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HomeMagazineBerkshireWHY IS CLIMATE ACTIVISM BECOMING MORE RADICAL?

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By Jack Dixon

Climate activism has undergone a significant transformation over the last three years.

The days of large scale-peaceful protests are largely behind us and are increasingly being replaced by new eye-catching acts of vandalism, sabotage, and civil disobedience.

What has changed in the last three years that has caused this dramatic shift in tactics for climate activists?

In 2019, millions of young people across the globe mobilised to take part in the ‘Fridays for future’ movement.

This reached a peak in September 2019 when over 6 Million took part in the movement to make their voices heard.

The sad reality of this is no matter the impressiveness of the scale of mobilisation, the goals of the movement were ultimately never met.

Even Greta Thunberg herself admitted that the movement had ‘achieved nothing’ as it had not caused national governments to take decisive action on climate change.

To me, this seems to be a particularly harsh assessment of the campaign as it did manage to bring climate change to the very front of the global conversation, while educating millions on the imminent threat that it poses.

Although, even these successes have been undermined over the last three years as more short-term crises have taken hold and turned attention away from the cause.

The current media environment does not allow climate change to compete with more immediate threats like global pandemics, the threat of war and economic collapse on a level playing field.

This has meant that public concern for climate change has actually eroded in the last few years, all the while the effects of climate change continue to worsen and deadlines to reduce and halt greenhouse emissions are rapidly approaching.

Recent action has been particularly effective: like the throwing of soup over Van Gogh’s sunflowers and the blocking of key transport connections.

These actions demonstrate the increasing desperation of activists to garner any media attention for their cause, no matter whether it is positive or negative.

Acts like these often secure not only national, but international media attention, which is rare at this point for any other form of climate protest.

The aim of these acts is to be able to go on media outlets and explain the reasoning for these acts to a much wider audience than was previously interested.

The hope is that the initial shock of the act is overcome by the compelling arguments made once the spotlight is on the perpetrators.

When we look at the merits of returning to a more palatable climate crisis movement, I am not sure I see much point.

It is already difficult to build awareness of a movement as large or even larger than Greta Thunberg was able to three years ago, not to mention the fact that ordinary people are increasingly concerned with issues like the current governmental crisis we face in the UK, the cost-of-living crisis and the war in Ukraine.

Groups like Just Stop Oil seem to have recognised this: devising tactics that allow them to garner the same, if not greater media attention with as little as two activists, a can of soup and a cameraman.

Whether or not you see them as effective in boosting support for climate action, it’s undeniable that these actions are highly repeatable and reliable in catching headlines at a much smaller cost.

This may seem like a risky strategy to try to bring more support for your cause, what other options are left?

As we approach the IPCC deadline to cut emissions in half by 2030, drastic action from governments is necessary to change course, and this will not be achieved if activists cannot be heard.

Photos taken at the Global Climate Strike in London on Friday 15th March 2019.

The consistent inability (or unwillingness) of large parts of the media to present the existential threat of climate change to its audiences has forced climate activists to make it so they can’t be ignored.

As we move deeper into the 2020s, the effects of climate change will only get worse, and this will mean activists will most likely ramp up their efforts accordingly.

It is my belief that, whether we like it or not, radical environmental activism is here to stay and will most likely grow in the coming years.

The only way to avoid this is for governments to take activists’ warnings seriously.

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