In the winter of 2014 Russel Norman, as co-leader of the NZ Green Party, said that climate change was the not just the most important issue of our time, it was the most important issue of all time. It seemed radical then, and appeared to go largely un-commented on. James Shaw said a similar thing last year, and then again, twice, in a speech this year. I remember feeling a surge of excitement and relief to hear this expressed by Norman, not only because we definitely need the suits to be thinking in this way (so all power to Norman and Shaw for taking that message to those communities), but also because hearing the deep truth from people in power brings hope and change.
In the past year I have noticed that the idea of climate change being the most important issue we face is popping up all the time. Many people are now saying it, and this my friends is change happening. People weren’t doing this even a few years ago. We need to be ready for what happens next, and we need to make sure that as more and more people wake up, that we (collectively) follow the path of change, not the path of denial or rearranging the deck chairs or going down in a ball of flames. There will always be those who can’t cope, or are too invested in the status quo, or are mired in the bleakness of what we face, or have given up. That all needs a response, but we need to be careful that all our energy doesn’t go into what is wrong, and that instead we urgently focus on what is right and what is working because that is where the change is. Where are the points in the system that we can apply pressure to tilt the table in favour of life?
For me Standing Rock has stood as a beacon of light in the almighty grey of facing up to how bad things are. Likewise other direct action climate activists. Here are people who are willing to give up their normal life and fight for what is right because the need is urgent and it is now. Climate change isn’t a background concern, it’s in their faces and backyards and so they act. We don’t all have to throw our bodies on the gears of the machine but some of us are going to have to and the rest of us need to back them up.
So I don’t mean that everyone has to quit their job and join the front lines. Although that would certainly change things very fast, I don’t think it’s a realistic expectation and I do think more of us than currently are could start to make such radical changes. But what I really mean is that we all now need to be on a war footing, all of us. Not because CC is a war, but because the recognition within communities during the Great Wars was of the need to put normal life in the context the greater cause. People understood the need to work together for the common good and this was largely a shared cultural value. As was the need do this in a way that enabled normal life to continue even where it was different. And to sustain this over years.
If we think it’s a choice between joining the front lines and doing climate action on the side without really changing ourselves, then we miss the other opportunities. The question needs to become “what can I do that centres the cause into normal life, that recognises this as the most important issue of all time?” or, more simply, “How do I integrate climate action into my everyday life?” This isn’t a question with a finite, set answer, it’s one that evolves over time. Change is a process and we need to adapt here too.
No-one is coming to save us. It’s up to us. All of us. While we certainly need high level change, we don’t have to wait for government or everyone else in order to act. We can change now, not because we are sure of what to do or what will happen, but because it’s the right thing to do any way you look at it other than neoliberally.
There are people leading the way. Standing Rock, the oldie activists, the awesome young activists who have integrated climate action into whatever creative endeavours they are living their lives through, and all of them are saying act, act now, and act affirmatively. We don’t all have to live radical lives, but we do need a radical change in how we are thinking. We need to find the way that best uses each of our skills and situations and resources to put all hands to the pump. We all need to be climate changers.
For those of us that like arguing, let’s keep arguing, but let’s also make our argument a medicine.
Well, I was listenin’,
To the outgoing seasons
About climate change and some of the reasons,
When the sky opened, like I’d been hope’n
And there came horses by the thousands
And there was thunder on their tongues
And lightning on their minds
And they were singin’ this old melody
From some other time
They sang don’t waste your hate.
Rather gather and create
Be of service, be a sensible person
Use your words and don’t be nervous
You can do this, you’ve got purpose
Find your medicine and use it.