the Disillusioned kid: Acting Up
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Monday, September 06, 2004

Acting Up

Timx of Time the Dreaded Enemy fame has set-up a new blog focusing on global warming. A worthy effort given the likely very serious consequences of the phenomenon over the coming years and decades. In his latest post, he comments,
I cannot believe it is beyond the wit of economists, geologists, biologists, chemists, climatologists and all the rest of the highly skilled people out there to come up with some solutions which would, in the end, be much cheaper, both in money and in human lives.
While I very much hope that he is right, I fear that even if he is, this will not solve the problem alone. The problems of global warming are a consequence of social constructed processes, dealing with the problem implies changes in these processes which in turn implies activism, something I have some experience with.

It seems to me, that there are, broadly speaking, three pillars to activism: Information, vision and action. These are rather like the three factors of the fire triangle which must be present in order for there to be a fire. Social change requires that you have all three pillars. Take one pillar away and the whole enterprise comes crashing down. Of course the mere presence of the three factors of the fire triangle does not guarantee a fire, they are merely prerequisites. The same is true of the three pillars. Just because they are all there doesn't guarantee change. (Apologies for the confused metaphors, hopefully the ideas don't get lost in the mess.)

The information pillar deals with both individual and collective knowledge. It is vital that activist (whatever they're campaigning on) understand the issues/problems/science/background etc. In the context of global warming this means understanding, on at least some level, the science behind the problem, what's causing it and the likely consequences. Possessing this information, however, is only the first step. We should also seek to raise awareness of the problem in wider society. This can be achieved through a variety of methods (leaflets, talks, discussions with friends/colleagues, blogging etc.) and diversity is key to reaching as many people as possible.

Having developed an understanding of the problems we turn next to the question of a vision of how to surmount them. There may be cases where vision precedes information (for instance, if you conceive of a utopian society you could argued its flaws flowed from its differences to your imagined society), but this is likely to be rare. It is the question of vision to which timx's quote above applies and developing a solution to global warming will indeed require input from experts in a range of fields. That said we already have a good idea about many of the steps needed to deal with global warming: increasing energy efficiency, reducing car usage, expanding sustainable energy production etc.

Having developed a vision of what needs to be done, we then turn to implementing those proposals. Doing this raises questions about what tactics we employ. This is probably likely to be the source of the greatest controversy amongst those campaigning on an issue. I speak from experience on how heated such debates can become. In the context of global warming there are a wealth of targets for action including legislators, corporate executives and the general public. We should seek both to achieve major victories (changes in the laws regarding fuel efficiency, getting companies to invest in renewables etc.) and personal lifestyle changes (encouraging individuals to use public transport more etc.). The latter is probably less important, but if we can encourage enough people to make changes it will begin to have a major effect.

In campaigning on global warming, we must be aware of the powerful vested interests lined up against us. Oil companies and car manufacturers concerned about their profit margins, for instance. These groups have powerful contacts, extensive political influence influence, massive amounts of money and will fight tooth and nail to prevent changes which will have a detrimental effect on them. One only need to look at the Kyoto Protocol for evidence of the power of these groups. Not only did they ensure that the agreement entailed only a fraction of the cuts in greenhouse emission necessary (we need cuts of 60-80% if we are serious about having an impact on the problem, Kyoto sought only cuts in the order of 5-10%), but also that both the US and Russia withdrew from the agreement entirely, thus making it almost pointless. This is not an argument that we should do nothing, rather that we should be aware of what we are up against. The fight will be long and hard, but the consequences if we fail are grim.

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