I finally caught up last night with the Great Debate at the Sustainable Living Festival that I missed when it was on in February. It was broadcast on the ABC’s Big Ideas program on 15 March.
It was a really stimulating series of talks from six incredibly insightful people – Ian Lowe, Anna Rose, Clive Hamilton, Christine Milne, Philip Sutton and David Suzuki.
I strongly recommend you have a listen to their talks in full if like me you missed it at the time. But in the meantime, if you want a quick catch up, have a read of my summary of their talks below. I reckon it’s a really good checklist of the challenges the environment movement are currently facing, and what we need to be focused on now.
- Things were really bad 30 years ago
- Problems a reflection of our culture that privileges growth and economic development
- Have to articulate a vision of a future sustainable society
- Optimistic because of spreading awareness that we have fundamental problems
- Need an energy revolution. Even world economic forum admits our economic system isn’t sustainable
- Big problems of appalling poverty in developing world and increasing consumption in developed world
- Good news is that we can live at same standard of living with a quarter of energy consumption
- Acknowledge work of Greens in restoring solar flagships program
- Future has to be something we create
- Currently on the titanic. Need to replace people on bridge with those who will listen. No longer put up with increasing carbon emissions
Anna Rose, AYCC
- Need a price on carbon – not winning what we need to win
- We don’t understand power. Haven’t built power, or use what we have effectively enough
- Too easy for politicians to keep on with the status quo- need to make it hard for them
- Need to build power in communities before we exercise it in Canberra
- Two examples to learn from:
- Obama’s presidential campaign
- Rapid growth of mega churches
- Speak to values of ordinary people
- Teach people how to recruit and retain others
- Env movement hasn’t built power since franklin in 1983
- Exception is Greens – built parliamentary power
- Example - Montreal tuition fee campaigns – 100 000 on streets, shut down city & state
- Running out of time
- Don’t give up hope
- Four suggestions
- Re-engage ppl at centre of env movement, build power bases in community. Big ngo’s need to be doing something interesting not just asking for money – currently presenting as a charity that wants your money, not a movement that gives you powerAYCC has mass grassroot presence in schools, unis2000 active volunteers, 57K members
- Re-engage young people and young volunteers
- Use online tools effectively to translate online organising into offline power
- Communicate values and empathy not policies – climate change not an env issue, about our future, about our values. Empathy at core of progressive politics and environmentalism
- Dig deeper to make sure environmentalism doesn’t fail
- Whether or not environmentalism fails or succeeds is up to you
- 3rd may 2009 – Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme split env movement – southern cross climate coalition agreed to support govt scheme
- Three reasons why
- Some environmentalists don’t believe in their hearts that things could be as bad as science says
- Spread of incrementalism – political radicalism pushed to fringes. Belief that incremental change is only path
- Professionalisation of environmental activism to related to professional political class, become insiders, attention focused on powerful political players and journalists, subject to pressures from the political class – they become players. Greenpeace, FOE and other groups didn’t succumb. New grassroots groups have sprung up
- Greens – most implacably opposed to cprs, genuine radicalism separates them from incrementalism and opportunism of some in env movement – barrage of attacks because they won’t play the game. Biggest attacks by those that have the most to lose. Conservatives see environmentalism as the big threat it is.
- Much of env movement has no understanding of the forces they are arranged against
- Need new env radicalism – built firmly on full understanding, seek to defeat big carbon. Made up of people willing to put their bodies on the line – no one achieved radical social change by being respectable
- Climate change impacting indigenous communities. Places in Australia will become unliveable – will be areas where large indig populations
- As a concept environmentalism has been spectacularly successful, including people who say “I’m not a greenie, but..”
