In an age of “blah, blah, blah”, what should climate activism look like?


GLASGOW – On Friday, November 5, in Glasgow’s George Square, a statue of James Watt, the engineer who helped spark the industrial revolution, gazed thoughtfully down from its plinth. Below are thousands of young climate protesters, outraged by the unforeseen consequences of the fossil fuel era.

The crowd was led by activists from the indigenous and Global South territories, adorned with feathers, beads and colorful traditional clothing. They were followed by inflatable dinosaurs and polar bears, along with protesters with a sea of ​​posters: “The wrong Amazon is burning” and “System change, not climate change,” they read. One gray-haired woman carried a Recycled Teenager sign.

And while their global protest strategy is active, the message that the climate protests have unleashed on the world is extremely serious. “This is no longer a climate conference” – Fridays for the future founder Greta Thunberg warned from the protest stage about the ongoing Cop26 summit. “Now it is the Global North Green Water Festival; a two-week celebration of business as usual and blah blah blah.

Anger is not surprising. While progress has been made on paper at this year’s conference (new national emission reduction commitments now offer a 50 percent chance of keeping warming below 1.8 ° C, according to one analysis), scientists caution now the probability of exceeding the dangerous 2 ° C rise is one in two. Ensuring that rewarming remains within the safer 1.5 ° C is still not achievable.

[See also: Why the world is still on course for climate catastrophe]

However, it is not easy for world leaders to hear such direct criticism, and the rejection of the process by policemen by protesters this weekend. annoyed many inside conference rooms.

“This is the first police officer I’ve been to, where delegates are more afraid of children than the press,” reflected journalist Tom Friedman. While for the environment of Rwanda the minister, protesters “only complain about complaints.”

There is weight in the delegates’ defense of the status quo. While the UN negotiations are imperfect, they are also the only system that exists for orchestrating a global response to the climate crisis, leading some to wonder how far outrage can go without undermining the forces of the movement.

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“Beware of the slippery slope from cynicism to nihilism” tweeted Michael E. Mann after Friday march. “It leads to the same result as denial: inaction.”

“I know there is a lot of frustration, a lot of anger,” said Victoria Alice, a young biologist from the Seychelles. New statesman… “But we need to stay united.”

So how can activism better connect the worlds of formal and informal climate action? At this year’s summit, there have been many attempts to provide an answer.

Nisrin Elseim, 26, is chair of the UN Secretary General’s Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change and Chair of the Sudanese Youth Organization on Climate Change. She believes the protesters should diversify their focus. “Constant participation in protests will not help anyone. Protest, but plant trees at the same time, build the potential of the young people around you, raise public awareness. It should be a complete package. “

New structures are also being formed to help build better links. Susan Nakyeon Lee, 20, is the coordinator of the new Assembly of World Citizens An initiative that brings together 100 volunteers from different countries and professions to create a “People’s Declaration” for the planet. “Gathering is a way to respond to the feelings of anger and betrayal that many of us on the street have experienced over the past few years,” Lee explained.

Meetings like this are already becoming more active in national climate movements. In 2020, calls for wider democracy led to the creation of the Climate Assembly UK. In France, President Emmanuel Macron established a citizens’ convention to recommend his climate bill.

In a world of outright protest, some, such as former Extinction Rebellion spokesman Rupert Reed of the University of East Anglia, now advocate “massive, varied, moderate flank»Activity. (Rather than using exclusively destructive actions like those recently taken Isolate Britain.)

However, for the most part, the mood of the activists at the summit echoed the radical tone of Thunberg’s words.

“Greta is absolutely right: we are entering these climate negotiations at a very critical juncture, we are on the brink of disaster,” warned Asad Rehman, Co-Director of the Cop26 Coalition, which organized Saturday’s demonstration and brings together British groups campaigning for climate change. “The millions of people who take to the streets calling for climate justice must be even stronger and more influential. At these climate summits, our voices must be heard, not big business. “

Engaging youth in climate negotiations too often gets stuck at the “symbolism” level, Elsheim says. And while climate assemblies help to strengthen dialogue among citizens in general, the little progress made to date suggests that they are not enough on their own. “There has to be a widening gap in the status quo for the truth of this issue to penetrate the hearts and minds of the people again and again,” says George Barda, co-founder of Britain’s Extinction Rebellion.

The need for continued protest and criticism has also been most pronounced this weekend by those at the forefront of the fight against climate change. “How much more [Cop events] do they have to hold on before they realize that their inaction is destroying the planet? Vanessa Nakate asked in a speech in Glasgow on November 5th. She is from Kampala Ugandawhich has one of the fastest changing climates in the world. “People are dying, children are dropping out of school. We are in crisis; we are in a catastrophe that happens every day. ”

The passionate speeches of the indigenous youth of the Amazon from Ecuador and Brazil convinced us of this. 19-year-old Helena Gualinga and others commemorated the deaths of hundreds of slain earth defenders. “The kids behind me shouldn’t be doing this in 20 years.”

[See also: Why Uganda’s story shows the need to put social justice at the heart of Cop26]

And while the progress made in Glasgow is encouraging, it will not necessarily change the lives of people on the ground. especially in the Global South… Last week, governments pledged $ 1.7 billion to help indigenous and local communities protect forests, but Ninawa Chief Inu Huni Kui, president of the Huni Cui Peoples Federation of the Brazilian Amazon, said New statesman that only preventing further land grabbing and oil production can provide long-awaited security.

In the face of all this, climate protesters are moving beyond their traditional networks to make an inclusive call for climate justice. Over the weekend of November 6-7, groups representing trade unions, Black Lives Matter and Indian farmers took up the fight against climate activists. Meanwhile, across the UK, many passionate groups are spearheading change: Stop Cambo a campaign to bring the government to court for oil production in the North Sea, to Green new deal risingsupporting a new generation of climate leaders.

In doing so, they run the risk of fueling discord, but also make sure that resentment continues to mingle with inspiration. “We’re tired of blah blah blah,” said Nina Sostinki, a youth climate activist from Argentina, “but I’m glad to be here with you, thinking that the same activism I’m developing in my country is you. develops in yours. “


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