Climate activists and scientists have shared their feelings of hopelessness as a wave of extreme weather events sweeps the globe. For far too long, the majority of us have been content to make some lifestyle changes but leave the bulk of the heavy lifting to activists and scientists. But the burden of climate change is a great one and it cannot be left to a small number of people. We are truly in this together and the only way out is to get involved. It’s time for mass community organising and action.
Activist burnout is real
Scientists are feeling gaslit…
For decades, fossil fuel companies have lobbied against their research and downplayed the greenhouse gas effect and the role that fossil fuels play. Climate deniers have often labelled those who are climate concerns as alarmists and XR a “doomsday cult”. Now we are seeing headlines like “Climate change: Science failed to predict flood and heat intensity”. In truth, climate experts have been warning us that global warming would be catastrophic for decades. We just haven’t been listening.
For 15 years I’ve been told not to be so “alarmist”
— Peter Kalmus (@ClimateHuman) July 17, 2021
… are sick of the media misrepresenting the climate crisis…
Reporting of the recent floods and heatwaves has been a mixed bag, with news outlets often failing to make the connection to climate changes. Heatwaves especially were treated rather flippantly with the media choosing to focus more attention on how to ‘enjoy’ the hotter weather by cooling down with a trip to the lake or ice cream. A study by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communications found that only 26% of the public in the United States are alarmed by climate change which they say is likely down to the fact that “less than a quarter of the public hear about climate change in the media at least once a month.”
It’s not “wacky weather.” It’s the climate crisis, and media outlets should say so.
— Mary Annaïse Heglar (@MaryHeglar) July 15, 2021
Despite some governments declaring a climate emergency, we are yet to see large-scale action taken to drastically cut emissions and move away from fossil fuels forever. In fact, citizens have had to resort to taking their governments to court for their continued investment in climate-wrecking activity such a new coal mines and oil fields which directly contradict their climate pledges and targets.
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…and frustrated with the 1%.
While so many of us are examining how our lifestyles and carbon footprint might be adding fuel to the fire that is the climate crisis, billionaires, not content with supercars, yachts and private jets (looking at you Bill Gates) have now graduated to space travel. The wealthiest 1% have immense capital and influence to halt climate change but instead, they are living ostentatious, high carbon lifestyles and playing space race with one another. According to a report by Oxfam, the world’s 26 richest people own as much as the poorest 50%.
I’d like to see the billionaires contribute to reforestation instead of flying into space and buying $500 million yachts.
— Nyombi Morris™ (@mnyomb1) July 14, 2021
They want you to make good on that Earth Day promise to look after the planet.
There have been 5,735,098 posts on Instagram, with the hashtag #EarthDay. But is that translating into real, offline action on the climate crisis?
tbh, catching a vibe that most climate activists are currently just a bit pissed off and need all of you who post about loving the planet on earth day to get your collective shit together tbh
— Tolmeia Gregory (@tolmeia) July 16, 2021
This is an ‘all hands on deck’ situation
I don’t think people understand…. climate activists are losing.
Despite everything we have done, our civilization is STILL emitting more CO2 than ever before. We’re on track for ecological collapse.
We need your help. We need you to be a climate activist. Please.
— Edgar McGregor (@edgarrmcgregor) July 12, 2021
There is a tendency to think that in order to be an activist, you must understand all the science in detail or dedicate a certain number of hours every week to the cause. The truth is, if you are worried about the fate of humanity and this beautiful blue dot we live on you don’t need to spend a hundred hours studying the science – come as you are and do what you can. Because of capitalism, we have been conditioned to see ourselves as consumers first. Of course, conscious consumption is better than mindlessly buying but we are so much more than our purchasing power. When we come together and start community organising to take real action at a grassroots level, our collective power is formidable.
The bridge between individual action and systemic change
Individual lifestyle changes, like switching your bank account or going zero-waste helps create the world you want to live in by taking small daily steps towards it and hopefully inspiring some people along the way. It might not add up to much in the grand scheme of things but it can be transformative in your own life and lead to a much more fulfilling existence.
But with the climate emergency become increasingly accelerated, we know what we urgently need is radical system change. We need to end the addiction to fossil fuels – now. Environmentalists often start to feel disenfranchised and like nothing we can do as an individual is enough. It’s just too big and overwhelming. This is where community organising is needed and makes a difference. In a recent interview for the Live Wide Awake podcast, Christabel Reed said “community action is the bridge between individual action and systemic change”.
The best description I came across explaining what community organising actually is, and why it’s so powerful was in a video shared by Joseph Capehart, a poet, educator and community organiser from New York. They said “Let’s talk about the difference between mobilisation and organisation. To mobilise means to get something moving, to encourage action around a particular issue…. Mobilisation gets people to the picket lines, to the protest, to the polls, to donate money or resources to a cause they care about. The summer of 2020 saw the greatest mobilisation of people worldwide against police brutality but as we saw, mobilisation on its own, regardless of how impressive, changes little without organisation. To organise means to arrange resources and build structures around the lives of people within a community…. Organisation is concerned with deepening people’s understanding and sustaining their resistance against the systems that create those issues. A labour union is one example, groups that advocate for and protect the power of workers within an industry creating lasting barriers to unjust management practices. And that’s the keyword right there. Lasting. Because organisation doesn’t give you the same immediate satisfaction as mobilisation. But where it lacks the instant gratification of seeing mad people show up, it excels in creating lasting change within communities by creating pathways to sustained action.”
