Have we got what it takes to win a safe climate?
The mood since Copenhagen from those who care about are planet seems to me something like…
‘We have a such a good argument for action, both individually, locally and globally, why do both our fellow citizens and leaders fail to act!’
CoP15 has dismayed many, perhaps due to the hype trap that many of us fell into. We believed naively that Copenhagen was the place where an effective agreement would be reached.
I’m not suggesting any of us feel it’s all so hopeless that we might give up but I’m wondering if we can afford to take the same approach to the campaign in the months and years ahead. I’ve been asking myself since returning from Copenhagen … ‘Do we as a social and environment movement have enough power to win a safe climate?’ I understand I might only be posing questions to remedy that dilemma, I wish I had more solutions, but here goes.
Most reasonable people would probably agree, despite some short term costs, we need to act on climate change and do that sooner rather than later. Luckily, I believe, when presented with facts most people are reasonable. However it’s becoming clearer since Copenhagen that a fair number of Australians still refuse to accept or have never bothered to listen to the science of climate change. A number of those people will always exist and continue to make noise, but if we are vigilant and organised they will remain a small minority.
The scientific facts and the tireless campaigning of many in the environment movement have won us important ground. We have the high ground of majority support in this struggle but how we exploit this advantage and if that alone will win us a safe climate is what I am questioning. That majority support might be widely felt but perhaps not deeply felt. If we fail to make demonstrated progress soon we may lose that high ground we’ve worked so hard to win. Governments, businesses and citizens may instead sink into a pattern of parochialism, nationalist protectionism and attempted ‘adaptation’ to climate catastrophes that will result from global inaction.
The issue of climate change has forced the environmental movement to go truly global and fueled an exciting process of cross pollination between progressive movements such as the ongoing class struggle, the international peace and nuclear disarmament movement and the anti-consumerist movement. Climate change as an issue in itself strengthens the argument for acting locally while thinking globally. However I am pondering if the movement is coordinating, to best effect, the individual actions by concerned citizens. Can what we do every day be moulded into an effective global voice that impossible to ignore (or de-prioritize).
From what I witnessed in Copenhagen our environment movement’s leadership can be distracted by the struggle to win ‘access’ to political decision makers. Our movements’ resources may be too often allocated to this end rather than building an irresistible pressure outside the Conference of Parties arena. Once you have that power access comes as leaders open their doors to us.
To influence politicians you’ve got to hit them where it hurts. I believe whether democratic, theocratic or dictatorial decision makers are always driven by what their people want (perhaps with North Korea and a few other examples as the exception).
And that want of the majority has to be wide as it is deep. By deep I mean people who are willing to do something about the issue, from the extreme end of actions like locking onto a coal train down the more mild end of telling a politician they will change their vote if they don’t listen. In Australia we are lucky enough to be able to hold that rug underneath our leaders feet and give it a hard tug every three years, no need for violent revolutions (yet), no need for campaigns to overthrow our government by force, just a constitutional system that allows us to organise, peacefully rebel and campaign to keep fluid the power base on which our leaders float.
Have we as an environment movement organised enough people in enough federal electorates to shift the ground under our politicians’ feet?
The answer as far as I can see is no. Please let me know if I’m wrong but as we head to a federal election later this year, outside activists in NGO’s and committed community enviro groups, where are the climate activists in each suburb, especially those rings of marginal seats on our urban fringes. Are we able to mobilise more than 100’000 people nationally once a year for Walk Against Warming?
If in 2003 John Howard was able to ignore the 1 million Australians who were prepared to give up an Saturday morning latte to rally against the Iraq war, is turning out 1 million Australians this year on the streets enough? Does it need to be 2 million people and do those people need to come from every part of our society, from activists, professionals, high school kids, intellectuals to farmers and labourers and childcare workers. Are there enough direct actions against coal mining operations and export?
Would making sure a sustained campaign of regular (weekly) direct peaceful actions against coal mining and export in Australia shift the centre of the electorate in favour of urgent action on climate change? Or would it play into the hands of climate skeptic who will accuse us of economic terrorism?
I’m not sure, but if there is a debate in the Australian media about whether the climate skeptics are winning the middle ground then we need to get organised and make sure the debate is about which party is acting fast enough to stop climate change. We can re-calibrate the agenda but to do that we first need the numbers. To get a bit sporting – if Lord Monckton is the best the other side has got then it should be a walk over – the guy is clearly a loony.
But to win we’ve got to move on from being scientifically correct and get strategically and politically organised. Let me know what you think?