We live in interesting times. More than that, we are experiencing an unprecedented moment in the history of human civilization. Never before have we been so connected. Never before have we lived so long. Never before have our political and economic systems been so globalised. Never before have we altered the very nature of our earth’s climate.
And yet, in my conversations with people recently, you would think we had been here before. That the climate change predicament we face is just another obstacle in the path of human progress. I’m not talking about climate sceptics, or Daily Mail readers or anyone else that the green movement generally throws buckets of water on. I’m talking about my peers – young people who care, who know that “Houston, we have a problem” and who, in some cases, would describe themselves as campaigners.
There seems to be an underlying assumption that things sort themselves out in the end, that technology will finally come to the rescue, or governments will finally get a clue. Some of the discussion in my MSc seminars so far have had people suggesting that we will somehow be able to make (finite) fossil fuels grow through human ingenuity or that we will be able to “planet-hop” when we finally exhaust our resources here and mine in space.
Putting aside the ethics of both these suggestions, I do not want to deny that technology might make significant, path-altering breakthroughs or that governments or markets or whatever other instruments will come up with ingenious solutions. I sincerely hope that will be the case, but these things don’t happen on their own. We make history. Somehow, we have forgotten that we have instrumental roles to play in ensuring that change happens.
Up until now, the climate change movement has successfully used examples of previous social movements to encourage people to take action. Climate Rush use the example of the suffragettes, there have been lessons from the anti-slavery movement, and over in the US the environmental justice movement seems a natural successor to the civil rights movement.
It is incredibly inspiring to hear the stories of these movements – the actions, the speeches, the successes – and begin to apply them to the challenge of our time. However, I think there is a flipside. It may sound contrary, but I also wonder whether the fact that all these movements did succeed has actually gone a long way to lulling my generation into complacency. I was born after the anti-slavery movement, the suffragette movement, the civil rights movement, the women’s lib movement. All those historic social shifts happened without me, so surely a conclusion I can come to is that the shift to a low-carbon economy can happen without me too.
Unfortunately, I don’t think this is a safe conclusion. It we who are here, and it is we who must act.
We have been spoiled by progress, both social and technological. Truth is, we have no idea how this is going to play out and yet we’re acting like we do. Truth is, we can’t afford to take that risk.
So this is essentially an appeal. If we want progress, then we must go out and get it. Whether it’s through art and culture, science and research, engaging in local politics or community groups, campaigning, activism and direct action – through our individual actions we need to form a collective identity. An identity that can carry a movement. The opposite of “spoiled” is “fresh”, “ripe”, “clean”. Let’s come to this movement fresh and clean, shed old successes and failures and look straight into the future.