Growing numbers of people are backing initiatives to move away from a fossil fuel based economy in response to the accelerating climate disruption now resulting in large-scale ecological die-offs, food and water shortages, species extinctions and, belatedly, public expressions of sorrow and fear that hint at the collective heartbreak just starting to unfold.
The increased levels of awareness and emotional engagement coincide with the collapse of arguments devised to undermine climate change research and prop up faith in business as usual. Many of these claims are now being exposed as deceitful campaigns funded by fossil fuel companies, whose emotionally-constrained leaders — being disproportionately damaged by modern society’s fixation on power and control — have been less equipped to concern themselves with ecological destruction than with the threat to their power and position.
The latest such large-scale, corporate take-down, following last year’s exposé of Exxon Mobil’s suppression of its own climate research, involves Peabody Coal in the USA, which, investigations show, had been funding climate change deniers for many decades until its recent bankruptcy filing.*
While governments and large corporations continue with their strategic pursuit of profit over life, there is extensive ground-level recognition that carbon emissions must be stopped, evidenced by the spread of climate-aware and resilience-building enterprises at community, town and regional level.
Earth system experts have pointed out that the momentum of climate action so far may yet prove inadequate to the challenge at hand, not least given that decarbonisation is a drop in the ocean compared with the de-industrialisation required for true sustainability.
However many observers believe that the globe-spanning and rapidly evolving shift suggests the start of a collective awakening to our planetary predicament.
For example, nearly 500 cities have pledged to deliver on ambitious climate change targets; 85 of the largest, including nine Chinese megacities and representing more than 650 million people worldwide, are planning and coordinating specific climate action. More than 60 cities in Europe and on the Mediterranean coast have committed to acting together to ensure a transition to a reduced carbon future.
A number of towns and villages have achieved or are aiming for 100% renewable energy targets — including Yackandanda in Australia and Baripatha in Odisha, India. Ambitious plans to supply renewable energy to cities like Bristol and London in the UK using a cooperative ownership model are also making an impact. Many such plans are supported by the Transition movement, which helps communities build resilience and reduce CO2 emissions, and is growing steadily worldwide.
On top of these developments, resistance to the old fossil order is growing in strength and confidence. May 2016 saw more than 30,000 people take part in two weeks of passionate global action that temporarily but symbolically shut down the UK’s largest opencast coal mine, the world’s largest coal port (in Australia), one of Germany’s largest coal mines and power plants, and major refineries and other infrastructure in countries including Nigeria, Brazil, South Africa, the Philippines and Indonesia.
Convergence and momentum
A convergence between the goals and tactics of organisations concerned with social justice, environmental protection, climate change, land rights, women’s empowerment, young people’s rights and conflict resolution is enabling unprecedented levels of grassroots collaboration. Allegiances with indigenous peoples, who carry an historic connection to land and season are accelerating the shifts in awareness and determination.
Campaigns to divest from fossil fuel enterprises and legal efforts to ensure the rights of current and future generations to a safe climate are adding to the momentum of change. Voices calling for appropriate policy action are growing in scale and volume; the Climate Mobilization, for example, has in the last year become a prominent US campaign calling for a “World War II-scale mobilization” to restore a safe climate.
The desired direction of change among those who recognise the enormity of the crisis is clear. Its grounding in compassion, equality and intelligence throws into relief the oppressive, short-sighted, legal and economic policies currently obstructing the wholesale transformation required for survival.
Changing those laws, suggest proponents of an earth-centred society, will require the transformation or emasculation not just of intransigent transnational corporations, but also of complicit governmental systems and corporate media, which they agree is a primary challenge of our time.
*A sense of schadenfreude when such organisations lose their credibility, financial worth and relevance may be inevitable, but the trauma for those directly affected is significant, notwithstanding the reprieve from the cognitive dissonance that comes with making a living within an organisation that destroys life. It’s worth noting that working for a climate-blind organisation does not reflect on the awareness of the worker: a 2015 industry survey showed that 77% of oil and gas employees are sure that climate change is happening, 61% of them believe it man-made, 75% think it a serious problem, and 70% believe it can be addressed by burning less fossil fuel. If you are an oil or gas industry employee, the 2016 survey of your views on climate change is accepting submissions until 21st July.
If you are suffering from psychological distress as a result of recognising the scale of the climatic changes, ecosystem destruction, species extinctions, or from feeling guilt by association, it might be helpful to consult an ecopsychologist or to share your feelings within a local climate support or action group.
Image 1: Diagram of 6m sea level rise anticipated as a result of climate change, by NASA [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons
Image 2: Peruvian Defence Minister meets with a military contingent at the new river base of Puerto Ocopa, where the aim is to prevent illegal logging and narcoterrorism. Credit: Luis Enrique Saldana (CC licence by-sa 2.0)