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Climate activism for the new decade

The fight against global warming has entered a new phase. What strategies will help us halt catastrophe?

Alfons Pérez Samuel Martín-Sosa
9 March 2020
Wiktor Dabkowski/Zuma Press/PA Images

2019 was undoubtedly a year of awakening to the climate emergency. Environmental warnings have intensified. All this information has started to form part of the conversation for a wider public, not just for small groups of nerds or experts. These conversations are part of the change that is happening. In order to make the most out of this inflection point, we need to have a debate on what should be the way forward in climate activism in the coming months and years. Here, we put forward some suggestions for key ways in which we can intensify the climate fight in the coming decade.

Strength in the streets

2019 saw many unprecedented climate protests all over the world, with the numbers in the street growing as the year progressed. Climate change has finally moved the masses to protest. This is a moment we need to seize. We must be clear that the route to profound political change is through increasing public pressure, ideally until resistance cracks. Public pressure delivers: declarations of climate emergency have started to mushroom at various levels of government, from local to national. However, the numbers are far from enough at the moment. Mobilizing larger sections of the population will give legitimacy to our struggle in the eyes of ever-increasing numbers, thus creating a virtuous circle.

Escalation in tactics

Additionally we need other tactics for this new era of emergency. We need to live disobedience experiences as part of our personal journey in ecosocial transformation, and to do so within a strong support network which backs those people who, as a result of their actions, are considered to have broken the law. We need to come up with new forms of disobedience, thinking outside the box and highlighting where guilt truly lies, while remembering the need to keep public sympathy on our side.

Forming greater alliances, broadening our networks

We can also agree that the time for suggesting alternatives is, in a sense, past. Proposals for peasant agriculture, public terrestrial transport, just transition, or decentralised and small scale renewables based on self-consumption projects are already widely known. Now is time to simply act.

At this historic juncture, it seems important to form much stronger alliances and to unify alternative approaches with a common, systemic discourse. We have the task to actively listen to different movements’ demands and keep these in mind at times of action and mobilisation. Union movements, housing rights movements, anti-fascism, the rural world, movements for social justice, racialized people… The climate rebellion must prove itself able to bring together the struggles of all those who, in one way or another, feel themselves to be fighting for climate justice. And it must find a way to communicate the fact that the system which is endangering human life right now is also destroying the possibility of our continued existence on this planet.

Young people, the spearhead of the movement

We are seeing a generational movement which cuts across classes and is therefore something unique. Furthermore, this generation is the first to rebel using distinctly environmental arguments because they want to have a future. Passing on their message and their demands to future generations is a task for everyone, not only the young. For this reason, it is necessary that Fridays for Future is supported by collectives and organisations with good track records in this area. However, these collectives and organisations must ensure that the nature of their support always fully respects the autonomy of the young people concerned.

Linking the systemic struggle to everyday reality

It is necessary to keep the planet-level systemic discussion grounded in the places we live in, in the tangible, the everyday. We need to increase our awareness of how the climate discourse affects certain everyday realities (e.g. the rural world, situations of social marginalisation, the working classes) and advance the debate about how we can link it to these realities. The struggle to defend territory against large development projects is also a climate struggle, and those engaged in this struggle may feel that they too are fighting for climate justice.

Working intersectionally

The feminist movement, which taught us that strikes are not only about economic production, shows us the way to take a nuanced perspective which recognises differences and privileges relating to gender, ethnicity, class, sexual orientation, age, disability, etc. In the same way, indigenous and native populations are living examples of non-capitalist societies where respect and care for nature still inform their vision of the world, despite more than 500 years of colonisation. Constructing a future of genuine social and climate justice therefore requires us to bring together a variety of perspectives in our proposals.

Emotional health and collective conscience when facing the emergency

We must also prepare ourselves psychologically (both individually and collectively), for the times to come. Phenomena such as “ecoanxiety” are becoming more and more common and we need strategies to deal with the feelings of impotence, anger, rage, fear, anguish and pain which are generated by the socioecological crisis. We need to move beyond the dichotomy of triumph and failure in order to carry on building the movement together even when times are tough.

The environmentalism of this new decade must be able to face all challenges, create new forms of hegemony and project itself into the future with a positive vision which, despite the gravity of the situation, allows each one of us to contribute to the very best of our abilities.

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