A climate of possibility
Ecological breakdown is in the spotlight. Here are five ways to seize the moment.
Words — Danny Chivers Photo — Banjo Emerson Mathew
1. Make it global The latest groundswell of activism – Extinction Rebellion, school strikes and policy pushes like the Green New Deal (GND) – has focused on lobbying governments in the Global North to cut their domestic carbon emissions. This is vital. But a few rich countries switching to cleaner energy will not be enough to avoid climate breakdown: the world has to act together.
Given that industrialized countries have benefited from hundreds of years of fossil-fuelled imperialism at the expense of the Majority World, it’s their responsibility to repay that historic ‘carbon debt’. So when we take to the streets demanding action, we must also insist on funding and technology for clean energy for the Global South, to finance the switch away from fossil fuels and lift people out of poverty.
Meanwhile, any transition to clean energy, such as those proposed by GNDstyle initiatives, must be based on a fair and sustainable sharing of resources. There isn’t enough land or material to feed our voracious, imbalanced global economy with renewables1; and if we’re not careful, the minerals required to build renewable infrastructure such as cobalt, lithium, silver and copper ‘will replace oil, gas and coal as the new frontline of corporate destruction,’ in the words of Asad Rehman from War on Want.1, 2 To avoid this, GND policies must insist on wealthy nations drastically reducing consumption so the rest of the world can catch up, and on protecting communities from a new wave of destructive extraction.
2. Support frontline struggles Some of the most important climate battles happening right now are being fought by communities (often in the Global South, often indigenous), who are blocking fossil-fuel projects and defending land and forests all over the world.
Western companies and governments are financing many of these projects, which gives campaigners in Europe, Australia and North America clear, concrete ways to offer support. Frontline-led struggles have often been edged to victory by international alliances, which have put the brakes on the Sabah coal plant in Malaysia, the Keystone XL pipeline in the US and destructive mega-dams in Brazil.2
3. Create alternative visions According to the UN, a million species are at risk from deforestation, overfishing and intensive agriculture as well as climate change. These activities are driven by an economic system based on the impossible goal of endless growth. In step with emergency measures, we need a shift away from the neoliberal capitalism that is driving this destruction. This is our chance to put forward better visions of the world, based on local and participatory democracy, common control of resources and co-operative economic models. In this time of great upheavals, we need to be ready to push for compassion, co-operation and justice – otherwise, there are much darker places society could go in response.
4. Target fossil-fuel companies The immensely powerful oil, coal and gas industries are using their wealth and influence at every turn to block climate laws, slow down renewables and extract ever-riskier forms of fossil fuel.3 All of the many exciting campaigns with a focus on fossil-fuel companies – whether targeting investments or taking action on oil sponsorship – could benefit from a burst of new support. 4
5. Look after those who got us here The school strikers have had a huge impact with minimal resources, but are calling for more adults to step up and help. A new international network, Parents for Future, is working to answer that call, as Rowan Ryrie from the UK branch explains: ‘We are identifying ways adults can use their power as economic actors, voters, protesters and professionals to protect future generations.’ The UK website parentsforfuture.org has advice on how adults (not just parents) can get involved, including lobbying schools to not punish striking students and taking action in solidarity. l
1 Danny Chivers, ‘The Stuff Problem’, New Internationalist, May 2015. nin.tl/Stuff 2 Asad Rehman, ‘The “green new deal” supported by Ocasio-Cortez and Corbyn is just a new form of colonialism’, 4 May 2019, The Independent, nin.tl/GNDcolonialism 3 ‘Lobbying against solutions’, briefing on behindthelogos.org 4 List of global divestment groups: campaigns. gofossilfree.org; artnotoil.org.uk