The summer holidays – full of lazing about and doing nothing, right? Wrong! For ever-committed campaigners obsessed with productivity, behind the appearance of casual holiday reading is actually a hive of mental activity and reflection – climate change education doesn’t take breaks!
We know that climate change forces us to see the interconnected nature of our planet. But what I’ve recently learned is that as activists for climate action, we have to recognise where our issue interconnects with others who have valuable lessons to teach us, and whose struggles we also want to win.
Holiday reading and lessons for activism
In a great recent article in Dissent Magazine, Mark and Paul Engler pose a striking question: why, as people committed to taking action against climate change, haven’t we celebrated what we really want to change, and our existence within a huge family of social justice campaigns, instead of targeting our efforts to get change towards groups whose business as usual, right wing identity now seems pretty dependant on believing that climate change isn’t happening and/or doesn’t require urgent action?
By trying to cater to corporations and make climate change a non-environmental issue, these climate change advocates could easily be out-manoeuvred and seen off by the veterans in those fields, notably massive fossil fuel corporations and far right figureheads – who are often intrinsically linked.
What this suggests to me is the importance of home advantage. Which is why Yotam Marom’s ‘Confessions of a Climate Denier’ piece makes immediate sense to me. We must build support for a ‘climate moment’ within the existing movement for social justice. But it isn’t just for campaigners on other issues to ‘reach out’ to climate activists.
In a climate movement that dedicates so much time to being inclusive and supportive, we can’t be afraid to celebrate how broad the change we want to see is. To do this, we don’t have to impose a fixed definition – we can (and, in my opinion, should) shout about the values that underpin what we do and why we do it.
In a TED talk that went viral, Simon Sinek describes the ‘golden circle’ of communicating. He explains the importance of sharing your motivations behind your vision, ‘why’ you do what you do, as it taps into a gut feeling. Of course this means that the ‘why’ can transcend even words – maybe this is why we find it difficult to articulate. But even if it’s easier to put into words, just explaining what we do, and how we do it, will leave us isolated in our interest groups – and doesn’t always open a way in for people who aren’t already doing something. And as activist David Roberts says, ‘“The goal of activism is to create a vibrant, impassioned constituency that can throw enough weight around to shift the balance of power in politics.”
Going global but holding on to home advantage
I was recently overtaken by a scarily focused runner wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with ‘No one trains to lose’. After being slightly alarmed by this fierce determination – and trying to hide the fact that I was carrying a large pack of eclairs – I realised this could be another useful lesson for activism. Our delegation to the UN climate talks is currently ‘in training’, attending weekends where we share skills and knowledge to enable us to play a part in making the change we want to see happen. Of course you don’t train to lose. So why give ourselves a massive disadvantage from the start, and stay insular? A core part of our training should be opening our eyes to who is around us, hearing their passions and concerns, and learning from the strength and creativity we see in other struggles.
At a UN climate meeting in June, one of the French negotiators met with young people to ask us for input into the 2015 climate conference, which will be held in Paris. She seemed to arrive at the meeting thinking that young people were just another interest group, pushing a specific agenda that was at odds with those of other civil society groups.
But at the talks we’re not just representing ourselves – we’re there as an international movement reminding negotiators of the commitment they are making to young and future generations of the world’s population. Taking action to ensure the planet can support healthy aspirational lives and societies beyond our own isn’t just an environmental issue which needs a technological fix – it needs political, economic and social change.
This is what we’re calling for – so let’s call it what it is, and redefine the climate movement as one that is focused on making the links with others, listening rather than silencing, and encouraging people to bring something new so that we can mutually strengthen our struggles, and all move closer to the kind of world we want to see.