Updated: Sep 23

Photo by Tekton on Unsplash

CLEA has found five leverage points for strengthening networks in the community environment sector in the NE. But what is a leverage point? How would would you pick it out from the crowd of causal factors and opportunities, each of which might make a difference?

A leverage point isn't an agenda or a plan: it's a starting point for influencing a living system.

A leverage point is a place/person/relationship/dynamic where things are moving and could move more, changing business-as-usual. A leverage point might also be a place where things are stuck but where getting them unstuck could make a big difference.

Leverage points aren't simply mechanical levers (crowbar in and under, lean to lift). They are places of catalytic activity in living systems. Living systems are always changing - leverage points are where actions and ideas are producing new ways of thinking and new ways of doing things.

What's more, if we drop our individualist idea of progress, leverage points are places where new relationships are forming, around a new idea or around the shared pain of something that is patently not working about in our locality. The big new idea and the local need each other. Leverage points are the places where people are hurting and the ground is shifting. At these points, you'll find people committed to finding a different way.

Here's an example. My daughter tells me that the City of Bendigo is moving the city's waste management to resource cycling that will dramatically reduce waste. It has committed to shut down its landfill facilities, within two years. The City is employing someone to facilitate that shift, on the ground, someone who not only talks about 'the circular economy', but who will find enough businesses to feed each of the processing technologies already in place, lowering the processing costs and increasing the quantum of usable product for other enterprises. That a job inside a leverage point!

China isn't taking out waste - we have to do waste recycling differently. Cities grow, landfill sites are further away: landfill is getting more expensive, plus it never was a very smart idea to throw that much stuff in a big hole. The people moving first on the possibilities of a circular economy are the leverage point, and they are never just individuals, but networks of people pushing things along.

Or take the leverage point 'stories about shifts'. CLEA's inquiry in the NE discovered that what's missing in the region are stories about what led people to shift the way they manage their properties. Personal stories about the moment when someone (someone like you) realised that the climate is indeed changing and that it would be smart to work out how to do things differently now, rather than later.

That's a leverage point in the NE, where the climate scepticism still being expressed in public discussion in the region has a chilling effect on open conversation:

"People are either believers or doubters, ‘yes’ or ‘no’. If they are doubters, the subject isn’t really open for conversation. They’ll say ‘we’ve seen all this before ….’, generally the older generation. It’s been politicised, and there are people who are sticking with the stance of their political party and aren’t interested in thinking beyond that."

People don't want to be criticised or ridiculed, so they are careful what they say in public. This slows down people finding out what others really think. Attitudes are actually changing, but we haven't caught up with it yet, and that slows down connections at a time when they could really help people.

More public stories; more connections made; faster transmission of new knowledge about how to ... how to crank up soil carbon, how to build a feed buffer for summer, how find the high price market segments willing to pay for your higher value product, how to join a local food supply chain, how to participate in locally-based renewable energy. These start as individual quests, move into a densely packed social space.

The leverage point is the public discourse about adapting to a changing climate. There will be many stories about new practices, the 'how to' and 'what I'm doing' end of practice. But each of those stories has started with a moment where someone realised the world was changing and they had better change too.

Stories like that speak to people on the cusp of action. They show how misgivings and a 'wait-and-see' attitude, were pushed aside, and a person found a reason to decide 'I'm going to get started.'

Hearing someone else wrestling with the same difficulties is a relief, and a prod: 'They're having a crack- why don't I?' Stories of shifts embolden us.

Ross Colliver Organiser for LVI's CLEA Project, 0411 226 519