After the climate strike

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The morning of the climate strike I woke up exhausted by climate change, depressed by the cruelty of our politicians and generally dismayed by humans. I've come to accept that cognitive dissonance and confusion is part of facing the reality of climate change, its impacts and what to do about it. This is especially true when we look at the temporal and spatial challenges: it's urgent and huge but we're slow and small.

Climate strikers in Melbourne on 20 September 2019 (Tim Kroenert)The reality is that politicians and governments are doing nothing and the systems of power are corrupt and unresponsive to the point of criminal neglect, if not ecocide. Working in the area of climate change can grind us down as we also face the barriers against action: the many levels of denial, our frozen collective imaginations, the poverty of our intergenerational connections and the lack of precedents to guide us through uncertainty.

But this is the reality. Change is rarely a sudden transformative wave of happy solidarity that rushes to metamorphose everything at a cellular level. More often change is slow, iterative, incremental, difficult and filled with moments of waking up to a grey, unspectacular loneliness that illuminates a circuitous dark path ahead. Climate change is a crisis of unprecedented proportions and impacts. It's not fun.

Despite feeling flat, the kids and I went to the climate strike. The question was already being asked by commentators and social media as to the point of the strike, especially when it's been touted that marches have little impact upon politics. The hope is that we live in a time where we're transitioning from transactional commodified politics and morality into an era of collective concern for our common future.

These strikes aren't solely sites of protestation but rather a chance to step out of the individual grey loneliness to come together for our collective future in intergenerational solidarity. As Judith Butler talks about, there is something powerful and visceral about putting your body on the street, in the public forum, with other bodies and being vulnerable and exposed together.

However, after the strike the question of what to do remains. It's naïve and reductive to presume all 300,000 Australians who marched on Friday agree on what we need to do. It's evident that what's increasingly needed and long overdue is the nurturing of healthy climate change politics where we can debate and explore different approaches.

Do we approach it via radical state intervention? More securitisation? Or do we fiddle with financial levers and insurance? How do we collectively invest in civil society solutions and how much do we focus on institutional adaptation?

 

"Once we jump over the persistent and harmful denial discourses that hold politics hostage, we're going to realise that climate justice politics is just as diverse and multiple as social justice."

 

Do we increase the legal liabilities of climate change risks? How would these be enforced — prison time or civil settlements? What collective sacrifices are needed? How do we decide what collectively matters and takes priority in the expensive costs of climate change yet to be incorporated into budgets? What levels of government, if any, can engage with these questions?

These marches are only the tip of the iceberg. Denialism and political neglect is stalling a mature, diverse and healthy climate change politics that is hankering to expand. Intelligent and mature conversations around climate change have been hijacked by the constant need to address the monsters of history that refuse to take responsibility for the major schisms that appear in all our futures.

Once we jump over the persistent and harmful denial discourses that hold politics hostage, we're going to realise that climate justice politics is just as diverse and multiple as social justice.

Climate justice is important, necessary and really difficult. Those working in institutions and with organisations and communities trying to address the climate emergency or climate change impacts know that the work is circled by a common anxiety: outcomes cannot be predicted with certainty, the scale of the problem is unprecedented and the availability of solutions varied, diverse and hard to match up. Institutional and organisational adaptation and mitigation aren't as spectacular as a strike, or as passionate as a rebellion, but that's where climate and ecological justice gets implemented and made real.

Critics of the climate strikes are not worth repeating. They were boring and based upon the outdated idea that the individual is solely responsible for the climate crisis. I think everyone left the climate strikes feeling less alone, for we had touched upon the possibilities of collectivism, of a public movement, and remembered that we are not alone in the really difficult labour involved in accepting that action is necessary. Everyone who marched knows the problem wasn't solved on Friday and there is a lot of work to do. This is a long, rocky collective ride.

 

 

Bronwyn LayBronwyn Lay is Ecological Justice Project Officer at Jesuit Social Services in Melbourne. 

