We are in a climate emergency. There was a time when there was a need to persuade people of the reality of increasing greenhouse gases and the consequential dangers. In the light of acceptance, the voice of the denier has largely disappeared. However, significant mitigation and adaptation are required, and the question now is, are we doing enough and sufficiently quickly to prevent catastrophic hardship to many nations? Activism in the climate space is about raising the alarm, ensuring action is taken and done in a timely fashion to avoid the worst harmful outcomes.
What is activism?
Activism is direct and noticeable action to achieve a result, often political or social. It’s about ordinary people standing up for their beliefs and delivering a clear message to governing bodies and organisations that are difficult to ignore. They are often associated with petitions, boycotts, nonviolent protests, marches and demonstrations. Writing an email to an MP can be a helpful way of letting the government know about your viewpoint. More visually impactful is a sizeable group, presenting a unified statement of dissatisfaction.
The urgency of the climate crisis means action cannot wait. Changes are occurring, such as the increase in renewable energy generation, often now matching energy from fossil fuels; the take-up of electric cars; and businesses are setting net-zero targets. But are they enough? The essential need for retrofitting the housing stock, for example, has barely begun. I think it can feel like we are on the wrong side of the curve, and as much as we as concerned individuals can address our lifestyles, that is not going to be sufficient. Therefore, it is vital to leave governments in no doubt the people it represents demand speedy action. Environmental activism is crucial in ensuring global momentum.
Personally, my actions have entailed signing petitions and writing to my MP. I haven’t thought of myself as an activist, believing you have to be a confrontational type and be prepared to get arrested. Listening to others and John Grant in our recent podcast conversation, it seems there is a place for everyone within a well-organised protest. You don’t have to be the one to glue yourself to buildings, handcuff yourself to railings or lie in the road; you can simply show up and be counted. John didn’t see himself either as an environmental activist; he was a law-abiding academic, and this identity he hadn’t expected to be aligned to an activist either. However, his passion for wanting his children to have a secure future over-rode his discomfort.
Martin Luther King, leader of the American civil rights movement, and Nelson Mandela, who helped put an end to apartheid, are memorable leaders of activist movements. These well-known activists demonstrate the power of the people to bring about change.
Environmental activist organisations
Long-standing campaigning organisations such as Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace have been active for many years as campaigners. In recent times, new organisations have emerged, adding voices to the climate movement.
Friends of the Earth has been in existence since 1971 and covers 74 nations. They run campaigns, share information, and drive real solutions to the current environmental challenges. They are committed to:
- A peaceful and sustainable world based on societies living in harmony with nature.
- An environment with a safer climate, abundant nature, healthy air, water and food.
- Growing a diverse network of people to transform the environment into a flourishing, sustainable, and socially just one.
Greenpeace is an international, independent movement of people aiming to prevent the destruction of the natural world. It investigates, documents and exposes the causes of environmental destruction. They actively lobby politicians and have been involved in peaceful direct action, such as occupying an oil rig in 2019.
Extinction Rebellion, known as XR, is a nonviolent civil disobedience group. On 31st October 2018, they assembled on Parliament Square in London and announced a Declaration of Rebellion against the UK government. They now have groups across the globe in 86 countries. Its demands to the government have been simple:
- Tell the truth – about the emergency.
- Act now – to reach net-zero by 2025.
- Be the change – demand a culture of participation, fairness and transparency.
In 2019, significant, memorable protests helped raise the profile of these demands. They’ve had support from scientists and doctors.
Also in 2018, 15-year-old Greta Thunberg initiated a solo school strike outside the Swedish parliament for climate action. It began the Fridays for Future campaign, a school strike spreading globally. Their demands are to:
- Keep the global temperature rise below 1.5°C compared to pre-industrial levels.
- Ensure climate justice and equity.
- Listen to the best united science currently available.
Support has been widespread, including the UN Secretary-General António Guterres.
Undoubtedly there will be more environmental activism events until we reach a point where it is clear the kitchen sink is being thrown at the climate emergency, giving ourselves the best chance of halting catastrophic impacts. Plenty of chances then to get involved if that suits you.