3 Reasons Why the 99% Must Now Take the Lead on Climate Change

January 22, 2012


We are sawing off the branch on which we are sitting: our own economic activities are threatening the very support systems upon which human and non-human life depends. Some people think that the scientific facts about climate change are simply too complicated or else too depressing for ordinary people to take on board, and that they will just switch off. But there is something paternalistic in the idea that ordinary people are incapable of separating fact from spin, or putting aside their immediate concerns to think about the long-term. If the risks are clearly explained and the options are laid out honestly, people are quite capable of understanding the risks – extreme weather conditions and massive disruptions to the global economy – and assessing the measures needed to avoid them. This is especially true if we make it clear that alternatives could actually contribute to economic recovery and a better quality of life.

There are three reasons that “the fight against climate change is now down to us – the 99%” (Naomi Klein). First, solving climate change is in our interest. It is in our interest, and in the interest of our children and descendants that the earth continues to be able to provide us with food, water, and a safe living environment. So far, the lives of the vast majority of inhabitants of developed countries have not been affected in any major way by climate change – hence, environmental policy has often been reduced to a secondary concern. Everyday pressures seem to matter more than climate change. But this could change very quickly: extreme weather events will become more frequent as the effects of climate change bite. In 2003, over 50,000 vulnerable people died in the heat wave across Europe – by 2050 this kind of weather phenomenon could be a common occurrence. In addition, crop failure, due to rising temperatures in certain regions of the world, would lead to price rises in basic foodstuffs. The prices of grain, soya and other foodstuffs are determined on international markets, and serious price-hikes of these would rapidly plunge large numbers of relatively well-off Europeans into unexpected levels of poverty. And why just think of “our” interests? As climate change starts to affect people in the poorest parts of the world today through famine and drought, we must show our solidarity for those who are directly affected.

Second, existing institutions are failing to solve the issue of climate change, and will continue to fail unless the 99% make their voices heard. Dangerous levels of global warming are not going to be avoided by the lamentably inadequate actions of existing institutions. A global problem requires a global response. Thus far, this response has been depressingly inadequate. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has worked to address climate change for almost 20 years now, and has hosted 17 major international conferences. Yet despite the vast quantity of resources, energy and hope invested in this process, the international community continually and consistently fails to agree to take the measures which the scientific consensus requires. Meanwhile, global CO2 emissions continue to rise. The failure of the Copenhagen Conference in 2009 has become emblematic of this institutional failure. At the latest conference at Durban in South Africa in late 2011, states agreed to postpone meaningful action until 2019. Yet scientific studies from the International Energy Agency tell us that urgent action within the next five years is required if we want to stabalise global temperature rise below a safe level of 1.5 degrees. The problem here is one of global governance: existing nation-states try to broker deals that favour their own populations, represent a minimum sacrifice and delay real action. No institution is capable of acting in the interests of humanity as a whole. Add in powerful interest groups from the energy sector (who are doing their best to block necessary changes), and we can begin to understand why little gets done.

The third reason that the fight against climate change is down to the 99% is that there is hope in this gloomy picture, and that hope is us. The Occupy movement has the potential of building global popular support for urgent action, and for pushing for the radical solutions that are necessary to tackle the problem within the next five years. It has illustrated that people are ready to shed their passivity and demand a different future – and that they are well-versed in the principle of non-violence and the tactics of direct action to make it happen. The root causes of economic and social injustice and climatic degradation areidentical: an economic system for which people and planet are no more than raw materials in a machine driven by short-term gain for a few. We absolutely need to change our systems of governance and economics, but it’s climate change which imposes a deadline: we only have a five or ten years for our economies and societies to make a significant change of direction. The 99% can no longer afford to wait for the governing elite and international institutions to take the initiative. As the only genuinely global popular movement of our time, and committed to peaceful direct action, we are in a unique position to take a leading role in building support for the demand for urgent and substantial action on climate change as a core part of our wider goals. Climate change is already hitting the 99% the hardest around the world, and will continue to do so. This is why climate change must become the cause of the 99%.

On 5th February, from 2-4pm at Occupy LSX (or other venue if necessary), a panel of speakers including George Monbiot, energy experts and representatives of NGOs, will discuss “Why the 1% are trashing the planet and selling your future”.


 By Peter Colville