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Lessons in Engaged Symbiosis

An update on Climate Action Community (CAC)

Hi, I’m Lauren! I’m a resident of the Life Itself Berlin Hub and the founder of Climate Action Community (CAC). I was asked to write an update about the Berlin hub, and to share about CAC and a project that CAC is currently embarking on.

Truthfully, I often come face to face with my own shortcomings when I try to write about CAC. I think it’s a struggle to articulate what I think CAC is in the larger context of metamodernism and systems transformation. I want to share how it feels to participate in this space, but struggle to make visible, tangible and legible the impacts CAC has on participants and our surroundings when so much of what happens at CAC isn’t about happening — it’s about a shift in being with. It’s about the challenges of concretizing something unknown and alive, naming something that is evolving and shifting before your very eyes. It’s about new ways of engaging in the world and with each other. How does CAC fit within the ethos of larger cultural transformation, and how can I articulate what I feel CAC is, in a blog post? So, please bear with me.

Climate Action Community

Climate Action Community (CAC) came into being on October 5th, 2020 when a small group of friends came together for a plant-based potluck in the Life Itself Berlin Hub. The intentions behind CAC had been gestating for many years prior and over the years CAC has evolved, like any living system.

We have grown from 5 people to a Berlin-wide community of over 75 members. We’ve worked with political parties and citizens initiatives. We moved from a more top-down, expert led approach to something more grassroots. But broadly, our intentions have remained the same:  to support a transition from individual climate anxiety to collective climate action.

“CAC builds agency and capability with an open and supportive environment for “learning, being, and doing together.” Weekly themed evening sessions create a context for deep connection, inspiration, and empowerment. Members and guest speakers share knowledge and inspire action. We build a collective capacity for discomfort, grief, and uncertainty with listening circles, “check-ins” to gauge how members are coping, and other psychosocial support. We plan actions and interventions based on shared knowledge. Members take ownership and grow their own initiatives, like the CAC Regenerative Gardening Group.”

CAC is just as much about the community as it is about the climate action. To articulate this, I often use “The Mushroom Metaphor.”

The Mushroom Metaphor

The fruiting body of a mushroom is the part you see growing on top of the soil or from a fallen tree – the part we all recognize as ‘mushroom’ – the part that is visible (and sometimes edible).

But that is only one small part of the mushroom. Most of the organism lies below the surface — a vast network of microscopic threads connecting mushrooms to other mushrooms and even to other organisms, like trees.

This mycelium represents the unseen support structure that we develop and the relationships that we build at Climate Action Community – compassion, trust, respect, relationality, leadership capacity, and mutual aid that we share with each other, and the strong ties we build within and between communities.

It is only after developing the mycelium, that network of care and support and relationship and interdependence, that remarkable projects – the fruiting bodies – can emerge.

The first logo we used for CAC included a mushroom. This mushroom metaphor permeates the ethos of our organization, and it is an apt way of seeing the projects that arise.

The CAC mycelium enables symbiotic exchange between diverse actors. It is here that our main narrative returns: a story of engaged symbiosis.

From Problem to Solution: A New Garden at the Berlin Hub

We started with a problem. Some CAC members expressed an interest in regenerative gardening. But wait! After very enthusiastically gathering a group of gardeners, we found that the waiting list for urban garden plots was years long. After a period of stuckness and disappointment, there was a flash of insight. In permaculture thinking, there is no problem — only solutions. So we came together again and re-oriented our energies.

We started with a project visioning meditation where we collectively dreamt what a “CAC Garden” could look like in 2035. We shared sounds of buzzing bumblebees, visions of pollinator pathways woven across the cityscape, nature + land stewardship as paid and valued work, water retention and solar energy projects providing sustaining circular resource consumption.

We built a relationship with a local permaculture farm (@perma_future). Members from the CAC Regenerative Gardening Group began volunteering at the farm, offering their gardening support and sharing knowledge along the way. And last week, the first attempt to bring this CAC Garden into reality emerged. Almost spontaneously, Benny from Perma Future brought left-over farm materials to the Berlin Hub and we dug our hands into the soil. In the course of only an hour or two, with just three pairs of hands, we were able to create an urban oasis — hopefully one of many. It brought us in contact with several neighbors, who were then inspired to regenerate their own small streetside plots.

This week’s CAC session was about water regeneration, in light of the droughts in Brandenburg and Berlin. Can we build a self-sustaining, regenerative ecosystem on the little plot of land outside of the Life Itself Berlin Hub? How will it change people’s idea of what is possible when they witness what can be created through generous exchanges of presence, time, care?

Back to Mushrooms

In many ways, I view CAC as a sandbox for post-capitalist experimentation — a culture based on symbiotic exchange and collective and individual wellbeing.

What happens when we give what we can and receive what we need?

What happens when we turn our attention to a deeper connection with ourselves, each other and the planet?

Can we facilitate healthier, more caring, more generous ways of living and engaging on earth?

In The Mushroom at the End of the World, Anna Tsing explores the question of what grows in the ruins of capitalism. Part of the “answer” is a specific species of mushroom that thrives in the disturbed landscapes marred by human intervention. The other part of the answer is about the exploration of the human relationships that also thrive. So what does a new world, a new culture, a new way of being look like? I’m not completely sure, but I’d like us to explore it together. 

“It is possible and indeed necessary to open up the imagination and to open up the practices for a world which can yet be, but is not yet. It is a collective task which can’t be done just yet in the effective work of condemmnation but has to be done as to give each other the heart for a world which can still be – even in the grip of the kinds of extreme urgency that I think all of us are feeling very deeply.”

– Donna Haraway

Lauren Uba is an urbanist, socio-ecological systems activist, and the founder of Climate Action Community. She is a member of the Climate Psychology Alliance her work aims to hold space for a transition from climate anxiety to community empowerment and collective action.

You can get in on the action at @climateaction.berlin.