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The climate action momentum

Written By: - Date published: 7:05 am, September 21st, 2019 - 33 comments
Categories: activism, climate change - Tags: , , ,

The day before the Global Climate Strike, the Guardian published an open letter from a large number of Australian academics, declaring their support for Extinction Rebellion,

It is unconscionable that we, our children and grandchildren should have to bear the terrifying brunt of this unprecedented disaster. When a government wilfully abrogates its responsibility to protect its citizens from harm and secure the future for generations to come, it has failed in its most essential duty of stewardship. The ‘social contract’ has been broken, and it is therefore not only our right, but our moral duty, to rebel to defend life itself.

We therefore declare our support for the Extinction Rebellion (XR) movement and the global week of non-violent civil disobedience and disruption planned for October. We stand behind XR’s demands for the Australian government to declare a climate emergency and to establish a citizens’ assembly to work with scientists on the basis of current evidence to develop a credible and just plan for rapid total decarbonisation of the economy.

In addition, we call on all Australian universities and other major institutions to immediately divest funds from all fossil fuel and other industries which are contributing to the climate crisis, and to redirect investments urgently toward the renewable energy sector and other climate enhancing technologies.

We also recognise the crucial role First Nations people in Australia and across the globe, have played for tens of thousands of years, and continue to play, in maintaining species, and caring for the land, water and air. We therefore declare our support for the urgent establishment of a treaty with First Nation Australians, to recognise Indigenous sovereignty and to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to continue protecting what they have already cared for, for so long.

The day of the strike, Australia led the world with near record numbers.

These are heartening numbers in one of the key growing movements for climate activism. The current public awareness and willingness to act compared to even a few years ago makes me think we are approaching a tipping point. I’m not keen on timed predictions around big societal change, but I expect that this time next year the landscape will look very different again. With things moving this fast, there is great opportunity to influence which direction we tip. 

September 20th marked the start of the Global Climate Strike week. New Zealand’s strike will be at the close of the week on the 27th. Organised by the School Strike 4 Climate people, this is a strike for everyone. SS4C NZ are calling it a general strike. 

Ten days after that the International Rebellion begins on the 7th October. This is a fortnight of actions from Extinction Rebellion designed to non-violently disrupt societies to sufficient extent to force governments to listen to what the people want and to take meaningful, timely action. 

Extinction Rebellion has been getting a fair amount of valid criticism from some activist quarters for its organisational culture and tactics, but there is no doubt that they have radically changed both the narrative around climate change, and the actions we can now expect to take. This has been one of the critical pushes we needed to get mass awareness of the urgency of the climate crisis. 

The strikes this year are mass protest marches. Schools are now starting to give students permission to take the day off to attend and there is general acceptance of the validity of students doing this. One value here is in the kind of medium term change we can expect as institutional power holders start making better decisions about priorities (I look forward to when the need to prevent runaway climate change becomes paramount across society). But I can’t help but feel that striking is something people do as an act of empowerment in the face of injustice. They don’t require permission. 

Mass mobilisation via marches is necessary. It builds solidarity amongst people who take part, and it gives hope and the sense that acting matters. It raises wider public awareness, and gives clear signals to politicians that they need to pay attention. So the marches are necessary but probably not sufficient in the immediate term, which is where we also need accelerated change.

Hence the wonderful timing of Extinction Rebellion’s next set of disruptions. Here we have the opportunity to shift the narrative again. With the IPCC and the mainstream media now publicly declaring the need for urgent action, people are increasingly scared and looking for what to do. ER actions focus attention in the places where it hurts those who still deny the need for immediate change. These actions are likewise necessary and not sufficient. We also need, very soon, clear pathways that many people can act on effectively and from a place of empowerment. 

This is effort on as many fronts as we can manage. Marching, rebelling, planting trees, driving less, talking to our neighbours, these are the collective activisms that push change and the individual acts that underpin societal change. But we’re not yet at the point of conceiving of the system change needed to prevent the worst of climate disaster.  Coming up next, we also need to fast decide how to transition off fossil fuels in ways that are just, timely, and ecologically sustainable. This is the discussion we need to be having now.  

