It’s a sunny Saturday morning in Edinburgh, the weekend of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. But the residents of Leamington Terrace aren’t in the street celebrating her majesty’s 70 year reign. Instead, ten or so residents of Leamington Terrace are out with brushes and dustpans cleaning up the pavements. I ask around for Ewan Klein a founding member of the Bruntsfield Area Net Zero Action Initiative, BANZAI.
“We already are experiencing climate change, it’s just affecting people in the developing world more” Ewan says. But having lived on the street for decades he is beginning to notice signs of the climate crisis arriving on his doorstep too. “We have had instances of bad flooding” he tells me, which affected the new builds at the end of the street last summer. Mick Patrick, another founding member, is noticing these things too. The damp and drainage issues in his flat are a result of guttering designed for a climate that’s already in the past, he was told by conservation architects. “We get heavier bursts of more intense rain now” he tells me. The guttering, designed a hundred years ago for the B-listed tenements that make up much of Bruntsfield, is “being overwhelmed more often”. According to Scottish Government annual average rainfall figures, Scotland has become 9% wetter in the last decade alone, with winters 19% wetter than the 1961–1990 average.
As I’m talking to Ewan, Mick is speed-walking away with a bag full of placards. It’s almost 11 am, time to #SitForClimate. For the second week in a row a handful of BANZAI members and Tara the dog head to Bruntsfield Links and sit on a bench for 10 minutes holding #SitForClimate placards. Mick discovered Sit For Climate on Twitter. “The idea is just to do something which is very simple, very non-confrontational, very un-stressful,” he explains. Friends and family members stop by to sit or chat for a couple of minutes and a passer-by asks about what they’re doing.
“I feel like I’ve got to do something,” Mick tells me. He’s “surrounded by all these nice people in a nice street but why aren’t we talking about climate stuff and why aren’t we changing things? If we just wait for the council to change things for us we’ll probably wait too long”. Ewan points out that “there may be some areas where the council’s ahead of public opinion and we need to be part of talking in support of some of those measures”. Mick agrees, he’s been following the City of Edinburgh Council’s Net Zero action plans closely. He hopes BANZAI could become one of the Council’s proposed Net Zero Neighbourhoods, pioneering the changes needed to reach the Scottish Government’s Net Zero target. “I’m quite distressed about the way the world is going, life kind of goes on nicely but things are pretty bad,” Mick tells me.
He’s not alone in his distress. This week the World Health Organisation published a new policy brief with five recommendations urging countries to rapidly integrate mental health support with action on the Climate Crisis. “A lot of people take action in a slightly disconnected way or lots of people find it difficult to take action because the feelings that are associated with climate change are so overwhelming,” says Mimo Caenepeel, she’s also sitting for climate. A trained psychotherapist, she’s been co-facilitating a Climate Cafe at the Eric Liddell Centre around the corner — a safe place for people to bring their feelings about the Climate Emergency. “It’s not easy,” she says “they are very big feelings”. “It’s not about reaching as many people as possible but about building a strong core where we kind of approach it in some ways more holistically”, she says. It’s not quite group therapy, once people start to talk about their feelings “it naturally does start to connect with what is out there, what can we do, so we have a bit of a hybrid format,” she explains.
“We’re just trying to do something in this big soup of stuff that’s going on, and hopefully we’ll gel together in the right way and the most effective way in the next year or so, but nobody feels like there’s time to just kind of hang around and wait for the structure to exist,” says Mick. “Everybody feels the need to do something now”.
So what is BANZAI doing now? Mick has set up a hyperlocal closed loop car sharing group with HiyaCar, which takes care of insurance. He’s listed his own family’s car, and 40 people have expressed interest in being part of the scheme already. Mick hopes “more people will share cars if it’s just amongst their friends and neighbours” and that the scheme could help reduce the number of cars on the street. The group is also lobbying the council for more bike parking and access to electric vehicle charging points. The BANZAI website is full of residents’ garden rewilding efforts and there’s an information evening about home retrofitting planned for the 20th of June.
For now the group is trying to care for their immediate environment and build strong community links to improve resilience “if things do get harder” as Ewan fears. Leamington Terrace has its own annual street party, closing off the street every August. BANZAI began as a street swap stall at the street party cohosted by Ewan and Mick. The stall brought more people together, enough to form a group. They put on a film at the local church in the run-up to COP26. “We’ve tried to align the group with existing networks in the street,” says Ewan.
The Leamington Terrace area has an active mailing list, a Facebook group and a WhatsApp group started during Covid which “grew arms and legs” and now has close to 120 members. “Once that communication channel is there it does help people think, oh I can do stuff I can suggest things,” says Tai Kedzierski who maintains the email list. On Fridays residents leave donations for the local food bank on their doorsteps, to be collected by wheelbarrow, and roughly once a month there’s a street clean. They have even installed their own noticeboard, “it was trickier than you’d think” says Ewan. It’s a tight-knit community.
Has forming BANZAI made Ewan feel more hopeful? “I think we probably need to completely transform our dependence on carbon in the next five years, and I don’t think it’s going to happen,” he says. But forming the group has been “encouraging, there is an immediate kind of buzz and a sense of community”, it’s just “not on the timescale we need”.