Lots of little green steps add up. Imagine the impact of lots of community action across a region, a nation, a continent.
When we need to do the work. Offline.
The internet has given us the ability to connect with like-minded people. It has created the opportunity to learn from people and cultures outside of our own experiences. Social media platforms take on a multitude of roles, one being an educational space and online educators create free content for us to engage with. With a quick search of hashtags, you have resources and information for every social justice cause at your fingers tips.
But there are pitfalls to online activism. When we interact within our echo chamber, we can more easily forget that not everyone thinks the same way as us and more importantly, they are not seeing the same information or hearing the same narratives.
Online activism is a key part of our movement but being online is exhausting. On top of ads, we are bombarded by the news and doomscrolling into the early hours of the morning. Put down the devices and get into the community. Connect with other people who have a shared interest in ensuring that your locality, and the people in it, are thriving. Think clean air, green spaces, green jobs, neighbours caring for one another.
By working in our local communities, we can find local solutions that work for everyone. This will also make our movement more inclusive, which many would say is long overdue.
Contribution as self-care
The idea of contributing to society as part of self-care and healthy, happy life is found in many cultures. The Japanese concept of Ikigai was conceived around finding purpose in something you are good at, that you enjoy and that benefits the world. The literal translation is ‘alive’ or ‘life’ (iki) and ‘benefit’ or ‘worth’ (gai). In French, you might say ‘raison d’etre’ – your reason for being. In yoga, we talk about ‘being of service’ as part of our yoga practices that we take off the mat and into our daily lives. Karma yoga or ‘yoga in action’ is when you give back to the world or your community. Taking our talents and our passions and channelling them into community organising benefits us and it benefits the collective.
Prominent activist, Mikaela Loach tweeted on July 14th that one of the ways that she deals with her climate anxiety is by diving into organising. Loach is a medical student, an environmental speaker and activist and a claimant in the Paid to Pollute case taking the UK government to court which is more than enough to have on one person’s plate but she feels that connecting with a group of people who are just as passionate and dedicated to a cause as you is a form of self-care and can be energising. Just days after the tweet, Loach was part of an action with a group occupying the UK government building in Edinburgh to protest the expected approval of the Cambo Oil Field in the North Sea. The group was calling for a just transition led by oil & gas workers, their unions & affected communities, not new oil & gas. Top of their request for support? “Come down now to the UK gov building (on New Street)” and “Come to the rally at 4pm”. There is power in numbers and this is another example of an opportunity to be involved in a real and tangible way that can make a difference.
Find your role
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Whether you have 5 mins to proofread your groups’ communications, an hour to prepare snacks for the next meeting for a day to meet with local politicians, the movement needs you and your talents. Bad Activist Collective has compiled this comprehensive resource to help you find your place in community organising. One of the key takeaways is – committing for the long haul. The is a lot of work to do and community organising needs to be sustainable in the long term. Join a group working on change in your area, commit to helping regularly at times that work best for you and don’t do so much that you burn out.
Whatever social justice cause you care about will be affected by the climate crisis. Whether you’re passionate about disability rights, racial injustice or the migrant crisis, it’s all relevant. People who are marginalised or oppressed in some way will suffer the worst effects of climate change. So many already are. When you join a climate group, you don’t have to put the other issues you care about to one side. In fact, you are going to benefit that cause by being part of a climate solution that considers their needs. You might have read that 133 people died in the severe flooding in Germany. What you may not know is that 12 of the people died because they had a disability and their rescue was not prioritised? Or that the region hosts many refugee families (who have played a major role in the clean up) for whom displacement could very well compound PTSD they might have? When community organising is done by a diverse group of people, with different skills and knowledge, it will lead to better outcomes for more people.
Ready to get to work?
To get you started, here are some organisations focused on climate change that facilitate local groups and provide lots of support from a central group.
Friends of the Earth
The Friends of the Earth Federation is the world’s largest environmental grassroots network. The federation is made up of 73 national member groups, around 5,000 local activist groups on every continent. For 50 years, they have been fighting for environmental justice through legal action (they are responsible for the latest climate litigation win against Shell!) and community organising. Groups are provided with resources and training and have access to data that helps focus their campaigns and make the most effective. Search here for your nearest group today and join a network of over 2 million members and supporters around the world.
Although a much younger organisation, Extinction Rebellion has proved itself as an extraordinary global movement mobilising and organising for solutions to climate change. Most famous for their headline-grabbing protests and directions, they have small local groups all over the world taking on issues in their own communities. You can search here for your local group.
Climate Reality Project
Based in the US but with a global network, Climate Reality Project has developed an activist programme, the Climate Reality Leadership Corps, and trained over 31,000 changemakers worldwide since 2006. Focussed on environmental justice, they listen to the expertise of frontline voices, Indigenous peoples, and activists of colour fighting pollution and climate change in their communities and learn from their leadership. You can join them here.
IMAGE: Photo by Austin Chan on Unsplash | IMAGE DESCRIPTION: a white neon sign reads ‘This Is The Sign You’ve Been Looking For”. The sign is hanging on an exposed brick interior wall.
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