Climate strikers in Melbourne on 20 September 2019 (Tim Kroenert)

Topic tags: Bronwyn Lay, strike 4 climate, covering climate now

 

 

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Existing comments

Humanity is the real problem with climate change and its effects, not entirely because of its generation of carbon emissions . From time immemorial, Homo Sapiens, "the wise man/human", has demonstrated over and over again that its most consistent trait is self destruction driven by individual interest rather than the common good - the disease that also characterises the modern brand of democracy unfortunately.
john frawley | 23 September 2019


Some say "Strike while the iron is hot" so it was expected that some students would strike and put their English and sum books away and go and march for Climate Change. There was more than a sum of students who gathered, there were tens of thousands and maybe millions of feet throughout NSW as with their feet they clump, clump, clumped with leather on pavement in the march and then stood still and clapped and cheered to the enthusiastic speakers. What a change? What an education? What a feat?
Len Heggarty | 23 September 2019


Do what works. Do what you can. Do it now. Do not wait for others to act. Do not be distracted by undeveloped technical ideas. What works: Sharing vehicles and sharing rides, using public transport, cycling, recycling. If, within your means, solar PV, electric or plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (certainly, for that second car, or do without it). Reject plastic at shops, take paper bags for those loose vegetables, (or use the ones offered for mushrooms!). Grow your own vegetables. Insulate your home against drafts. Use external blinds to keep out the heat. Plant trees. Please do add to my list. Many businesses are becoming seriously involved with solar to cut their energy costs. We are not the only ones. Further actions: Farsighted thinking is needed rather than paralysis. Technology will eventually help, but we cannot wait. Do not give up hope.
Peter Horan | 23 September 2019


Thanks for this thoughtful reflection. I despair over the inaction of our government, along with those of most other nations, and I know from previous mass demonstrations, such as those opposing the war against Iraq, that such protests seldom change the minds of the powerful. Still, I agree with Bronwyn about feeling a sense of solidarity with like-minded others. It was especially heartening to witness the passion of the very young people who were at the forefront of these strikes. We must continue to make our concerns known and to show solidarity, even if we cannot yet see results in changed policy and action.
Myrna | 23 September 2019


"[What is] the point of the strike, especially when it's been touted that marches have little impact upon politics[?] The hope is ..." Thank you, Bronwyn. I like your answer. For my part, I say rhetorically "How could we not march? How could we not protest?"
John McKeon | 23 September 2019


A thoughtful piece Bronwyn. However, how disappointed was I when i saw photos of the scattered plastic cups and other debris left by the marchers where they gathered. Putting protests into action demands more than waving flags, banners and the like to get a message across. Actions damaging the environment , e.g.widespread debris, cannot be excused.
Peter Thomas | 23 September 2019


Well done Bron on your amazing article! As you mentioned it is now about organising collectives to work together to make change across the board. The strike gives people the impetus to go forward!
Gilda Mason | 23 September 2019


I attended with the younger generations on Friday in Canberra where around 10,000 people of all ages gathered .What an experience! At home we have solar panels, rainwater tanks to water garden, vegetables and fruit trees We grow vegetables /fruit trees suited to our climate. We have LED lighting, reverse cycle heating/cooling in the living area. We and try and limit energy use. I am old enough to remember the Vietnam protests and believe that in the end they eroded the government's will to remain in that conflict. A pity that has not been so effective in the recent conflicts but there is no National Service conscription now to inflame public anger. As a retired teacher, I fully support the young people. I think this protest may be the start of something momentous.
Gavin A. O'Brien | 24 September 2019


Bronwyn it was great to be part of the rally on Friday but there needs to be broader education about the the whole range of issues than the slogans and coal issues raised on the signs . The positive steps in the 17 sustainable development goals and the pathway to a new economy where there is a good quality of life for everyone ; it is the gate to the new economy that cares for people , efficiently uses resources and is advanced by ethical capital to provide a future for children and grandchildren that our young voice at the United Nations said that current leaders been taken away. While we miss the articulate public voice of Bob Brown , all 150,000 voices can turn Friday's tide into a relentless tsunami that will place our planet's future as our first priority because people's wealth and employment future are not separate issues but part of the change for the better. This can be done to mp's and policy makers through email and social media bypassing the commercial media who have annulled their leadership of the fourth estate in a democracy.
WAYNE McGOUGH | 24 September 2019


Climate change is about monopoly capitalism which when it can be made to work at all is about the production of artificial markets and waste. We must start to consider radically relativising the demands of the profit motive and we must regulate the market in raw materials. And to that end we must end resource wars and refuse participation in them and make indigenous sovereignity sacrosanct.
David | 24 September 2019


There’ was no need to be disappointed Peter Thomas ie “how disappointed was I “ when he saw photos of plastic & debris left by the Climate Strikers. Those photos used to discredit the Strikers were taken at Hyde Park London at a completely different type of public event. Check this info out in The Guardian 21st Sept. A hoax photo from Fake News.
Margaret | 20 November 2019


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