Alternative Editorial: When Climate Protest and Climate Action Converge

New Banksy mural,  more here

New Banksy mural, more here

By Indra Adnan, A/UK co-initiator

A lot of people woke up to the climate emergency this week. More are stirring, feeling the discomfort of moving out of the dream state induced by our busy lives, but not yet ready to take on the cold reality of day. 

With or without their permission, Extinction Rebellion has intruded upon their understanding of what the future has to offer. Only days before, they saw the years in front of them as a familiar canvas upon which they could make a bigger or smaller mark, depending upon their luck and ambition. Today, they cannot see the canvas clearly at all any more.  

What will this town, this city or this country look like in 30 years-time? Once the answer might have been: similar but with a different sky-line. Today, we struggle to imagine a city that has been ravaged by climate change. Will parts be under water? Will we have double the population due to whole countries becoming unliveable? Will there be completely different ways of distributing food when supply chains break down? 

But this waking up is uneven: judging by the newspaper headlines, the majority of people will not have experienced much more than irritation, if they were living in London (or any of the 20 or so cities that were disrupted). Or bemusement, if they were watching from a distance. They may have been thinking: who are this group of non-violent, empathetic protesters, asking for “forgiveness and understanding for spoiling your day”? They look and sound white and middle class, but many are very young and very old and willing to be arrested for their cause.

And then just as these majorities were finding ways to dismiss them as hippies – irrelevant because unrealistic – a 16 year old schoolgirl, Greta Thunberg, initiator of the global School Strike for Climate, arrives in the UK Parliament. Without hesitation, she lectures and humiliates the MPs for creative accounting of their emissions reductions. For distracting people from the real dangers. And leaving it up to the school children to sound the alarm. Whatever they promise, she says, no-one will believe any more. For which she gets a standing ovation. 

However cynical our media, they had no choice but to report that the Minister of the Environment, Michael Gove, entirely capitulated – not to Greta’s demands, but to her truth? So even those who defiantly deny climate emergency – see Adam Boulting on Sky News or Richard Madeley on GMT - will now be feeling the ripples of wokeness coming from the very heart of Westminster. 

But will anything change? If Greta is right, we should not expect much movement at speed from the top. What we need now is a strategy for rapid engagement at local levels. Not simply to enable the growing awakening – making sure it goes beyond its current demographic – but to begin to give rise to action too. 

Those who read The Daily Alternative regularly will know this is not a shoutinto the abyss. Like in those Hollywood movies where people get into a panic and yell “somebody DO something!” Instead it is a call to all those who have been preparing for this moment, over many decades, to get their act together. 

That implies not only those working directly on environmental problems, but also those working in democracy development. Unless we give people the power to make decisions about their future in an informed and deliberative fashion, we will continue to be sabotaged by those who profit from their exploitation. In that sense, the two issues are one. 

In concrete terms, different forms of stepping up have to accelerate at the same time:

  1.  We need to create more spaces where citizens of a town or city can come together to discuss their future. These have to be open and plural spaces – not just for the full diversity of a community, but for a wide range of entry points into a shared conversation. There is now a wide range of social technology – from Talking Shops to Thinking Box (at the entry point), to People’s and Citizens Assemblies (at the decision making points).

  2. Solution makers have to collaborate more: not simply to grow successful businesses but to respond directly to the growing demands that woken citizens will place on them. How can XR move decisively from protesting, to being in action for climate change? What are the five things we can and must do, individually and collectively, to bring our own city down to carbon neutral by 2025?

  3. The tech community has to engage qualitatively with both of the above to build the right kind of digital networks. That means not simply remote forms of engagement that require only a yes or no from the citizens, but sites that capture the new relational ways of building community. Loomio, Enspiral, the Common Platform, Campfire Convention, are the five that A/UK are currently designing with.

  4.  Futurists must work better with the creative community to help us imagine a future we can look forward to. So much new tech of all kinds is coming on tap in the next ten years: how can we harness it for our own dreams?

  5. Young people need equipping to take the lead. For more on this, we are currently negotiating with the Kaos Pilots in Denmark to see how they can bring their creative capacity building skills to the UK. 

  6. Citizens with an aptitude for facilitation must step up to become councillors. Preferably with enough fellow local citizens willing to act independently of any national level party to win a majority on their local council. Flatpack Democracy style. That’s the way to a more participative politics.

  7. To focus all of the above, towns and cities who have already declared a Climate Emergency must share their processes with others to make it easier for others to follow. If they already have a full report of how they are going to get to carbon neutral by 2030 – or even 2025 – it will be a huge encouragement.

When enough cities are engaged and networked in this commitment, national level parties will begin to pay attention and support the wave. It’s votes, after all. 

To many, this call to simultaneous action will seem like the impossible dream. But to others it will be a challenge they are ready to commit to – and maybe Extinction Rebellion will be swelling those ranks in the near future. Our sense is that many of the tools, methods and practices are already available. And the task of making them available to the citizens coming together is the aim of the Citizens Action Networks (CANS). For more on all of this, join the CTRLshift event in Stoke 8 – 10 May.

It’s a heady rush of possibility, but the energy and appetite for action is being unleashed steadily: the success of the first wave of Extinction Rebellion is evidence of that. However we cannot rely on any one movement to do the job for the rest of us. Whatever contribution we have to make, we must make it. Knowing that others are acting too. The crisis belongs to all of us: the resolution will too.