With each fresh environmental disaster, another cohort of society realises for the first time the trouble we’re in. Increasingly, they understand that nobody – least of all, the government – is coming to save us. Therefore we’re all responsible for humanity’s path through this deadly crisis.
Extinction Rebellion [XR] has done much to accelerate this awakening; legitimating the language of emergency, driving climate action up the agenda. But the scale of this realisation is not matched by an appetite for XRs tactics; the movements self-declared goal of mobilising 3.5 per cent of the population has not materialised. Nonetheless, a growing legion is newly aware of the crisis facing them.
Those who now understand the extent of the climate crisis want to know what they can do to prevent an imminent horror from unfolding.
Cop26 is firmly on course to fail us, governments may pretend otherwise, but it appears inevitable. If humanity is to escape unmitigated catastrophe, mass climate action is needed to force a course correction.
A mass movement is required to push for transformational, system-level change, and to act directly where needful change is opposed. Its aims may be no less radical than those of XR. But goals cannot be realised by radical tactics alone – the multitude primed to join the movement comprises mainstream elements of society with little interest in radical identity.
XR has shifted what’s considered politically possible. Within the space they have opened up, a mass ‘moderate flank’ can and must form.
In fact, we need a thousand moderate flowers to bloom in the fertile ground prepared by Greta Thunberg and XR. Several young organisations are showing the way, Parents For Future and Lawyers for Net Zero among them. The ‘Goldilocks zone’ they inhabit lies between conventional voting, lobbying and consumer action on one hand, and mass non-violent direct action on the other.
In particular, these pioneers of the new climate movement can highlight the vast resource that is our working life. Workers can create change entrepreneurially – pressing for rapid action from management and, where this is resisted, preparing to strike – a tactic modelled already by our children. If they can do it, surely we can?
Workplace-based action must be designed to limit the emerging spike in destructive economic activity. It can build on unforeseen gifts of the pandemic, such as the shift in perceptions around carbon-heavy commuting.
To make this happen, we must prepare the ground for converts with no prior enthusiasm for activism. Some will hold centrist views or incline towards the right. Many will not resonate with identity politics. That way of doing inclusion is not inclusive to them.
Securing their commitment will require a consciously variegated movement in which they feel welcome. We must consider the planet before polarisation.
The awakening that we seek to manifest is much broader than anything attracting a ‘woke’ label.
The successful climate movement won’t be radical or moderate – it will be both. It’s crucial that moderate flanks don’t call radical flanks out with harshness or negativity – and that radicals don’t characterise moderates with contempt or a sense of anticlimax.
Our great power lies in shared fundamental values. The will to protect what we love in the face of existential threat has to be enough. We don’t need to insist on a left, green or anarchist ideology – there isn’t time. Starting from genuinely common ground, such as the cause we share in parenting the future, is common sense.
Dr Rupert Read is an associate professor at the University of East Anglia, a former spokesperson for Extinction Rebellion, and the author of “Parents for a Future”
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