A couple of weeks ago, just under 1,000 climate change activists (including 3 intrepid members of Cambridge Carbon Footprint!) met in London at the Climate Rising event to discuss what to do next following the Paris climate change talks. We were welcomed by a rousing speech from Craig Bennett, Chief Executive of Friends of the Earth. The keynote was followed by a couple of panel sessions – one led by John Vidal from The Guardian covering reports from people who had been in Paris, and one led by Caroline Lucas, Green Party MP, on what next for the climate movement. In the afternoon there were a host of workshops discussing specific areas of concern and what actions we could take to address the challenges we all face. And the day ended with a rousing video link with Naomi Klein, author of This Changes Everything – Capitalism v The Climate.
On the whole the day was inspirational, with the recognition that there are large numbers of committed, engaged people working to save the planet, although unfortunately it was short on specific actions that we could bring back to Cambridge. The consensus was that Paris had not achieved nearly as much as everybody had hoped, but that it was a step in the right direction and may help to hold governments to account to some degree. As Craig Bennett pointed out there were some successes, but these were due not to governments (who tried to claim all the credit) but to grass-roots people conducting local campaigns to raise awareness – so people like us at CCF! A key message supporting this view, as espoused by Mark Serwotka, General Secretary of the PCS Union movement, was that there is an urgent need to build a broad coalition of groups able to ‘sell’ potentially unpopular policies, and we should all be thinking about a common agenda to mobilise people with different interests and concerns (our Circular Cambridge initiative came to my mind at this point!).
However, the conference had a more confrontational approach than we tend to adopt at CCF – there was a lot of discussion about the need for “system change “if we are to confront climate change successfully. This has given me cause for reflection in the last two weeks. On the whole I agree with the political messages being espoused – the free market economy that believes in infinite growth based on the exploitation of finite resources is doomed to failure eventually. We need to create a vision of good society that addresses inequality and poverty as well as climate change. However, the radical left-wing stance taken by most speakers, whilst warmly applauded by most in the conference hall, will not engage the vast majority of the population. So we are caught in a Catch 22 situation – the message may be correct but how do we get people to listen?
To that end, I think we at CCF have the approach about right. By focussing on things that people can achieve now, without pushing them too far out of their comfort zone, seems likely to be more successful than out and out scaremongering, which could just make them hide their heads in the sand. However, I do believe we need to be constantly challenging our message and making sure we maintain a cutting edge – the danger is that we play it too safe and the changes we encourage are too little, too late. We do need to continually raise the very real dangers of climate change, both now and in the future, whilst supporting people to make changes that they can sustain.
And we also need to celebrate successes when they happen – Paris did achieve some progress for instance, and the launch of our Circular Cambridge initiative has caused a great deal of local excitement. Things are changing, and as Arundati Roy (quoted by Caroline Lucas) says “Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”