Sunday, December 21, 2008

Climate action groups

If you're like me, you may have been involved in grass roots activism at high school or university. Maybe you've been involved in politics or a member of a political party. Maybe you attend rallies and public forum and the like. Maybe (like me) you used to but became blase and jaded as to their actually efficacy in acheiving any actual structural change.
In recent media I've been reading about the unprecedented growth of 'grass roots' Green/Environmental/Climate Change groups in Australia.
Michael Green of The Age writes of

an unprecedented, unreported and largely underestimated climate movement has
sprung up throughout our cities and regions. Many of the members have dedicated
decades to living simply and sustainably. The great majority though, are new.

Victoria has about 50 currently active groups, most of which are less than two years old. Nationwide, there are over 200 groups. Broader umbrella sites such as Climate and it's political sister The Big Switch attempt to keep groups connected to each other and to the communities they aim to serve whilst providing good, clear resources such as tips for people start groups, running meetings, holding street stalls and the like.

Of course, environment groups are nothing new and can't be considered any kind of homogenous entity of shared methods and outcomes. Some green leaning people strive for personal change, such as a reduction in their individual, household and neighbourhood practices whilst others focus their energies on agitating for structural changes for government and big business. he worldwide climate movement is comprised of small groups with different goals. Their memberships can also differ greatly from architects and socialists to stay at home parents.
But does grass roots activism achieve outcomes?
Last month, Tony Windsor, independent MP for New England in northern NSW, introduced a private member's bill, the Climate Protection Bill 2008, to Federal Parliament. Windsor calls it "the people's climate protection bill". It was born about six months ago in his electorate office, following a visit from concerned constituents. Since then, 65 climate groups have been involved in its drafting.

The bill would bind the Government to deeper emissions cuts: by 2020, 30 per cent below 1990 levels; and by 2050, 80 per cent. Among other things, it also sets steeper renewable energy targets and mandates greenhouse impact statements on new legislation. (According to Karoly, even those targets are not strict enough.) The bill was loosely based on UK legislation, originally driven by grassroots organisations and just passed by their parliament. Windsor says his bill's success depends on the public will.
It's interesting to consider if similar objectives could be achieved in Australia. I thinks there's more than enough space for all permutations of environmental groups and activism, big and small. We are seeing more and more examples of success in different activist arenas. Whilst not directly related to climate change, I've been amazed at the success of the Sea Shepherds direct action in reducing Japanese Whaling, an area where legislation seems to have very little impact.

Closer to home, I've been excited to see Green architecture being built, aimed at apartment renters. The willingness of families to view good environmental practice as an area of social responsibility is better than them actively choosing to embrace poor environmental decisions. And, if parents want to take their kids on protests for environmental good, this can be only seen as children becoming involved in their future. A very good thing indeed.

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