Charging a youth-driven decarboniser revolution

Speaker at the 30 November 2018 school strike in Melbourne

Briefing paper for youth climate strike speakers
Published on How to climate strike

If you are one of the courageous teenagers who’ll be taking the microphone on Friday to inspire hundreds or thousands of your peers about what we need to do now, here’s some strategic advice from Centre for Climate Safety.

There are no requirements for what it takes to be a climate strike speaker. Which is fine, but since climate change is a complex issue, we suggest that there are a few basics which could help create some highly needed clarity on where we should be heading now, collectively, and why.

The core of the matter is: Contrary to the general the conception, at Centre for Climate Safety we don’t recommend focusing on putting demands to politicians. The reason is that this is not the way we’ll be able to create the kind of change which we, the climate and life on this planet need to see. Adult climate campaigners have actually been trying that strategy for over a decade, and sadly with very poor results to show, as our carbon emissions are still rising year by year.

The real strength and potential in the climate striking youth movement lies somewhere else, and this is what this paper aims to explain in a brief and quickly read manner.

The basics. Five things. You’ll need to know:
● what’s working
● what’s stopping us
● what’s missing
● what’s coming
● what’s needed now

What’s working

As a way to create renewed focus on the escalating climate crisis and the dire consequences of governments’ current inaction, Greta Thunberg’s strategy of leaving school is working. It is being noticed and talked about in the adults’ world – especially among parents – and it provides a new momentum for change.

With a federal election coming up in Australia, this provides an opportunity to make climate change a defining issue to who will be elected: it provides an opportunity for a new generation of climate action advocates to step up and kick the old climate delayers out.

Along with this, know that we currently are seeing not just one, but a number of promising decentralised global movements on the rise. They are related and feed into one another. Two of them are grass roots movements growing from bottom up and engaging citizens at ‘street level’, while two other ones are gathering strength within the corridors of politics:

● The Fridays For Future youth movement, lead by Greta Thunberg, 16 years old

● The Extinction Rebellion movement, which started in the United Kingdom, and launches a global campaign in April

● The climate emergency declaration movement, lead by over 380 city councils around the world

● The Green New Deal in American politics, lead by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, 29 years old

And that’s only some of what we’ve got at the moment. There are so many interesting and important NGO-driven movements and campaigns out there – such as the divestment movement, the regenerative agriculture movement, the transition movement, the global covenant of mayors and many, many more. The list is long… so hey, we’ve actually got so much coming our way!

But only if we handle it right.

What’s stopping us

Our public enemy Number One is confusion. Manufacturing confusion about the climate science has been as a deliberate strategic weapon to protect industrial interests and delay any sensible decision making that would get the carbon emissions under control. Media and science could have helped combat this confusion, but they failed.

Understand that this is far from an unusual situation when a threat is looming. Talking about the threat of Hitler’s war-machine in May 1935, the British politician Winston Churchill described the phenomena as he addressed the UK House of Commons:

“Unwillingness to act when action would be simple and effective, lack of clear thinking, confusion of counsel until the emergency comes, until self-preservation strikes its jarring gong—these are the features which constitute the endless repetition of history.”

People have different opinions, and in a democratic sense, our diversity of opinions is a given, and seen as a strength. But when you want to create a movement for radical change, it can also be a weakness. Confronted with urgency and a monster problem as wicked as climate change, the difference of opinions about how to move forward has crippled and paralysed the numerous attempts to create a powerful, global movement for climate action at a level that actually fixed the problem.

What’s missing

Confusion, not the climate, is our worst enemy right now. So what is the best ‘confusion-killer’? Education. What’s missing in our society is clarity. When you understand what climate safety in a zero-carbon society looks like, and how it could work, you are first of all not at all scared of it, because you can see the numerous benefits it will bring to scoeity, and you are also able to see through the lies manufactured by the old, polluting industries, which will tell you that any changes are going to hurt you, or to put us back to the stone age living in caves.

Education is crucial, because we live in a democracy. Democracy means that we all respect that ‘people power’ is our ultimate decision maker. Our so-called political leaders are not leaders, they are followers: they listen to their voters and act on what they think is most important.

Understand that climate change is not an ‘environmental’ problem. Climate change is a ‘people’ problem. What’s missing is public pressure for implementing the solutions and the laws that will protect us against the climate monster. As a youth climate striker, you are currently one of the most successful drivers for ‘people power’.

What this means is that your role is not necesarily to come up with demands that you bring to the politicians. Unless you have the majority of your community behind you, politicians are not going to act on your demands. This is your strength. Your finest role as a youth climate action flagbearer is that you can be that educator who raises the level of collective consciousness and ‘people power’, transforming the way we think, and vote.

