This joint piece with Jadzia Tedeschi, Climate Majority Project Operations Manager, first appeared on ABC Religion and Ethics here.
Increasing numbers of people around the world are convinced that human civilisation is teetering on the brink, but that our political “leaders” aren’t levelling with us about just how dire the climate outlook is. Quite a few of us are beginning to imagine collapse. And yet, for the most part, the responses available to individuals who want to take action seem to be limited to either consumer choices (minimising the amount of plastics we buy, using reusable coffee cups, recycling, and so on) or radical protests (such as gluing oneself to roads at busy intersections, disrupting sports matches, splashing soup on priceless art works, and risking imprisonment).
But there must be a space for action between these two alternatives. While the radical tactics of the Extinction Rebellion movement (XR) did succeed in nudging the public conversation concerning the climate and biodiversity crisis toward a new degree of seriousness, these same tactics also alienated people who would otherwise be sympathetic to XR’s cause and managed to give “climate activists” a bad name in the process. To put it simply, the radical tactics of XR could never achieve the kind of broad-based consensus that is needed to meaningfully respond to the current crisis.
We need a coordinated, collective effort at scale, which entails collaborating across social boundaries and political battlelines. If we are to prevent irrecoverable civilisational collapse, we need to demonstrate that taking care of the natural world is in everybody’s interest.
The Climate Majority Project works to inspire, fund, connect, coordinate, and scale citizen-led initiatives in workplaces, local communities, and strategic professional networks to reach beyond the boundaries of activism-as-usual. It is our endeavour to instantiate the kind of ambitious, moderate flank to XR that Rupert Read has previously called for. The plan is to prove the concept in the UK and then go global — albeit at a slower pace; after all, moderation is rarely adorned with fireworks.
Such a mobilisation will necessarily be distributed, emergent, and bottom-up — in other words, not strictly plannable. We aspire to emulate and adapt the wise advice to “make things as simple as possible, and no simpler”. A genuine climate movement will be formed by many millions of people finding their own part to play. It will be as complex as any wartime mobilisation — more so, in fact, because it will be less state-led.
Indeed, we recognise that such a movement is already underway and rapidly growing across most sectors, at all levels, and in many parts of the planet — not least because the weather is calling for change more loudly every year. We are all on a journey into the unknown, encountering dangers, and perhaps opportunities, at an unprecedented scale along the way.
We can handle the truth
The Climate Majority Project started off with the recognition that there is a silent moderate majority of people who care about the environment and fear for their own lives and those of their children, but who don’t know what to do about it. There is thus an enormous source of untapped energy that has long been overlooked by all-or-nothing activists, however good their intentions might be.
For too long, there has been a consensus among activists that “the public” can’t handle the potentially catastrophic truth about the state of our climate. But our audience research, media campaign, and thousands of on-the-ground conversations pointed to a different conclusion: that, at the end of the day, what most of us want is transparency. Rather than assume that the painful truth will paralyse “people”, we believe that, in the right relational conditions, bad news can turn into motivation.
The evidence suggests that this kind of conversion can take place when we feel that we are not alone, that there’s something practical we can do, and that our action counts towards a solution large enough to matter.
Making the silent majority aware of itself
We feel alone: too small to matter. Afraid of sounding alarmist, millions stay silent. So the majority and its power are hidden. It’s time for the climate majority to make its voice heard … Time’s up for protecting the public from reality while we wait for authorities to “solve” this. Leaders can’t take the extraordinary measures required until the concerned majority becomes fully aware of our extraordinary circumstances and actively demands change.
This is a portion of the founding statement of the Climate Majority, which was signed by an unusual coalition ranging from conservative Lords and businesspeople to famous tree-climbing protestors, from Game of Thrones actors to Olympic athletes.
In order for us to take care of each other and nature, the silent majority needs to become aware of itself. This is what we are working for in our ongoing media campaign: to reach the many others who, like us, know we need profound change. We endeavour to feel more and more like a collective force, guided by the collective interest to take care of our burning, flooding planet. We are facing a moment of epochal change. Our lives depend on remembering how without the waters, without the meadows, without a balance of fire and ice, without each other, we cannot survive.
There will be no sufficient change without most people on board. There is no quick fix; no “eco-Leninist” route to victory; no “tech fix”; no elite “solution” — because the climate saturates every aspect of our lives. Put another way: our lives are entangled with, co-implicated in, the wellbeing of the natural world.
That’s why it is our aim to get nearly everyone, ultimately, on board — beyond the impediments of political polarisation, and in the face of those desperate, infantile, utterly improbable fantasies of being saved by others.
Our “leaders” are not leading. We need to make change until they have no alternative but to follow our lead. The terrifying and exciting reality that compels the Climate Majority Project is this: we are going to have to do this together, ourselves, or else it won’t get done.