This story is part of the Climate in Our Hands collaboration between Truthout and YES! Magazine.
I quit my job in January. It was a fun job with good pay and great people, but leaving it felt like the right thing to do, and maybe the only thing. If you believe 97 percent of scientists and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports on the predicted rate and impacts of devastating climate change, then you understand why this is considered the biggest international crisis of a generation. And you can understand why I felt I needed to dedicate myself entirely to the cause, not because I was especially equipped to do so, but simply because I could.
At that time, it felt like the climate debate was at a stand-still. After the reality set in that Copenhagen targets were – like Kyoto before them – little more than a hollow promise and a distraction from rising greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in North America, the climate movement was beyond frustrated. The UN Conference of the Parties (COP) of 2013 was largely ignored by the mainstream media. An Inconvenient Truth was old hat. Activists were burnt out or else wholly consumed by other causes like the alternative-economy and political discussions emerging in the echoes of Occupy.
Part of my motivation to quit my job and embark on a 5-month, 5,000-kilometer unicycle ride across Canada for climate action was to bring the issue back to the forefront of the national dialogue, back into the media and back to the people. It was my hope that any small contribution I could make to the rejuvenation of the climate cause would also help to resurface the political willpower for action. Clearly, I was not the only person troubled by the apparent “pause” in momentum on this most-pressing of issues.
But since my departure in April, and regardless of my own efforts, dozens of exhilarating new initiatives have sprouted from the burgeoning hives of the global grassroots. Is it possible that the social “tipping point” of mass civil unrest and demand for climate action will save us from the edge of runaway global warming? Heck yes! With every day that passes I’m more – and not less – hopeful that we will eventually triumph over the climate crisis. The conclusion of the 400,000-strong People’s Climate March in New York didn’t feel like the end of the road for me, but just one more plank in a foundation for change.
Here are eight ongoing campaigns and eight new ways to stay engaged. Eight reasons to be hopeful, and eight reasons why this is the golden age of climate activism.
The Climate Convergence Has Just Begun
A recurring criticism of the “climate movement” when I left for my journey in April was that it was increasingly dominated by big institutions and environmental NGOs that lacked popular trust and grassroots “street cred.” Climate change was too often relegated to the peripheries of resource-strapped indie social movements, while local environmental projects were sometimes swallowed by national campaigns. US initiatives were translated for Canadian audiences with mixed results, and accusations of academic and political “elite” using the climate as a mask for selfish or ideological motivations dominated the dissenting media. So all the more important are truly independent movements like Climate Convergence that make up for their humble origins and limited financial weight with sheer passion and smarts.
Bringing together long-time activists and community organizers, Climate Convergence primarily functions through national conference calls and simple but powerful online tools. It’s about connecting grassroots organizers to cross-promote and unify. The project kicked off with “Earth Day to May Day,” an intensive 10-day marathon of climate events throughout the United States. Then the organization hosted the Climate Convergence in New York City before the People’s Climate March – an opportunity for meaningful discussion, learning and strategy development for those who wanted more than a march. The pseudo-conference featured A-list activists like Naomi Klein, Vandana Shiva and hip-hop artist Immortal Technique. But all of this just scratches the surface of what this alternative coalition has planned for the future, and the strength of Flood Wall Street is a solid demonstration of popular support for their shared climate-capitalism critiques.
People Are Still Marching
The People’s Climate March riled the dopey slumber of the mainstream media by bringing together hundreds of thousands of passionate activists on the steps of the UN Climate Summit in New York. But long, long before protestors flooded the streets of the Big Apple, hardcore climate activists were already walking the talk on a less flashy but far more grueling Climate March starting in Los Angeles. This march was not to last a few hours or a few days, but some seven months. Destination: Washington, DC. A core group of a dozen or so walkers has been expanding gradually, as others join on foot, rollerblade, wheelchair and bicycle for a few miles, a few weeks, or the remainder of the route.
Sure, it’s not a vast army set to storm the airwaves in every town it passes through. But what it lacks in scope, the original Climate March makes up for in sheer inspiration. How could anyone skeptical about the human condition not be proud and invigorated to witness people so boiling with passion for the cause of addressing global warming that they’ve taken months out of their lives, sacrificing comfort and convention for camaraderie and a chance to tackle the climate crisis? The march revised its original route to meet up with the People’s Climate March in New York, where these brave souls received a hero’s welcome. They’ll arrive in Washington, DC in November, hopefully putting climate change firmly back on the ballot as Americans vote in the 2014 primaries.
