By Mark Campbell, GreenGreenGreen Editor
This year – 2024 – is the most important ever for the future of life on Earth. Next year might be too late. The reason? Across the world, there will be political elections in at least 64 countries, plus the European Union. That’s about half the world’s population making crucial decisions that will affect our lives, forever.
To combat the climate crisis and biodiversity crisis, we need politicians in charge who will play their part in reversing human-inflicted damage. Now. Not by 2050. Not by 2030. Now.
Only by acting now will we have any chance of reducing global warming to less devastating levels. If carbon dioxide emissions remain at current levels (about 40 gigatonnes per year), the carbon budget could be exhausted by 2029, say latest forecasts, and that will commit the world to warming of 1.5°C above preindustrial levels. No turning back.
And 1.5 degrees would spell disaster. Critical tipping points would be breached, triggering irreversible consequences, including:
- Ocean waters would be warmer, leading to melting ice sheets, devastating floods in coastal areas, and an increase in the number of strong hurricanes.
- Between 75-90% of coral reefs will die worldwide.
- Droughts would last longer.
- Wildfires would become more intense.
- All this would lead to parts of the world becoming uninhabitable, causing mass migrations; not to mention a scarcity of water in some areas, likely leading to new conflicts.
All of this within just six years from now.
So given the term of a political leader is usually at least four years, now is the most important moment in our lifetime to take action.
So what do we do? Take to the streets with more protesting? I’d say it’s far too late for that.
We need to take more meaningful action, using the vast majority of people who are now onside with reality about the existential dangers facing life on earth.
So it’s time for climate activists like Extinction Rebellion and Just Stop Oil to refocus their efforts, and follow in the footsteps of Greenpeace with their Project Climate Vote. This is more important than anything they’ve protested about before.
Civil Resistance Won’t Work
This might seem a negative, defeatist headline, but I’m afraid the facts of the matter speak for themselves, despite what many like to believe.
There have not been many climate wins, certainly meaningful ones, gained through protests, marches or holding up traffic with slow walks.
Targeted protests can certainly work in making a company – Barclays Bank, for example – to rethink their priorities and strategies. But the new breed of political leaders have not shown any intention to listen to climate and nature protestors. They simply don’t care what the protestors are saying, and they think it’s a sign of weakness to give in.
Activists point to the distant past as evidence that such actions CAN work. The Just Stop Oil website reads: “This is how civil resistance works: applying nonviolent pressure until we force change to happen. It’s how the Freedom Riders forced an end to segregated buses in 1961. It’s how Martin Luther King won civil rights in Birmingham Alabama in 1963.”
When your tactics are based on results earned more than 70 years ago, that’s not a reliable plan.
Even when employing comedians to translate the words of scientists, as the excellent Climate Science Breakthrough has been doing recently, funnywoman Jo Brand says sarcastically: “Protesting doesn’t work. Except for the suffragettes… and civil rights… and gay rights.”
Human rights always enjoy a greater degree of success in protest, but the suffragettes made a breakthrough 120 years ago – hardly a modern day example to be inspired by.
We Don’t Need More Martyrs
The Climate Protest Tracker paints a more realistic picture, detailing the major climate protests around the world, how many people took part, and what outcomes were reached.
Looking at 2023, a long list of protests involving an estimated 1.4 million people around the world were tracked.
Look in the ‘Significant Outcomes’ column and you will find… pretty much nothing. Except for 4,779 arrests in the Netherlands. And Greta Thunberg getting arrested in London.
This is another area where attitudes surely need to change.
Governments and police forces now act with far tougher legislation behind them when it comes to dealing with public protestors.
It has long been seen as a badge of honour to get arrested for the cause you believe in, but I really don’t think that helps anyone in the climate movement.
Green groups are now losing their best people to custody. Activists are wasting precious resources on legal fees to fight for martyrs in court cases. But we don’t need martyrs any more. The number of climate protestors arrested does not equate to any degree of success.
Extinction Rebellion laid out the problem in a recent fundraising drive:
- Approximately £300 helps to fund one-week’s accommodation for one rebel during their trial. In the HSBC case, this amounted to over £7,000.
- It can cost anywhere from £360 for an initial case review and guidance on defences, to...
- …over £5,000 for representation at trial per defendant. During the fire engine case, this amounted to over £11,500 as legal aid was not available.
It is a fact that more and more climate protestors will be hauled off the streets and put behind bars. Of course this needs to be opposed, but it is not the fight that most urgently needs to be fought right now.
Focus on that 2029 prediction, focus on emissions. Because otherwise, we’ll get to 2029 and realise that we’ve spent years fighting the cruel system without achieving anything to actually bring down global warming.