In the meantime, writing radical poetry on pub walls is as good an activism as I’ve seen:

33 comments on “The climate action momentum ”

  1. AB 1

    Big crowds in Australia, yet that electorate still preferred Scomo the coal hugger, because they were scared that their personal economic circumstances would deteriorate if action is taken. The 'just transition' that the Sanders programme talks about is essential to widespread buy-in. It is hard though to see how a"just transition" works without serious economic redistribution (or rather 'repatriation' as I prefer to call it) from the top down. This is where the massive sh*t fight occurs.

    • weka 1.1

      I think what we need in NZ is for Labour to get with the messaging around a just transition. That requires them to change policy. Maybe there's an opportunity here for climate activism to reform the Labour Party 😉

    • Bg 1.2

      How many protestors in Tianimin Square?

      • greywarshark 1.2.1

        Just a letter short of big – that's a good point but why don't you look it up and come back and tell us?

  2. Koff 2

    "At the end of her speech, Thunberg emphasized that the strikes around the world are just the start of change.

    “If you belong to that small group of people who feel threatened by us, we have some very bad news for you, because this is only the beginning,” Thunberg said. “Change is coming whether they like it or not.”

    Greta's speech to an estimated 250,000 people in NYC.


  3. MickeyBoyle 3

    I like your enthusiasm but in reality it's a tiny percentage of the population protesting. I personally believe there is not the political or societal will to actually do anything meaningful in regards to the climate. Yes we get the woke stories and activism, but come election time who are people voting for?. The Greens are struggling to poll above 5% and the green movement worldwide is also struggling to sell their story to voters. Our emissions continue to rise, we need a massive shift in policy and mindset to achieve real results. Unfortunately for us and our planet, there seems to be a lot of talk but no real action, people are voting selfishly, and frankly they always will. It's all very well having stories like this, but I guarentee we will be in a similar position in a decade. We are screwed, it looks like a few hopeful idealists just havent realized it yet.

    • weka 3.1

      I see a lot of change in the past ten years, and it seems extremely likely there will be none in the next ten.

      The thing about tipping points is that change can happen fast, but it can take time to build up to that. The rate of change has increased. When I was first writing about CC on TS three years ago (or commenting before that), there was still a large degree of denial, far less understanding of the kind of change needed, and few people were on board with the urgency of the situation. All those things have changed. There were some big pushes last year, especially ER, and the IPCC report on urgency.

      MSM coverage has also changed in that time, with many outlets now committed to presenting CC as a crisis. Some also moderate to not allow denialism.

      If we look at how change happens, these are the right things to be happening. MSM influence is huge. Big protests lead to political change (they're necessary but not sufficient). All of this might not be enough, but it might be. We can build on what has changed and assist the tipping point and make choices about which way we want it to go.

      Even in a worst case scenario, when the shit hits the fan, having a well educated and prepared population puts us miles head of where we were ten years ago.

      • Pat 3.1.1

        change can happen fast but its worth remembering that the 1.5 carbon budget is already gone and at current rates the 2 will be gone in 6 or 7 years as well

        • weka

          Yep. The one that worries me is that as we get on board with natural systems carbon storage, we will think about it as increasing our budget. This one really needs addressing and quite soon.

          I don't follow the maths that closely, because I think the problem here really is one of how we relate with nature, and once we sort that out, the analysis of the situation and what the solutions are will change.

          Looking at % chance of staying below a certain degree or PPM, while useful for communicating science, is not the only way to respond here. My own view is that no matter how bad it gets we should be doing what we can. It's never too late.

          I have some ambivalence about the 12 years left thing, because once we get to 12 years, what will happen to the narrative? Probably a risk worth taking to wake people up, but we really need better stories and better pathways in the next few years. Despair and intentional dissociation are probably one of the next big challenges.