We’re Putting Our Money Where Our Mouths Are
Sure there are lots of uber-rich oil tycoons paying hand over fist into fossil-fuel lobby firms, right-wing media and climate denial think tanks, but there are also millions of small-time investors reinforcing their efforts and inflating their wealth. If you’ve got mutual funds through a major bank or investment firm, chances are you’re one of them. Worse still, if you’re in a student union or you’re a tax-paying homeowner, you’ve probably contributed indirectly to the investments of at least one of the multinational oil corporations tearing down Canadian boreal forests to chew through the Athabascan oil sands, or forging ahead in the warming north to exploit dangerous newfound gas reserves. That’s why Go Fossil Free – a campaign primarily of 350.org’s creation – is such a powerful example of direct action.
Bypassing the biggest and most bureaucratic levels of corporate control and government, it effectively mobilizes students and faculty to petition and vote for divestment from fossil fuel corporations in their colleges and universities. Increasingly, the same is being done with local governments through citizens’ coalitions. This is a campaign with plenty of victories to date and many more projects on the go. It’s also perhaps the best example of tangible, legal, non-partisan (and yet political) actions for the climate movement that can be taken by any community, whether or not they lie on the path of a major pipeline or play host to government negotiations. Most enticingly, removing funds from fossil fuel industries can free up renewable energy investments critical to building a sustainable future.
The Next Generation Gets It
iMatter started with Alec Loorz’s groundbreaking lawsuit against the US government, which stated that his health and safety – and that of other young people – will be compromised by political inaction on climate change. The legal battle is ongoing, but iMatter isn’t limiting itself to the courtroom. The growing community across the United States delivers powerful testimonies from brilliant and deeply concerned young people to Congress and the public at large, through videos, presentations, activist theatre and local marches. Meanwhile it’s mobilizing in Canada and around the world with resources, toolkits and a connected youth council that help kids lobby for climate action in their schools, communities and with local politicians. Anyone who’s pessimistic about the engagement of future generations needs only to peruse the acute and passionate rallying calls of iMatter’s diverse campaigns to feel a fresh spark of hope. “We go from our beautiful world to . . . resource depletion and rising temperatures,” as a Thailand group so vividly puts it in a promo video for a march in Bangkok. “Isn’t this fucked up enough?” These kids aren’t messing around.
Faith-Based Groups Are Also On Board
Admittedly, many of these movements are dominated by hardcore environmental contingents of largely progressive, left-wing thinkers, many of whom are atheists. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but the climate movement must unite all stakeholders if it’s to triumph over the status quo, and that’s why it’s exciting to see more and more faith-based advocates and organizations lead the way. Especially since many of these institutions often have community organizing experience, bar none.
The range of such initiatives could alone consume a list this long, but here in Canada perhaps no other organization demonstrates it as well as Kairos, which recently teamed up with the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition and the Council of Canadians to host a series of discussions about domestic climate effects and the imperative for action among the G20. Kairos has an entire climate justice campaign and actively creates and shares resources with its broad faith-based community. Meanwhile in the United States, Greenfaith is bringing together religious communities against climate injustice and inaction like never before, and Dr. Katharine Hayhoe made headlines for being the first, proudly outspoken evangelical Christian climatologist to urge her denomination to respond to the crisis when her wit and personality dominated the pilot episode of the hit Showtime series, “Years of Living Dangerously.” The Citizens’ Climate Lobby has also made available a great publication in its online library compiling statements on climate action according to the religious teachings of Christianity and every other major religion.
We’re Hungry For Change and Acting Like It
Naderev Yeb Sano – the lead negotiator for Philippines at the UN climate talks – could be the closest the climate movement has to a singular, peaceful, global leader. Other key figures in the fight for climate action like Van Jones, Al Gore and Tim DeChristopher have garnered as much controversy and notoriety as support thanks to controversial tactics or political ties. But Yeb Sano’s peaceful protests and articulate, heartfelt pleas for action inspire deep respect across a broad spectrum. One of Yeb Sano’s key tactics is fasting – the ultimate, age old demonstration of devotion and self-sacrifice for a cause. Solidarity actions around the world have solidified a global movement of fasting for the climate. But Yeb Sano wasn’t the first to fast, and organizations like ClimateFast here in Canada have been independently organizing protests to demonstrate a “hunger for climate justice” for years.
