Although there are some encouraging aspects about the COP26 agreement, such as some nations recognising the need to phase out fossil fuels and a greater understanding of climate justice and of nature-based solutions, most are judging it as falling short, or woefully inadequate.
The final text expresses hope to work towards heating of 1.5C but national plans taken together still put the planet on track for 2.4C of heating. Scientists have demanded 45% cuts by 2030, but the current agreement at COP26 will deliver an increase in emissions of 13.7%.
These Nationally Determined Contributions are only promises, that can be fudged, outsourced and delayed, and the hope rests on countries meeting again next year and annually (the ‘yearly ratchet’). The projections the agreement is based upon don’t fully account for the intersecting impacts of climate change and ecocide that are already starting to rapidly destabilise the planet’s operating systems. Also, the agreement doesn’t provide enough for reparations – finance for loss and damage.
So, what now? You don’t have a choice to escape a degraded future. You do have a choice to put in time and effort to reduce the harm for those you most care about and every species and community on Earth. This effort isn’t just about reducing emissions and keeping fossil fuels in the ground, although this is absolutely vital. It is also about supporting aid and justice for those most affected, reducing conflict and illness, and ending extreme inequalities. It is also about protecting and restoring the natural world.
“The end of fossil fuels will not, by itself, prevent the extinction crisis, the deforestation crisis, the soils crisis, the freshwater crisis, the consumption crisis, the waste crisis; the crisis of smashing and grabbing, accumulating and discarding that will destroy our prospects and much of the rest of life on Earth…Our survival depends on raising the scale of civil disobedience until we build the greatest mass movement in history, mobilising the 25% who can flip the system. We do not consent to the destruction of life on Earth.” George Monbiot (After the failure of COP26 there’s only one last hope for our survival)
“It’s the end of the age of fossil fuel, but if the fossil-fuel corporations have their way the ending will be delayed as long as possible, with as much carbon burned as possible. If the rest of us prevail, we will radically reduce our use of those fuels by 2030, and almost entirely by 2050. We will meet climate change with real change, and defeat the fossil-fuel industry in the next nine years.” Rebecca Solnit (Ten ways to confront the climate crisis without losing hope)
“Yes, civil society speaking truth to power is important, but we must also simultaneously cultivate greater wisdom in governments and accelerate thriveable innovation and transformation in business and finance.” Robin Lincoln Wood (Joining up the dots post COP26)
The following offers some pathways for ramping up your own action.
If you are within the Cultural sector, you might want to pursue some of these pathways for your practice or organisation, in our Culture Takes Action framework.
FIRST, READ UP ON THE LATEST SCIENCE
Read this 5 minute summary of the IPCC Sixth Assessment report on the physical aspects of climate change.
In the run up to and during COP26 there have been some significant statements from scientists, or reports released about the severity of the situation.
Met Office Hadley Centre reports on extreme heat impacts: A billion people will be affected by extreme heat stress if the climate crisis raises the global temperature by just 2C. See their research here.
Scientists said that the world is on track for disastrous levels of global heating far in excess of limits in the Paris agreement. Temperature rises will top 2.4C by the end of this century, based on the current pledges.
Find out about the nature-based solutions too. The deforestation pledge got ‘positive news’ attention. But there is scepticism about whether it will work. e.g. the Congo Basin.
TAKE ALL THE ACTIONS YOU CAN THAT ARE EASILY WITHIN YOUR CONTROL
There are countless guides to the actions you can take in your own lives to tackle the Earth crisis. The actions that are most recommended include:
- Reduce or stop eating meat, especially beef, and eat more plants (see this post on ‘what vegans like to eat’ to inspire you)
- Reduce your use of polluting transport, particularly of flying, especially long haul, but also short haul when there is a train
- Use a green energy supplier and reduce your use of energy e.g. through insulation, smart meters and more efficient devices
These kinds of personal household actions will demonstrate change, start to build critical mass, and also have other benefits that include wellbeing and cost-saving. However, such actions aren’t the main point of this post. Read on for more.
start talking – with everyone, and in deeper ways
Start talking about the crisis with anyone you can, and if you are a professional communicator or educator, make every effort to weave it into your work.
Sian Conway-Wood has shared some tips on how to communicate (after the disappointment of COP26). She suggests focusing on local solutions and “Instead of focusing on what people (politicians!) Aren’t doing, normalize climate friendly behaviour by sharing what people ARE doing, so others want to join in.”
Liz Postlethwaite suggests “honest conversations about what mitigation and adaptation needs to look like.”
The deepest and most effective conversations involve imagining less harmful ways to live and work. One of our aims is to enable people to expand their imaginations and to practice dreaming of and sharing visions of a regenerative future, while acknowledging the trouble that we’re in (‘staying with the trouble’). This is our Possitopian principle.
To get involved in this kind of visioning, you could join a Transition Towns group, or form one with the help of the Transition Network.
And here are some resources for exploring future scenarios with groups, from the Culture & Climate Change project.
Citizen action at community level
Get involved in your local council’s work on climate action. Ask them to declare emergency, and if they have, support their emergency response. See Carbon Copy for many project ideas.
Start a community agriculture scheme that allows you to grow food more locally, sell it into local markets for fair prices or distribute it freely to those in need, and share space and resources to make it more affordable and manageable. Food could be grown in small plots and private gardens but shared between a community. Or, you can support (and benefit from) a food co-op if you don’t have time for direct organising and growing.
Form a renewable energy co-operative, like Stokey Energy, to work for more renewable infrastructure and supply in civic buildings and new developments. Or, use this toolkit to help advocate to others the need and routes to a Great Homes Upgrade.
Join or support a political party or lobbying campaign and get active. It doesn’t matter what political party you join, as planet-friendly change can and should come from every party. Use Votes for Policies to find out which ones are strongest on the environment that fit your values.
Campaign for more democratic representation. The UK has one of the least democratic systems in Europe, so that powerful lobbies can easily capture power.
Find out about participatory democracy and organise ways for local citizens to be more involved in decision-making – whether about new developments, housing, equalities, refugee support policies, health, education, culture, green spaces or transport. All these areas can involve decisions that are more planet-friendly, or resilient to climate impacts.
Work for more inclusion in democratic and civic processes that tackle the Earth crisis, for example, actively supporting indigenous people and people from Most Affected Areas to participate in future COPs and related events. Read here about the exclusions at COP26.
Take legal action
Potentially all the children and young people, indigenous and displaced people, and other affected people in the world could sue governments and companies on grounds of violation of their rights. There is everything to play for in challenging these powers on the question – who bears the culpability for climate change and liability for its costs and consequences? Could you form a group and get support of a pro bono lawyer to make a case?
It is possible. In 2015, the Urgenda Foundation won the world’s first legal case in which citizens established that their government has a legal duty to prevent dangerous climate change.
Take direct action
“Protest is like begging the powers that be to dig a well. Direct action is digging the well and daring them to stop you.” David Graeber
See the Global Nonviolent Action Database for lots of information about what direct action is and what you can do. It includes lots of examples of past actions.
Focus direct activism on the worst, most polluting projects, such as coal mines or oil pipelines, or rainforest destruction, and support campaigns both local and global. Work on the systems underpinning extraction and pollution, such as Government subsidies for fossil fuel companies.
Look at the systems that are causing most overall ecological and social harm, in terms of climate emissions, ill health, human and animal exploitation, pollution and ecosystem destruction. The food system is probably the most multiply harmful. (See this piece on why farming wasn’t covered at COP26.)
Join a group that suits your values and that offers enough chance for you to get actively involved locally or in your area of expertise. See Extinction Rebellion and all of its particular campaign groups, local Greenpeace groups, Friends of the Earth local groups, or the Climate Coalition. For younger people, join Fridays for Future (youth strikes) or the UK Student Climate Network.
You don’t have to be on the streets or scaling oil tankers. You can do a huge amount from home and using digital tools. Don’t be afraid of accusations of ‘clicktivism’ and hypocrisy. Look at ways you can take your online activism further e.g. by volunteering, donating or creatively using data (such as this Eco-bot.net that scours the media to flag up greenwashing and misinformation.)
Get involved in strategic direction of climate & green movements: work to include those who are marginalised or disengaged; build horizontal but efficient structures; get funds and support from planet-friendly businesses, charities and individuals; explore new levers to pull such as legal challenges or alliances with unions; targeting governments to radically ramp up their Nationally Determined Contributions.
Creating power and space in the workplace
Join or create networked groups across industries, and set up climate action pressure groups to lobby for change in your sector.
Most organisations already have Green teams – join them, link with other green teams in similar organisations through digital networking. Learn the language and the arguments to challenge net-zero talk and infinite growth models, and to push for more sustained or mission-challenging action. It doesn’t matter where you are in the hierarchy at work, you leverage space and power in your organisation by just speaking up knowledgeably.
If you’re involved in coaching or organisational development, seek out the Climate Conscious Coach, Nine Domains Model, Critical Coaching, and the Philosopher’s Stone Collective. Make use of the long-established and powerful concepts and processes in Joanna Macy’s The Work That Reconnects.
Get involved in a union, and ask your fellow members to consider how environmental issues such as adapting to climate impacts might need to influence your campaigns.
take financial action
“There’s going to be ever more attention on the financial industry, in part because it’s crucial to the fossil fuel machine, in part because it’s located in places like New York and London, where protest of all kinds can still be carried out.” Bill McKibben (It’s a fairytale that world governments will fix the climate crisis. It’s up to us)
End the financial power of fossil fuels: Get involved in 350.org or Money Rebellion to use creative tactics to stop British banks from funding the fossil fuel companies that are fuelling the climate crisis
If you have any savings or loans, move to ethical planet-friendly services such as Triodos.
If you have spare resources to invest, perhaps the best route is to buy land, either alone or in co-operatives, so that you can restore wild nature and/or produce local food or build sustainable housing.
Appeal to the risk averse nature of the financial industries: insurers are extremely concerned about risks of the environmental emergency, but their systems are still propping up its causes.
Spread the word that the cost of climate action globally is only 10% of the amount being invested to recover from COVID-19, and it will save money as it will reduce the costs of extreme weather, of adaptation, insurance and reparations.
Work to tackle inequality
There are many major tasks to tackle the causes and impacts of the Earth crisis, and not all are about the most direct or visible ways of reducing emissions. One way is to tackle extreme wealth inequality – which you can do through unions, political parties or anti-poverty charities. The most explicit action is to campaign for a wealth tax.
George Monbiot explains here how “the very rich arrogate to themselves the lion’s share of the planetary space on which we all depend”, that the richest 1% produce 15% of the world’s carbon emissions.
Ambitious direct aid
Form or join an emergency response team – volunteering to prevent and respond to flood or forest fires, or other impacts of extreme weather such as helping animals in distress
Work to support refugees in need, for example supporting a local group that can house and welcome refugees. Can your area be a City or Borough of Sanctuary?
Support mutual aid projects that are tackling food insecurity and hunger – and explore ways to make their work more ecologically sustainable (e.g. with a community garden).
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