If more people are going to be arrested, find a new way of achieving the goals. That is the only common sense approach against a tight deadline. It’s unfair, but we really don’t have the time to get bogged down with legalities – that’s playing into the hands of those who want activists silenced.
But Don’t Protests Raise Awareness?
Yes! Of course they do, and they have been very successful at doing this. So much so that we now have the numbers on our side – the vast majority of people are demanding real change to repair climate damage and protect human life and our natural world.
So congratulate yourself, protestors – and I’ve been among your number many times myself. But let’s now start working with those very people you have convinced – your precious time and expert knowledge can be far better deployed using different tactics.
How do we know we have sufficient numbers in support? The first encouraging sign came in January 2021, with the results of the Peoples’ Climate Vote, the world’s biggest ever survey of public opinion on climate change.
It covered 50 countries and more than half of the world’s population, including, at the time, more than half a million people under the age of 18, many of whom will this year be able to vote.
The survey found that 64% of people believed climate change was a ‘global emergency’ – and this despite the fact that we were still in the grip of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Then in 2022, more than 75% of the respondents to the OECD’s 2022 survey, exploring attitudes towards climate policies, agreed that “climate change is an important problem.”
The Open Society Foundation survey last year asked people to rank “the most important challenges facing the world“, and respondents identified climate change and poverty/inequality as the most crucial.
Also in 2023, the Edelman Trust Barometer survey in 14 countries revealed that a huge 93 percent of respondents believed that “climate change poses a serious and imminent threat to the planet.” Interestingly, half of those people admitted they had come to this realisation over time.
Further enhancing the numbers, more than 2,000 business leaders delivered a letter to the UK Prime Minister, emphasising the need for immediate climate action.
Then, the latest YouGov survey in the UK, in January 2024, found on the subject of climate change that 69% of people thought the world’s climate was changing because of human activity. Only 4% had their heads in the sand and believed the world’s climate was not actually changing.
So please don’t get upset about the trolls on social media denying the emergency – they are vastly outnumbered. Let’s work with the huge majority – and let’s make a meaningful difference in 2024.
Encourage Everyone To Vote For The Greenest Politicians
It strikes me that shouting at ruling governments to change their ways, when they clearly have no intention of doing so, is a waste of time, resources and energy, that could be better deployed elsewhere.
Instead of protesting against politicians that are never going to abandon fossil fuels, instead of always looking for a fight, doesn’t it make more sense to make every effort to get earth-friendly politicians elected instead?
We don’t see this attitude en masse with climate activists. But their skills and passion are needed for the mission immediately.
The greenest politicians are, quite obviously, those from the Green Party. They have actually been in government across Europe, in Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Germany, the Republic of Ireland, Latvia, Montenegro and Scotland.
However, only one MP has sat in the UK’s House of Commons, and she – Caroline Lucas – is stepping down this year.
The Greens have come out fighting – or so they believe – with a “4 for 24 campaign”. That’s an ambition to get four MPs elected this year.
While that would be breaking new ground in the UK, in the most important election year ever for the planet, the campaign fails to be anywhere near ambitious enough.
While the Conservative are flailing, Labour are already reversing on environmental promises, and many believe the UK could face a hung parliament. Collaborations could prove crucial, and I believe the Green Party should be aiming for at least 20 seats.
By publicly stating that they are only hopeful of four named MPs being elected, at the most, the Greens are in danger of making people in other areas think, ‘why bother voting Green then?’
Is 20 seats unrealistic? Perhaps, but you need real ambition in the most crucial election year since time began.
Work With The Current Broken System
Whether it’s a politician from the Green Party or any other party, we need to elect leaders who care about the climate and ecological breakdown – and we could really benefit from the mass movement support of passionate groups like Extinction Rebellion (XR), Just Stop Oil and others, to encourage people to vote for their greenest candidate. Greenpeace has already joined the cause, thankfully.
XR realised long ago that systemic change was needed, and have been pushing their campaign to modernise the political system and form a Citizens’ Assembly on Climate and Ecological Justice – “to break the deadlock and to put fairness and justice at the centre of decision-making.”
While that aim is admirable, it realistically is not something that is going to happen soon, certainly not this year, and definitely not before a change in government.
As Zoe Ruthven, Director of Marketing and Communications at the ethical Triodos Bank UK, said: “On the current trajectory we face a climate and ecological emergency – the time to act is now.
“We will not achieve a greener future without coordinated and urgent action from government. Only a truly collective effort can turn current anxiety about the future into something more hopeful.”
I hope that XR, Just Stop Oil and other green activists will focus on this year’s elections and work within the current political systems, to at least try to get the most environmentally empathetic people elected.