Start with your parents. Then your teachers and the principal. Then your councillors and church leaders. Educate, educate, educate!

What’s coming

Importantly, because you understand the science, you know how bad things stand and how close we are now to a climate catastrophe, hence the need to step up and act fast. You understand why this can’t wait til some other decade or some other generation. Winning slowly is the same as losing.

In Churchill’s time, the enemy was an evil madman in Germany who thought it would be a good idea to conquer the world. Today, your enemy is an army of delayers who resist change and refuse to admit that it has been a devasting mistake to allow damaging the environment in the name of “progress” and “development”. It created profits and wealth to the first generations doing it, but it shattered the ecological balance on the planet, and as it now increasingly is becoming clear, it has created a huge bill to be paid by the generations coming after them.

“Global temperatures spiral out of control, ice caps melt, and sea levels continue to rise. Over time, the planet undergoes widespread desertification and suffers mass extinctions. Powerful storms and extreme conditions such as drought and deluge become common characteristics of everyday life, transforming a previously lush planet into a giant nightmare factory…”
~ John Sweeney, The Hill opinion contributor

That is, in brief, the bill your generation rightfully is refusing to accept.

What’s needed now

In summary, what we need now is:

● Synchrocity: We don’t need to all agree, but we need to sync our efforts, timelines and goals

● Collaboration: We can’t all be first-movers. To collaborate, we need openness and sharing, we need consensus-seeking and willingness to support someone else’s idea if it is proving to work better

● Confidence and determination: If you don’t accept an unsafe climate, ecosystem collapse, death and destruction as the future you are heading for, then there is no alternative to a ‘decarbonisation revolution’. When enough individuals make radical low-carbon choices at individual level, they have the power to shock and shake the established habits and to turn around the entire economy and power-base of the old industry leaders and politicians.

● Lead by example: Become carbon-savvy. Know that your carbon footprint is made up of, and where it is most effective to make the first radical changes in your lifestyle. Not because this will “save the planet”, because it won’t, but because it is a way to express how you feel, and it gives you the ability to inspire others not by what you say, but by what you do. How you live. When thousands and hundred of thousands collectively express their feelings, it becomes a game-changer in politics. It creates political change. Always has, always will.

There is no point in waiting for some ‘climate-Churchill’ to step into Parliament and save us all. Also no point in knocking on the politicians’ doors to demand various new policies from them, unless of course on that day when you are confidently speaking with a clear mandate from the majority of society, including that of your own parents – in other words: unless the overall story in society has finally changed.

The problem here is that could be “missing the boat” while waiting for Godot, and while the CO2 levels pass more dangerous tipping points.

This challenge is urgent, and it is bigger than any single government is able to tackle by itself. We now need a ‘climate-Churchill’ in every school, one in every city council and town hall, in every university, business and corporation… We need hundreds of thousands of decarbonisation-leaders at all levels and sectors of society.

So go out there and be that decarbonising climate-Churchill of the youth. Assist the adults around you to take on an entirely new level of commitment and leadership, so that they also become transformative decarbonisers in whatever job they have, and on the home front as well.

Having talked you through all this, there is of course also a very simple way to make sure you get it right in your speech, and that is to listen to Greta. She is such a source of inspiration, because she says things like they are, and with such striking clarity.

As mentioned in the introduction, clarity on where we should be heading now, collectively, and why, is highly needed.

In all simplicity, Greta is absolutely right when she states that, “We cannot solve a crisis without treating it as a crisis. We need to keep the fossil fuels in the ground, and we need to focus on equity.”

When she started out, all alone, half a year ago, she also said:

“Imagine what we could all do together, if we wanted to.”
~ Greta Thunberg, 16, Swedish student

Flashback to August and September 2018:

“If grown-ups don’t give a shit about my future, I won’t either.”
~ Greta Thunberg
“I don’t care if I get into trouble at school. I believe that one person can make a difference.”
~ Greta Thunberg

People power: The time has come to visualise what kind of powers we have to change the world when we all stand together.

“It is hard to decarbonise. But decarbonise we must.” How to climate strike
Briefing paper

See also:

Climate Emergency Declaration news

Recent tweets about the Green New Deal

The Guardian – 4 March 2019:
Adults failed to take climate action. Meet the young activists stepping up
“Some are calling climate change this generation’s civil rights movement. These are the young activists leading the charge”

#ClimateStrike #SchoolStrike4Climate #GlobalSchoolStrike #ClimateStrikeGeelong

One comment

  1. Hi Mik,
    I really enjoyed this briefing paper. I thought it was clear, concise and also really informative! This will be really helpful to many.

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