- Failed to capitalise on numbers of people who are now supportive
- power of vested interests, but it’s always been so
- Media – get a lot more coverage now
- Courage – still lack of courage, people don’t want to be compromised by standing up against the current status quo
- Three things that make it more difficult
- Lost public service – now ministerial service
- Lost public academic – used to give us 3rd party academic support – because on contracts and contracts won’t be renewed if they speak out. They are fearful of retribution – tragedy
- Nature of campaigning different – Campaigning on systemic change is very hard. Easier to campaign on icons – eg forest, great barrier reef
- But other things have made it easier
- Have communications revolution
- Access to information
- What hasn’t changed
- Democratic processes.Key vulnerability of pollies is whether they will win or lose their seats. Need to build the pressure to change the vote – they have to believe that they will lose their seat. Need mass public campaigning, need hundreds of thousands of people on the streets saying they will change their votes. Went wrong when env movement went off the streets into the back rooms. Lot more impact being outside their office and on youtube. Needs to create the political pressure outside the parliament. How can I negotiate a deal when I am seen as the hardliner. I want to be the marshmallow!
- Need to campaign on values, emotion. Other side use fears, scapegoating
- Back to politics 101 – tell them you will vote for the ppl who will deliver the outcome in a multi party system
- “Most people lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” (Thoreau) – go out there and sing the song
- Environmentalism is a social movement – it’s people taking action
- Big & difficult challenge. Too hot already.
- Anderson & Bows paper- the world heading for 4 deg warming before end of the century
- Only 10% of the world population would survive 4 degree warming
- Yet capping warming to only a 2 deg rise is beyond politic feasibility
- Have to make changes that are beyond political feasibility
- Bigger groups not prepared to risk their credibility to strike out into the unknown
- Political progress slower than glaciers
- Movement trapped in strategies that simply can’t deliver
- But two positive developments
- Nature has come to our aid – extreme weather events waking people up
- If we act at emergency speed it is still possible to prevent the bulk of predicted change – but it has to be done now.
- Need to be cooling the planet from now. Too much ghg in atmosphere – so no more! No halfway house of going through a low emissions economy. Too much co2 in air now, – so need to take it out – will take 50-100 years
- Will need to reflect a small proportion of incoming solar radiation while we naturally rebuild a safe climate
- There is hope:
- People don’t want to perish
- People will be invigorated when they see a safe climate is possible
- Leading to a sustainability renaissance
- Lots of new groups driving the change. But these new organisations will not be able to do the whole job Going to have to engage the rest of the movement. Need leadership from groups that claim to be the leaders of the movement
- New book - The Legacy – an elders vision of a sustainable future
- New film Force of Nature
- In Canada its very hard to argue that climate change is something you don’t want! 20 deg below zero when I left home!
- Rachel Carson’s book precipitated the movement – UNEP 10 years later
- Green party with spectacular success in Australia
- Env movement hasn’t failed but issues have grown so rapidly & urgently we need to shift course
- Focussed on symptoms of our destructiveness – not looking at why are we so destructive. Failed to take public to next level of understanding. Brundtland commission report ‘Our Common Future’ wan’t radical enough - accepted 5 fold increase in economic growth, set only a 12% target for reserves – humans therefore have 88%, so anthropocentric – when we argue from human centred point of view we going to see cataclysmic failures when trying to justify our arguments in the concepts of our economic systems. Endless growth is impossible in a finite world. Much of modern science is reductionist, forget that each bit is part of much bigger context. Much of our campaigns are also reductionist.
- Success of greens is a symptom of our failure – want to see Greens blasted out of existence because the Green agenda is everyone’s agenda.
- Corporations have co-opted language & techniques of the movement. Corporations exist to make money, will lie cheat & steal to maximise profit, yet they dominate our thinking, infiltrate government, convinced governments to let the markets do their thing.
- Read ‘Merchants of Doubt’ if you haven’t - hundreds of millions $$ being spent to fight against us. Criminal activity of fossil fuel industry in the name of profit.
- Politicians ignoring climate change are criminally negligent. Mistake is that we think of ourselves as environmentalists as something separate– should be a way of seeing ourselves in the world. Environmental perspective needs to be intrinsic, the way that we no longer have to tell people not to spit in public.
- Foundation –focusing on resourcing that will enable ‘motivating the motivated to motivate’.