Written by By CODA.GRANNIS
CODA Grannis is the founder of PolarisLives, a portal that uses social media to amplify advocacy work. She is also an English Literature PhD Candidate at the University of Pennsylvania. Grannis is a native of Northern Ireland, currently based in Paris.
The city of Glasgow took a giant step in combating climate change on November 20th, 2017, when it became the first major city in the United Kingdom to commit to 100% renewable energy by 2050. Two years later, on May 17th, three hundred local residents gathered to celebrate a full year of renewable energy targets with a celebration fit for a king. The event was hosted by a new movement named Breathe 100 and included a 21-artist installation that uses bubbles to celebrate Glasgow’s journey toward 100% renewable energy. The event was spread across five floors of the art gallery Galleries Galleries Kelvin Hall, with exhibitions ranging from the band Ladyhawke to the local textiles company Strathearn and Pools, along with many other locals celebrating Glasgow’s journey towards renewable energy.
When Breathe 100 founders Monique Cowper and Natasha Cairns met in 2005, they shared a passion for the environment and social justice. Cowper became quite passionate about Glasgow and the people she lived in, and realized that the city’s infrastructure was, in many ways, “pushing people around.” Cairns saw great potential in bringing about social change by building a body of supporters who would, in turn, help advance progressive causes throughout Glasgow. In their collaborative efforts, they helped each other discern what barriers might be holding back the progress they wanted to see.
While Cowper and Cairns had a clear vision, they didn’t really have a concrete plan. One day the two met with a group of people who were motivated by both the environment and social justice. These people told the two women that “making a difference is sometimes hard work. It’s about taking our time and investing in our community so that we can do it the right way.” From that meeting, the beginning of the Breathe 100 movement was born.
A few months after the meeting, Cowper, Cairns, and their team thought they’d have to pay out of pocket to have their proposal considered by Glasgow City Council. They agreed and began to communicate with the city council in good faith about the proposal they submitted, their initial vision for the movement, and any ideas they had. The team kept gaining confidence as time went on, and in June of 2017, Cowper and Cairns learned that they had been accepted to a partnership with Glasgow City Council.
“Being accepted into partnership with a City council is the holy grail, in the sense that it’s the final step in not just proposing an idea but creating one,” Cowper said. “By then we had the strongest hopes for the movement. As a civil society movement, we were used to just going to meetings, and were prepared to do what it took to secure a place at the table. Once we were at the table, it was time to create the ideas. We had an idea of what we wanted to do, but the idea was all about how to go about it. In partnership with a City Council, we had the task of actually solving those issues.”
The city council was also interested in how well the project would actually accomplish its aims. In fact, after the first meeting the council was “very concerned at the time that what we presented to them wasn’t the full story,” Cowper said. “We were confident that the full story would be delivered in the two year time frame that we needed to get to 100% energy, but they asked us to start from scratch and change our project into a totally different design and develop it further.”
Glasgow City Council is now working with the two women as its Partnership Climate Change Initiative. Glasgow is the first council in the U.K. to give the encouragement and investment needed to strengthen its local economies by committing to 100% renewable energy.
“The efforts that we are making now may not be the best of what’s possible, but that could be the best of what’s possible,” Cowper said. “One of the things that’s really gratifying is seeing people starting to take what we’ve been proposing and go further, really incorporating it into their work and developing their own ideas on what is possible locally to really get people’s heads around this.”