          • Pat

            Thats a misunderstanding of the 'budget'…the budget is fixed (with a degree of uncertainty)…carbon storage whether natural or otherwise dosnt change 'the budget' it may however assist in achieving a slowing of output and potentially (though unproven at scale and problematic) a net negative production…however as always the constraint is time and we will see increased impacts regardless of the success of negative emissions as the systems will take time (considerable) to adjust.

            And then theres the other forcing gases and feedbacks

            • weka

              I'm working off something like this,

              Global emissions budgets are calculated according to historical cumulative emissions from fossil fuel combustion, industrial processes, and land-use change, but vary according to the global temperature target that is chosen, the probability of staying below that target, and the emission of other non-CO2 greenhouse gases (GHGs).[6]

              Lots of variables there and it's still probabilities. If we stopped all fossil fuel burning today, the changes to the climate are going to be different than if we take 30 years to stop burning them. If we pick 2C as a target, then there are still variables within that, and the budget for staying under 2C is based on making choices about those variables.

              Scientific estimations of the remaining global emissions budgets/quotas differ widely due to varied methodological approaches, and considerations of thresholds.[10] Most estimations still underestimate the amplifying climate change feedbacks.

              "carbon storage whether natural or otherwise dosnt change 'the budget' it may however assist in achieving a slowing of output and potentially (though unproven at scale and problematic) a net negative production"

              My point was that people will (already are) treating natural sequestration as a way of adjusting the budget. It's the same mentality that brings us carbon credits – take a plane and plant a tree to make up for it. Natural sequestration shouldn't be relied on to keep burning fossil fuels, we need it to mitigate the damage already done.

              I agree about time, it is the immovable force we ignore at our peril.

              • Pat

                "If we stopped all fossil fuel burning today, the changes to the climate are going to be different than if we take 30 years to stop burning them."

                Totally agree

                "If we pick 2C as a target, then there are still variables within that, and the budget for staying under 2C is based on making choices about those variables."

                The 2 deg C target has been determined as a point which if exceeded the risk of irreversible impacts and feedbacks becomes unacceptably high…the IPCC budgets (RCPs) all have an element of carbon capture and storage involved in their modelling (except perhaps 8.5)…that is indicative of how important the 2 degC target is considered…they are willing to use some sleight of hand to maintain the 'target'….none of that matters in the real world of ppm carbon or choices.

                Its pretty cut and dried, atmospheric carbon reaches x ppm and we will breach 2 deg C in the future and all that entails regardless…short of divine intervention

      • MickeyBoyle 3.1.2

        I agree with the second part of your first sentence.

        • greywarshark

          What 'none in the next ten years'? Of change? Of climate change? I foresee kaleidoscopic change in the next ten years. I'll bet a chocolate fish on that, if there are any still in the next ten years. Who knows what is going to happen, but both huge societal change and climate change there will be.

          • MickeyBoyle

            I'll take that bet. We are simply fiddling around the edges so to speak. Emissions continue to rise and I honestly cannot see any of this governments policies let alone the required worldwide policies that are needed, coming to fruition. The time to act was 20 years ago, we are kidding ourselves that real change can be made now. The will is simply not there.

            • weka

              3 million people and climbing beg to disagree.

              ER is based on the historical experience that small numbers of people relative to population size can effect radical change even where most of the population apparently disagree. In this case, most people agree, most people want more govt action on climate change.

            • greywarshark

              I can't take that MB. There is a risk of terminal illness for peoples and our world as we know it, but like all those dead cancerer sufferers have in their death notices – we must 'battle bravely' to stay alive and keep helping each other and being kaitiaki to our beautiful planet. That is the beautiful thing to do, to keep on and trying for a nobility of soul, resisting sneers from those who have been debased by our throwaway society of constant excitement and wonders.

              Those people are never able to take an overview of their life and their world, and the amazing opportunity of being in it with so many possibilities for them. All need to give time for quiet appreciation of what they have had, and still could if they could be in tune with the real world. I must start saying 'grace' in a quick quiet and meaningful way before my meal, as we used to. It is rare now, as the habit has grown of taking our world and comforts for granted.


