Module 8: Challenges to Change

Climate justice emphasizes systemic change – new rules and regulations, public investments in infrastructure and better systems – above and beyond the small changes we can make as individuals. This module reflects on successful social movements, then opens up a conversation about achieving climate justice in BC.

While this module is more about movement-building than research, the Climate Justice Project (CJP) report A Green Industrial Revolution contains lots of ideas for how to build a sustainable economy.

The CJP’s The Good Life, The Green Life video project looks into the lives of several British Columbians as they wrestle with change in their own lives.


  • Students will reflect on and name the essential elements of successful social change movements.
  • Students will identify the challenges to widespread social change.
  • Students will identify specific challenges to achieving climate justice in BC, and brainstorm ways to overcome them.


  1. Defining and creating change
  2. BC climate justice: the potential of this moment


Social Studies 8, 9, 10, 11; Civic Studies 11; Comparative Civilizations 12; Social Justice 12
English Language Arts 8, 9, 10, 11, 12; Communications 11, 12
Applied Skills 11; Economics 12

TOTAL SUGGESTED TIME: 1 hour 45 minutes


60 minutesPart 1 – Defining and creating change

READ ALOUD: Today we are going to explore social change and what we can do to successfully create it. In some cases, we can act as individuals to create change, but often, in order for it to have long-term, widespread impact, we need to work collectively to change structural factors, or the systems around us. We are going to use the climate justice movement, which is taking action to address climate change and reduce our greenhouse gas emissions in ways that will make our province better and more just, as our focus.

ACTIVITY: In small groups, name at least three examples of:

  • Personal change – changes you can make in your own behavior to address climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions (e.g. buying recycled paper, biking instead of driving, using less energy at home).
  • Systemic change – changes in systems or our environment that address the underlying causes of climate change and high greenhouse gas emissions (e.g. public transit, recycling systems, clean tap water, hydroelectric power).

Ask groups to share their ideas with the class.

  • Discuss: What are the main changes we need to make together in order to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions?

READ ALOUD: To rise to the challenges of climate change, reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and pursue a fairer world and better life, effective, large-scale, systemic change is vital.

BRAINSTORM AS A CLASS: What are some examples of successful change movements through history? (E.g. US civil rights movement, women’s right to vote in Canada, India’s independence from Britain, anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, lesbian and gay rights.)


  • Why do you think these change movements were successful?
  • What are some of the obstacles and challenges these movements faced, and were able to overcome?

SHOW VIDEO: The Story of Change

Ask students to think about these questions while they watch the video:

  • What do you think are the biggest challenges to change?
  • What do you think people need to do to make lasting change in the world?

Ask students to complete The Story of Change reflection sheet in pairs, then debrief as a class.

Discuss the questions above, and as ideas emerge make notes on the board similar to this table:

Challenges to Change Elements for Successful Change
Established systems People work to change systems
Focusing only on individual action People taking action together for a common goal

Possible ideas to tease out:

  • Old systems can reinforce existing habits and be barriers to new ones.
  • There are people who feel they benefit from the old way of doing things and may resist change.
  • Over time, small changes in the right direction can add up to a lot. Back in the 1980s it was still the norm for people to smoke in restaurants or at work!

45 minutesPart 2 – BC climate justice: the potential of this moment

At the time of Martin Luther King Jr.’s march on Washington, only 23% of Americans supported him.

READ ALOUD: How much popular support do you think the average social change movement needs to make meaningful, widespread change actually happen? Raise your hand if you agree with the percentage, and keep it up until you disagree – 80%? 60%? 40%? 20%?

What percentage of people in BC do you think support climate action initiatives for the province, such as investments in public transportation, transition programs for workers in fossil fuel industries, and subsidies for home and building retrofits?

  • It’s around 80% to 95%!
  • 86% of people in BC believe climate action will be good for people and the province
  • 89% agree that “Canadians as a whole will be better off if we can be less dependent on fossil fuels”
    • Moving Towards Climate Justice: Overcoming Barriers to Change

As we saw in The Story of Change video, this means we have the numbers to make real positive change in BC around climate justice if we:

  • are guided by a BIG IDEA
  • work TOGETHER
  • take ACTION to change SYSTEMS


  • What are some systemic changes we could make in BC that would help us move towards climate justice?
    This is an opportunity to link back to other modules on food, transportation, waste, energy and the green economy, and consider actions at different levels.

READ ALOUD: There are already young people in the province making significant, positive change for climate justice in their schools and communities. An example of change in action is Youth4Tap, a student-driven initiative that emerged from several Vancouver schools.

SHOW VIDEO: Youth4Tap Windermere

While they watch the video, ask students to consider how the Windermere group fulfilled the elements of change we heard about in The Story of Change.

Ask students to complete the Youth4Tap reflection sheet in pairs, then debrief as a class.

Positive change is possible, and we can do it too!


  • What systems or policies in our school or community could we try to change in order to move towards climate justice?
  • What would be our big ideas?
  • Who would we network with in our communities?
  • What collective actions could we engage in to try to make change happen?

Questions and activities for further exploration

  1. Using the Big Idea – Working Together – Collective Action to Change Systems/Policies model, create an action plan to address a climate justice problem in your community. What is your big idea? What system do you want to change? What can you do to bring people together? What group actions would you want to take? It doesn’t have to immediately create a systemic change, but can be a start.
  1. Suggestions for how to make environmental and social change happen have often emphasized individual choice or consumer-based models. Why do you think these methods have been so heavily promoted even though they have proven to be less effective in producing significant social change?
  1. Start a Youth4Tap initiative in your school.
  1. Watch Dave Meslin’s TED Talk, The antidote to apathy. Using his ideas, explain how groups advocating for social or environmental justice issues in BC can make it easier for people to be part of their movement.
  1. If you wanted people to work with you on a campaign or a project for social change, what tactics or strategies could you use to encourage people to join you?

Additional Resources