Yet with the help of Yeb Sano, the proliferation of the #FastForTheClimate hashtag on social media, and a new online community at fastfortheclimate.org, the movement has found new life as a powerful, global movement. Regular fasts occur on the first day of each month, with several longer fasts scattered throughout the year, often centered on UN summits and similar events. While many campaigns still rely heavily on local organizing efforts, Fast for the Climate thrives online by bringing together independent activists worldwide. The social media potential – and the tangible effectiveness of the strategy in bringing media attention to key climate issues – cannot be overstated. Perhaps no other campaign has demonstrated quite the same ability to connect advocates across physical and social borders to better understand and highlight climate justice and its worldwide impacts. Fast for the Climate is also supported by the Global Call for Climate Action, 350.org and a range of nonprofits, both big and small.
Organizations Are Sticking Together
The Global Call for Climate Action (GCCA) is all about uniting diverse sectors and demographics in the name of climate action. In many ways, it’s engaging a lot of the same groups who came together physically for the first time at the People’s Climate March by building deeper, long-term relationships within the climate movement. The GCCA has been operational since 2008, but has recently generated more buzz through TckTckTck, its dynamic and webby-nominated climate-centric info resource and news site. Today the coalition represents the climate concerns and interests of more than 450 organizations, including unions, education and research foundations, environmental and social justice groups and other civil society organizations. Anyone who’s fearful that a lack of cohesive vision and a common understanding of the climate crisis is holding back the world’s nonprofits from effecting change would do well to read about the GCCA’s good work on the ground. The international Climate Action Network serves a similar purpose in helping nonprofits collaborate, communicate and expand their capacity for promoting climate action.
It’s Not Just Clicktivism
Most of these projects are at least partially exciting because of how they harness internet technology and online communities. But the interwebs aren’t perfect; campaigns of the clicktivism era have lost some clout and arguably, depth. They often fail to engage activists to their full capacity. That’s why things like the People’s Climate March are so important and refreshing. The Climate Mobilization Project is exciting because it takes that principal to the extreme. It uses cyberspace for fundraising and administrative data tracking only while the viral component of the grand mobilization is facilitated through tried-and-true staples of local organizing.
From its humble Kickstarter beginnings, the Climate Mobilization Project is, in its own words, a “strategy” as a much as a movement, and its inspiration – a strange blend of Occupy, traditional petitions and the Allied war effort of the 1940s – gives it a fresh potential. The project is spearheaded by Margaret Klein, a clinical psychologist, and Ezra Silk, a historian, so unsurprisingly it aims to transform our predicament by learning from human history and changing the pedagogical approach to climate engagement. Its backbone is a simple pledge to embrace climate science, react responsibly and advocate equally among other citizens and the government elite. The pledge can only be distributed in the real world (i.e., not online) by existing signatories. These signatories are also the only ones who can accept new converts and grow the movement. It all might sound a bit cultish, but it also makes perfect sense; overwhelming amounts of research have suggested that face-to-face interaction is still the most impactful, and communities that grow locally have a special potential and staying power. Sure, the Climate Mobilization Project is insanely ambitious, but isn’t that just what the climate emergency demands? If nothing else, it’s evidence that movers and shakers are increasingly looking beyond cyberspace to effect global change through face-to-face dialogue.
We’re Changing Legislation – With or Without Our Politicians
It could be David Suzuki’s last great act. The acclaimed geneticist, author, television host and outspoken critic of climate inaction is getting into law. Well, not exactly, but he has set himself the lofty goal of rewriting the Canadian Constitution with the help of a few million supporters from coast to coast. To garner support for a constitutional amendment that would recognize a clean and healthy environment as a fundamental right in Canada – as it is already in several other nations – Suzuki is embarking on a cross-country tour. In between meetings and media-ops, he’ll pitch the idea at events with stars, including authors and poets like Shane Koyczan and Margaret Atwood and singers like Neil Young, Feist and Joel Plaskett. Ticket proceeds will help the David Suzuki Foundation pursue the more practical elements of a campaign to change major legislation.
The Blue Dot Tour isn’t just a feel-good, fundraising concert series though; it’s the first time Canadians will be invited to challenge fundamental environmental principles in a political context without any of the usual partisan shenanigans. It’s the start of a timely dialogue about our most fundamental human rights and national values. The campaign has already taken on a life of its own through social media. Whether or not its ultimate objective is ever realized, it’s sure to have profound and positive impacts on the swelling support for climate action in Canada, and inspire similar actions around the world.