        • Koff

          Maybe you should join a climate strike near you next Friday, Mickey. Better being in a deluded bubble than sitting at home morbidly depressed and depressing the rest of us!

  4. weka 4

  5. joe90 5

    The kid[s] are alright.

  6. This pale, stale and increasingly frail male supports the climate strike on 27th September and will be there in solidarity with the youth of this country in their attempt to wake up our politicians.

    I apologise for shouting, but this needs to be said very loudly: we baby boomers have fucked up the world (the vast majority of us quite unwittingly) and we OWE IT TO THE YOUNGER GENERATIONS TO SHOW THEM OUR BACKING!

  7. greywarshark 7

    Meanwhile when is the idea of regional councils going to be thrown out. They just seem to be distant from the people and national goals and away in their own bubble. That seems to be particularly true of the Greater Wellington Regional Council that brought the people of Wellington City the new bus system that was so much better than the previous one. Yeah right.

    And knowledgable citizens and responsible ones like Maori, who could perform a kaitiaki control role are under-rated and over-ruled. And in council terms I hope their rates are not being artificially manipulated down by getting quick profit from misusing valuable environmental lands needed for sustainability, and healthy land practices to serve climate change objectives.

    Now: https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/national/399199/council-defends-leasing-wetlands-to-farming-company

    The Greater Wellington Regional Council is defending its decision to lease out almost 200 hectares of wetlands to a farming company…

    Russell Bell from the Kapiti Coast group Friends of Queen Elizabeth Park said it was unbelievable that in the midst of a climate crisis, wetlands were being farmed.

    "Greater Wellington, having declared a climate change emergency … these are great climate change opportunities. They'll become fantastic carbon dioxide sinks, and they will help our biodiversity.

    "The other thing is in Wellington, we've only got 2 to 3 percent of our wetlands left compared to 10 percent nationally. So, Wellington's got this great dearth of wetlands."

    The Greater Wellington Regional Council (GWRC) said there were no wetlands of significant value being farmed, but Mr Bell said that was because they had been drained for so many years they no longer had wetland characteristics.

    He said there's approximately 200 hectares of land that could be turned back into a wetland – an obvious 85 hectares, named the Raumati wetland, and another hundred which has been so converted over the past 150 years of farming, it looks like pasture.

  8. Glenn 8

    For the sake of life on earth we must put a limit on wealth.


    Tomorrow, I’ll be joining the global climate strike, in which adults will stand with the young people whose call to action has resonated around the world. As a freelancer, I’ve been wondering who I’m striking against. Myself? Yes: one aspect of myself, at least. Perhaps the most radical thing we can now do is to limit our material aspirations. The assumption on which governments and economists operate is that everyone strives to maximise their wealth. If we succeed in this task, we inevitably demolish our life support systems. Were the poor to live like the rich, and the rich to live like the oligarchs, we would destroy everything. The continued pursuit of wealth in a world that has enough already (albeit very poorly distributed) is a formula for mass destitution.


  9. Tiger Mountain 9

    There needs to be “adult strikes” patiently organised too. Mass direct action hitting the 1%ers, Corporates, Farmers, and Governments where it hurts, is what it will take to achieve meaningful results.

  10. Sacha 10

    Pressure on political mechanisms is the next step: https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/world/399350/young-climate-activists-seek-step-up-from-streets-to-political-table

    Young climate change activists demanded a greater role in decision-making today as they met leaders at UN headquarters, saying that their growing voice on the streets had yet to earn them a seat at the political table.

    Gabriela Cuevas, a Mexican legislator, urged youth leaders to search for ways to "translate your activism into policy and legislation".

    "Do not expect the same people (in power) will change everything," she said. "So, welcome to politics."

  11. Formerly Ross 11

    The scientific consensus is that climate change is doing more good than harm and will continue to do so for several more decades.

    “The accepted consensus among economists is that every £100 spent fighting climate change brings £3 of benefit.”


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