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Blog action day 2009: Building a mass movement to combat climate change

For those that don’t know, Blog Action Day is an event which takes place every year on 15 October, where bloggers to unite and push for social change by posting on the same subject. Last year’s was poverty, and this year’s is one which has been playing upon my mind heavily in 2009: Climate Change.

This was the year in which I had my ‘Wake up Freak out‘ moment. I’ve always had a good grasp of what climate change is (unlike many people, sadly), thanks to those scribbled whiteboard diagrams in GCSE Geography showing the earth and the sun. I never doubted the fact that humans are contributing to it. I just didn’t fully understand how drastically our lifestyles need to change, and how soon. I thought that if I bought low energy bulbs, recycled my milk cartons and encouraged everyone I knew to do the same, then that would be enough.

But a combination of The Age of Stupid and George Monbiot’s Heat terrified me into realising that the emission cuts which the science demands can’t be made by personal consumer choices alone. Sure, it’s important to recognise the choices you make in your lifestyle and accept some personal responsibility, but by believing the solution lies with the individual we fail to analyse or critique the system we live in which makes consumers out of us all. What we need is top-down intervention to halt our addiction to fossil fuels, stop cutting down the rainforest and build a fully sustainable society. And the government are only going to do this if we scream and shout and kick and make enough noise to let them know that it’s what we want. They’ve so royally fucked up the public’s trust in them this year thanks to expenses, failed bank bailouts and other such cheery things, they’re too scared stiff to take action themselves. We need to tell them to do it.

So how do we go about building a mass movement in the style of the Suffragettes or the American civil rights movement when it comes to climate change? It’s tricky. Both these successful movements had clear goals in mind: there was a visible injustice which needed to be addressed and laws which needed to be changed. Climate Change is far more difficult to mobilise people behind because it’s not something we in the west can see and feel happening (yet). It’s something which seems like it willonly  happen in the future, in some place far away, not right in front of us right now. The fact that today’s emissions take effect in 30 years time, meaning we must act now in order to save the future, has proved troublesome to communicate.

Which leads me onto another hurdle which lies in the way of creating a mass movement to combat climate change: poor communication of the science involved. Monbiot has demonstrated how those with vested interests (i.e. Oil Giants) have exploited the lack of public understanding surrounding science to spread the myth through the media that there is debate over the existence of ‘Man Made Global Warming’, as they tend to call it. Many people don’t understand that you can only trust scientific studies if they have been published in a peer-reviewed journal, allowing half-truths, fabrications and outright lies to be spread. Many in the media now realise they have been duped by these oil-funded ‘experts’ and have banned them from partaking in the conversation, but their influence has reached deep: 56% of the public thinks there is disagreement amongst scientists over the causes of climate change, compared with less than 3% of scientists themselves.

But, even if we do manage to communicate all the issues effectively, how can we persuade the average person to spend their hard-earned weekends scaling fences, chaining themselves to things and generally risking arrest and a criminal record? Firstly by showing that it works, which I believe groups like Plane Stupid are already doing – compare how prominant climate change is in the national conversation now to how it was three years ago, partly thanks to their exploits. Secondly – by being inclusive and accomadating. I hate to say this, but a lot of activists seem to exist in quite a cliquey bubble – what good is that in attracting new blood in to a movement which needs to grow and expand if it is to acheive its goals?

Of course there are always going to be those people who starkly refuse to listen to the science, who don’t want to hear anything which suggests they should change the way they live, who think anyone who chains themselves to parliament is a lunatic. I’m not interested in engaging with them – I think it’s a waste of time. The people I want to reach out to are the ones who are already worried about our planet – who take the time to recycle, re-think getting on that plane, and try buy organic veg – but haven’t yet taken their first steps into direct action. I want to tip them from just being eco-concious consumers to becoming full-on activists. And the louder noise we make, the sooner they will realise that mass action is both necessary and effective.

So if you’re reading this and fancy adding a spot of civil disobedience to your organic veg, here’s three things you can do:

1. Go on The Great Climate Swoop this Saturday. Cancel the rest of your weekend plans and help shut down a coal-fired power station!

2. Join Climate Rush on 5 December when they rush the houses of parliment

3. Book a week off work and head to Copenhagen this December for all sorts of climate-related protest and action!

Happy mis-behaving!

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