1. In an email you described yourself as “someone with no experience of activism or protest (other than 38 Degrees stuff, mithering the snot out of my MP and signing many petitions”. Two questions from this
a) what do your friends and acquaintances think of this activity – do they regard it as a strange hobby, ignore it, something else?
The 38 Degrees campaigning is mostly ignored, with a few being appreciative of issues they regard as close to home in one way or another.
b) what’s your take on the difference between those forms of activity and – say – going on a protest march, or attending a meeting. Do you have a sense of hierarchy between the two, as if the latter is somehow more ‘real’, more ‘authentic’?
What matters is results. That’s why people campaign about things – they are trying to bring about some form of change (or prevent it). 38 Degrees (to take an example) does not set out to change the world – it focuses on what might be called “achievable goals”, eg allowing certain chronic conditions to be treated with “medical” marijuana. Ultimately, it was a campaign to change one politician’s mind about the topic. Conversely, they also get involved in trying to influence very “consumer visible” brands like Walkers crisps to make their packets recyclable. Worthy, but ultimately not “world changing”.
Even bigger topics like getting the UK government to stick by promises of funding for the NHS in the face of Brexit basically come down to getting people to influence an MP to vote a particular way, once. But they do get some results, sometimes.
Contrast this with the kinds of issues people are marching about at the moment -eg the anti-Brexit march that attracted a significant turnout in London – hard to call a specific outcome, but you could probably argue that it galvanised the “Remain” contingent at a time when this mattered, and that the discussion of second referenda, etc etc is now happening as an indirect result. I’d say it definitely had more impact than a letter writing campaign or similar in moving public (and political) opinion.
Now consider marches and civil disobedience as we see from XR just now. It takes more commitment on a personal level to turn up to physical event, particularly if either is physically distant, or if you have other responsibilities. So in that they require greater personal commitment (particularly for those involved in XR or anti-fracking campaigns and willing to be arrested etc) – there is a level of hierarchy there, yes.
HOWEVER – where I might draw the distinction between eg 38 Degrees and XR, is that 38 Degrees tackle much more focused, specific problems, where declaring “victory” is relatively straightforward, and the stakes are (relatively) low.
In the case of climate breakdown, the stakes could not be higher, but the “how” could not be less obvious. Similar actions have yielded minimal results in the past. Notwithstanding actual ratification of laws and treaties by multiple governments around the world, we are still basically proceeding as if there is no problem (and that’s not even considering that we will hit peak oil and peak gas before long – even on its own terms, FF powered society is living on borrowed time). The thing is, how do you up the stakes from here? Where are the metaphorical testicles by which you can grab the problem and squeeze? What levers can be pulled, and what cracks could be opened?
2. How have your views/concerns about climate change shifted over time? When were you first aware of it? Has the recent events (hot summer, IPCC 1.5 report) shifted things/
I first learned about the idea of climate change (then usually referred to as Global Warming, or AGW) in 2004 when I stumbled on on line discussions about Peak Oil – in those days the fear was more that the end of cheap energy would bring down industrial civilisation imminently and we would all be sent back to the Victorian era / Iron Age / choose your preferred historical parallel. As it became apparent that Peak Oil was a thing, but that it was simply prompting the pursuit of dirtier forms of energy (see: Tar Sands) my awareness swung back to “how far will we take this?” I think I really started to become worried after Copenhagen, but somewhere in my mind was the idea that all the governments of the world couldn’t simply ignore a problem as big as this. However, I became more and more aware of the disquiet among climate scientists, and that despite warm words from politicians, the big policy announcements and radical changes I was somehow expecting simply weren’t happening. During this time I met my wife, got married and we had our first son in 2013. Not long after he was born, I discovered Guy McPherson’s “Nature Bats Last” site, which was more than my ‘new father’ psyche could handle and to be honest I blocked the issue out for a year or so, although it lingered in the back of my mind, prodding me that I could not and should not ignore it.
Our second son was born in 2015, the same year as I lost my father. (I’d discussed with my wife that we are living in uncertain times and it was actually this, indirectly that prompted our decision to have a second – we did not want the first to grow up an only child and be burdened with two aged parents to care for – we knew that pension provision for our generation would be quite different from what our parents have experienced, for one thing. I am one of three children, my wife is an only child; the experience of having siblings as life allies also played a part here).