Saturday 8th September was a day of global action in over 80 countries, to exert pressure on governments to act with urgency to mitigate the effects of climate change. This action, led by Rise for Climate, aims to flip the balance of power between civil society and politicians.
Saturday`s marches in cities all over the world will precede the Global Climate Action Summit opening in San Francisco on 12th September. The Governor of California, Jerry Brown, who is backing the summit, has said “we have to do something, and we can do it.”
In France, Nicolas Hulot, a high-profile ecologist, and Minister for Ecological Transition and Solidarity in the Macron administration, resigned on 28th August. Monsieur Hulot was frustrated that the French government wasn`t making ecology a central political priority. Although President Macron had countered Donald Trump`s intention to withdraw from the 2015 Paris Agreement by announcing his wish to “make our planet great again,” Hulot lamented that politics were not yet a forum for driving policies for combating climate change. Did widespread civil society interest in this combat really exist, he wondered?
Last Saturday, an impressive 100,000 French citizens proved to Hulot that, in France at least, grass roots concern for climate change combat are a dynamic force. A march in Paris, attended by 50,000 people, sensibly relegated politicians to the rear, placing citizens at the front. On the same day, on the opposite side of the planet, a three-master with the Rise for Climate banner sailed into the port of Sydney and birthed opposite the famous Sydney Opera. The concern to combat climate change appeared to be global.
In my home city of Porto, several hundred people turned out to listen to some rather wordy speeches, most of these from politicians. In the last two years, extreme summer and winter temperatures in Portugal, not to mention the imminent threat of off-shore oil exploration in the Algarve, indicate that Portugal is high on the list of states at risk from global warming. Let us hope that Portuguese civil society can galvanize itself into taking the measure of this threat and reacting to it.
Discussion of the precarious condition of our planet is certainly not a new subject. For many, and this is I think entirely understandable, the narrative of climate change has always been uncomfortable to swallow. We have tended to presume that disasters will only occur in distant corners of the planet, and that things won`t start to get really hot until some reasonably distant time in the future, hopefully not during the lives of our children… and certainly not during own lives. Well, here we are! The existential question of this century is facing us now folks: do we wish humanity to survive and do we wish to hand on a sustainable planet to our successors? If the answer is yes, what are we going to do about it?
Politicians tend to work for the short-term, the duration of an administration and the hope of re-election. Don`t let`s waste time blaming them. Grassroots, civil society pressure can bring about change, particularly in the age of social media. A fossil free world, the inclusion of sustainable ecological policies in all political programmes – otherwise these should be considered harmful to the planet and therefore not credible – are attainable goals.
Capitalism is often pitted against ecology in the discussion of how to save the planet. Let`s exert pressure on governments to encourage investment – and yes profit making – in the sectors of renewable energy, biological farming and environmental protection. `Saving the planet` could become an attractive label, and a source of job creation, profit and growth. There may be difficult, even uncomfortable transitions to be negotiated, but we will be building our future.
There are already many ideas being debated. Pressure now needs to be placed on governments to facilitate a flip from discussion to action. Ecological imperatives need to be part of a more forward-looking approach to education, on a pan-European level. One area to start is to educate populations in the need to reduce our consumption of meat and dairy products. Not only because the livestock industry is responsible for even more greenhouse gas emissions than transport, but also because of the dangers of obesity and cancer.
The climate change debate can today no longer be framed in terms of ideology or political parties. This debate is about working together, in communities and internationally, to implement the many practical solutions that human resourcefulness is capable of coming up with. Let`s do it.