Written By: - Date published: 9:20 am, May 3rd, 2016 - 48 comments
Categories: activism, climate change, Deep stuff, democratic participation, energy, Environment, global warming, International, political alternatives, sustainability, vision - Tags: austerity, climate change, global warming, vision
A decade ago, and a good handful of years before the appearance of modern, government-enforced punitive austerity, there was a grass roots movement based in the US that attempted to show people how they could meaningfully respond to Climate Change. It was called the Riot for Austerity, and its goal was for individuals and families to demonstrate that they could cut their energy consumption by 90% (relative to most North Americans). The impetus was 2006 figures that showed such a reduction was critical in preventing disastrous climate change. The movement was intrinsically away from consumption towards non-consumption. The challenge came from people’s reactions to the figures and the perception that such change was impossible therefore there was no point in talking about it. The founders of the Riot wanted to not only prove it was possible, but to counter the very notion that we cannot make radical change, and instead to provide a vision and pathway for Westerners to do what is required.
There were two other critical underpinnings. One was that whatever technological solutions might theoretically be possible to transition to a post-carbon world without sacrificing our lifestyles (the electric car myth), we simply no longer had the time to wait for that transition. Even with the best political will in the world, the amount of time needed to rebuild all the infrastructure to be post-carbon was far too long if we wanted to prevent CC. The other underpinning was the understanding that governments are not going to make the necessary changes. Ten years on this has been proven. The Riot for Austerity was saying we, the people, have to change now and we cannot wait for policy or regulation to force us.
The Riot outlined seven areas for household reduction
• Heating and Cooking Energy
• Petrol/Diesel/Transportation Energy
• Water Usage
• Consumer Good Consumption
• Food Energy Consumption.
In the end thousands of people from many countries joined the experiment, and included poor and rich, urban and rural, elderly, families with children and people with disabilities. Some of the key things they discovered were:
1. The project was surprisingly fun.
2. There is a principle that when one engages in non-consumption other satisfying experiences arise. It’s not primarily about deprivation, and non-consumption experiences can be as satisfying as consuming especially when there is collective purpose (this has also been the experience of people at home outside of war zones during war time).
3. The first 50% reduction is relatively easy and something that most people can achieve.
4. The next chunk of reduction is harder, and most people/families found they had their particular sticking points e.g. people living in the country found it much harder to reduce transport energy.
5. Significant numbers of people were able to achieve up to 90% for a lot of the time.
What can we do?
The purpose of this post is an invitation to start building a pathway that helps people, including us, to change. Many people understand Climate Change and want to change but feel powerless. We need solutions we can take part in. Not solutions to the bigger-than-we-can-cope with global issues, we need that too, but focussing on that alone engenders more powerlessness and prevents us from acting. Instead we need solutions that are tools we all can pick up and start using right now.
Others of us are unwilling or afraid to change because we don’t want to give up our lifestyles and we can’t imagine a life beyond carbon and consumption that isn’t just downright desperate. We also need to be presented with solutions we can take part in, but in addition we need to be shown that life without high consumption is not a meaningless or drudgery-filled life. We already know that consumption doesn’t buy happiness, so let’s find the ways to make that real.
In order to start changing we don’t have to argue about which are the most relevant figures, or who should be doing what, or how useless the government is. Those conversations still need to happen, but they shouldn’t stop us from changing right now. Alongside all the political discussion about what our leaders or nation should be doing, we have to start taking action ourselves. No-one is coming to save us.
Sharon Astyk, Peak Oil and Climate Change writer and activist, and one of the founders of the Riot for Austerity, talks about three reasons why we should change even if we believe the rest of the world isn’t.
The first reason: it’s not that hard and it brings its own rewards.
The second reason: this analogy from Dmitri Orlov If you are going to fall out of a window, it’s better to fall out of the first floor than higher up. We going to have to change eventually, so better to do so in a way that lessens the damage. Everything we can do now is going to make it much easier in the future both in terms of limiting the worst effects of Climate Change and in terms of adapting.
The third reason: it is the only ethical thing we can do. We in the developed world have created Climate Change, are using far more than our fair share of the planet’s resources, and we are eating the future that should belong to later generations. This behaviour too will come to an end at some point, but we have a choice to do the right thing instead of the wrong thing, not out of self-interest but just because it is right.
I would add another reason: if governments did the right thing, it would still require us all to support that and be willing to change. In other words, change isn’t possible without us. There is also no reason why we cannot lead the change.
So where to next? Some key starting points for discussion:
• The name Riot for Austerity has passed its use by date (for obvious reasons, although I love the idea of reclaiming it). But it does highlight that we need new language for talking about the politics of grass roots, proactive, climate change activism that is centred in the primacy of our own lives. This presents dilemmas for the Left, who tend to see political solutions as being collective. But we also know that the collective can arise out of our lives when we work together.
• NZ needs to come up with its own process of providing grass roots solutions, ones that are specific to our land, cultures and politics.
• Solutions have to be practical, accessible right now, and accessible to many different kinds of people. One size doesn’t have to fit all.
• We need to be careful not to focus on the superficial or pay lip service to change, but we also need to encourage people to do whatever they can even if they can’t do it perfectly.
• As important as GHG emission reduction is the societal shift in consciousness and in willingness that will enable us to change fast and big enough in the time we have left. We need a snowball effect.
• We don’t have to get hung up on the numbers. Astyk and co were from the part of the culture already deeply involved in climate change and peak oil, so 90% was the right goal for them. If 90% is too scary for us, or so much that we can’t get our head around it, then we choose something we can manage. The thing that stood out for me was that a 50% reduction was relatively easy for people to achieve. That’s radical. Rather than focussing on whether that’s enough or too much, we just have to start changing now. Once we start changing we will be able to see what we need to do next.
• We need to put our money where our mouth is. Or where our hearts are. It’s not enough to be concerned.
I’m not suggesting that the Standardistas adopt the Riot. But I think those of us who are already aware of the seriousness of the situation need to start looking at actual examples of what people have been doing and take on board that these actions are politics of the most urgent kind.
Note: if you want to debate whether climate change is real, please go somewhere else. That debate is over. If you want to debate that there is nothing we can do, or that NZ is too small to make a difference, please go somewhere else, this post and conversation isn’t for you. Anyone running either of those or other kinds of denialist lines will be moderated.
If you want to talk about what the government or political parties should be doing, or that CC is the responsibility of governments not individuals, please go to Open Mike. This post is for discussion about what NZers can do themselves and how that is part of the politics of Climate Change.