate and who we collaborate with, encouraging unusual or unlikely connections that spark transformative action. At Youth Climate Lab, we especially emphasize the strength of radical collaboration in relation to youth-led ideas and projects.

Together through the RAD Cohort, we explored the concept of radical collaboration, building a shared connection, especially around climate grief and feelings of frustration at failed systems meant to keep us and the planet healthy and safe.

Reflecting on our journey together, one major lesson learned is that empathy and heart-centered approaches towards climate justice are absolutely crucial to spark any radical change. Empathy alone may not suffice, but it is non-negotiable.

Even when approaches to climate justice vary, experiences of empathy are essential in building collaborative relationships based on mutual respect, appreciation, and trust. The most moving conversations, even with people holding diverse perspectives on climate, have always come back to a grounded sense of rage, loss, love, and grief. These emotions require us to feel deeply with each other. And empathy can help move us to a place of responsibility and action. Empathy supports radical collaboration.

artwork by Carmilla Sumantry

Radical collaboration also involves re-connection, both to ourselves, our emotions, and a re-connection to non-human life – land reconnection. Asking questions such as: Who has access to land and the wide range of land-based cultural knowledge and tools? Who does this knowledge currently “belong” to? What power does this knowledge hold, and who currently has access to this power? How does this knowledge, and the values in these varying world-views inform decision making? This awareness is vital.

An intrinsic lesson from the RAD Cohort on radical collaboration is that our healing is inseparable from our connection to the land. We hurt together, and we heal together. From systems of domination, exploitation, and control. So inevitably, we must be in relationship with the land, for any meaningful change towards climate justice to actually come about. 

What remains needed at decision making tables is a shift in paradigms – towards the valuation of interdependence and connection with human/non-human communities, and our continued relationship building with the land and ecosystems around us. Our survival relies on those with financial and socio-political power (ie. corporations and governments) to prioritize the well-being of people and the planet as life-giving sources of prosperity– choosing to move beyond attributing value on only that which can “physically” seen or monetarily quantified.

This shift is radical in itself, and starts with a deeper look at ourselves. What we choose to decide that our individual selves, cities, and communities are inherent worthy of, and how those with power choose to understand and measure this. Land-connection offers us big unspoken lessons on an individual and collective level, around things such as belonging, nurturance and care, connectivity, and cyclical changes in our environments. When we make time to listen, and compassionately care for ourselves and others as we would a seedling, for example, new paradigms and ways of being emerge.

Related to heart-centered approaches to radical change, we must remember that there is already so much guidance and wisdom in existing culturally-based relations to the land and waters, including values of love, respect, and collaboration that are intricately interwoven into varying Indigenous world-views. This knowledge is actively being revitalized by Indigenous youth and elders, African-Caribbean Black folks, and young people in the manifold cultural diasporas living and/or settled across so called Canada. 

The knowledge shared in the RAD Cohort by participants and guests who hold these complex identities, also including queer and trans identities, indicates a need for the revival of land-based knowledge. A movement towards deeper heart-centered connections to ourselves and each other and the ongoing need to bring merit to community work based in love, healing, and care. These are all components to effective climate action and radical change. Capacity, both financially and time-wise is needed to support this transformative recovery and healing work.

Radical collaboration, and climate justice involves opening the heart.

Takeaway reflection questions:

  • How do your emotions show up in your climate activism and collaborations?
  • What lessons does your body hold to guide you towards justice?
  • What about the land?

For more information on radical collaboration, please explore Youth Climate Lab’s RAD Collab Toolkit — https://www.youthclimatelab.org/rad-toolkit

This work was made possible through the support from our partners: