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Tuesday, Jan 21, 2020
Home / Analysis / The issue with the current climate movement

The issue with the current climate movement

While the present climate activism movement has certainly helped the cause in terms of raising awareness, it spells out little in terms of meaningful action.

analysis Updated: Dec 07, 2019 19:52 IST
Gurmehr Marwah
Gurmehr Marwah
A protester holds a poster during a climate rally in New York.
A protester holds a poster during a climate rally in New York.(AP Photo)
         

Climate change is the greatest threat faced by the world in history, according to a 26-country survey released by the Pew Research Center. The United Nations has called climate change as the “defining issue of our time” and we at its defining moment. Awareness and support for climate action has risen rapidly in the recent years, especially amongst the youth. As a passionate environmentalist, it is heartening to see so many fellow young people care about the planet. It is a source of pride to know that there are so many like-minded individuals standing up for the planet and for our own future. Fighting climate change is a mammoth task and we need all hands-on deck if we are to have a real shot.

This has been a momentous year for climate activism with millions of people protesting for climate action all over the world. On September 20, over four million protesters gathered in more than 150 countries making it the largest climate strikes in world history. Crowds full of children, youth and even older people have come out and participated in these strikes happening throughout the year. I was among the thousands of people who joined the protests in London this year. However, the question that continues to trouble me since I participated in the strikes was, what are we striking for? Climate action by the governments, yes, but what climate action?

While the present climate activism movement has certainly helped the cause in terms of raising awareness, it spells out little in terms of meaningful action. And this is where the issue with present climate activism lies. Millions of people striking for a cause without defining what outcomes they expect. This is partially the reason why it is easy for anyone to applaud and be a supporter of the movement. After all, the movement is asking for some undefined “climate action” which does not require anyone (even the governments that they are protesting to) to do anything tangible. Even asking the governments to declare a state of climate emergency seems a little meaningless, because there are no set actions a government needs to take to accompany that declaration. So, you can continue with business as usual, while publicly being in a state of climate emergency accompanied by a loosely defined “action plan”. Another issue with the movement in its present form is that it doesn’t hold companies or developed countries proportionately accountable. Is it only governments that need to take said “climate action”? What about the companies and developed nations who are historically responsible for greenhouse emissions? Why are developing nations expected by the youth of the world to share equal burden of a problem which has been primarily created by some developed nations? Does climate action not include the principles of common but differentiated responsibility and climate justice?

Striking for climate action is a great first step in the right direction. However, in its present form, it will give the perpetrators of climate change and greenhouse gas emissions the to support the movement without making tangible changes towards sustainability. While striking for our future is a thought-provoking sentiment, without the necessary direction it will not be enough to bring about the changes we all envision. The climate movement in each city, state or country needs to define what steps they would like to see their governments and the private sector take in different areas such as transport, energy, waste management, urban development and ecosystem management, and protest specifically in demand of their fulfilment. Further, there should also be a way for citizens to pledge individual actions, however small, in support of the movement. This would highlight the commitment of the supporters and ensure that climate consciousness becomes a part of people’s everyday lives instead of being just a once a week ‘event’. This is the only way forward for the currently directionless climate movement.

(Gurmehr has recently completed her Master’s degree in Environmental Conservation with distinction from University College London.)

(Disclaimer: The views expressed here are the author’s own and do not reflect the views of HT Media)