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Game Changers for the Climate Movement

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AP File

Last week TckTckTck posted a short interview with David Suzuki that was simultaneously inspiring and disturbing, hopeful but cautionary, raising the difficult, unasked question about the climate movement -- is it too late to save our planet, and ultimately ourselves?

I can't do the interview justice by summarizing here, so you must read the interview for yourself and see what reactions it evokes in you. I personally came away thinking about the nature of hope -- the passive kind (scientific predictions could turn out to be wrong) and the active kind (if we just work harder, we can still turn things around).

As an activist, I can't help wonder why it is that despite winning some major battles over the years, we are still losing the war. And what are the potential game changers which could turn the tide?

The news of screenwriter Sidney Lumet's death over the weekend reminded me of one of the best speeches ever made in a movie, the "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!" rant from his 1976 Oscar winning satire Network.

We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat, and we sit watching our TV's while some local newscaster tells us that today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes, as if that's the way it's supposed to be... I don't want you to riot -- I don't want you to write to your congressman because I wouldn't know what to tell you to write. I don't know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street. All I know is that first you've got to get mad... I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell, 'I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!'

The speech has come to symbolize, at least for my generation, the mustering of will to overcome the powerful influence that rich corporations hold over our lives and everything we hold dear. If only the climate challenge were as simple as Network's treatment of one hero's quest to change the television ratings game. (I will avoid drawing the obvious parallel here with Fox News.) But I believe we can change the game, and we're starting to see the emergence of a collective global will to disrupt business as usual, and create a model for a sustainable future for all Earth's inhabitants.

Here's my take on three possible game changers for the climate movement:

1) People power: If a critical mass of people wants change badly enough, anything can happen. Last week's announcement that had merged with 1 Sky to help lead a grassroots movement for climate action sent a wave of excitement through the climate community. Their campaign to expose the dirty money behind the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and build support for progressive businesses, which are ushering in a clean energy economy shows how we can move beyond symbolic actions and start flexing our muscles.

2) Shared visions, joint strategies, diverse approaches: Organizations don't need to formally merge to work more effectively together. The tcktcktck alliance is a great example of organizations breaching traditional silos -- environment, social justice, human rights, health, poverty alleviation, faith, workers rights and so forth -- and campaigning together for climate action. The convergence of constituencies, particularly those not normally known for working together, should make people sit up and take notice. Take for example last week's announcement that medical and military professionals will hold an open strategy meeting on June 20 called "Climate change: How to secure our future wellbeing -- a health and security perspective." There are things we can do collectively as a movement that we can't do as individual organizations.

3) Finding the pressure points: anyone who's ever had a successful acupuncture treatment knows that sticking a tiny needle in just the right place can create surprising reactions in other parts of the body, and that the treatment consists of stimulating a combination of pressure points at the same time. I would argue that the five most important pressure points for successfully treating our climate problems are:
  • achieving a fair, ambitious and binding international climate treaty
  • stimulating divestment in high carbon energy sources
  • promoting investment in renewable technologies
  • changing public discourse about the risks of climate change
  • demonstrating the benefits gained by dealing with climate change now

Last week's climate conference in Bangkok shows that we still have a long way to go to get the international climate treaty we need, but hope springs eternal and we are beginning to see signs of major change to come. One example of a potential disvestment game changer is the new World Bank energy strategy which will be published for public comment in late April. A leaked version suggests that the Bank may be planning a major shift away from coal.

What do you think the potential climate game changers are? Please leave your ideas below. As for getting angry, as much as I loved Network, here's an old saying I like even better: Don't get mad, get even!

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