Climate change is the highest priority for most environmental and social justice non-government organisations in Australia. With a high level of community and political attention to the dangers of run-away climate change, the climate movement is growing rapidly in size and power. What kind of social movement will be necessary to bring about a climate-conscious society and avoid catastrophic climate change? How will this movement be built and sustained? What will it take?
Our team initiated our Building the Climate Movement action research project in mid 2006 to:
- strengthen the Australian climate movement
- draw lessons and insights from climate change organising since the 1980s
- facilitate dialogue, reflection and relationship building
- bridge the gaps between grassroots and NGO activists, between environmentalists and other citizens concerned about climate change, and
- between the rebels, reformers, citizens and change agents in this crucial people’s movement.
The project has involved a series of collaborations with organisations that are committed to building on this movement. These initial activities suggest that there are four preconditions to build and sustain the climate movement:
- relationships and opportunities for collaboration beyond existing networks and the professionalised NGOs
- commitment to critical reflection and enthusiasm for learning and adapting; and
- opportunities for individuals to act on their concerns about dangerous climate change.
Some initial recommendations that have emerged from this action research project include:
- a series of skillshares (in capital cities and regional centres) to engage community organisers in discussions about current and planned campaign tactics and strategies and facilitate action planning.
- bringing together climate change campaigners from as diverse a range of campaigning organisations and orientations as possible: people involved in online organising, coalition building, direct action, research, policy development, advocacy and lobbying, legal challenges and electoral campaigning. Encourage and facilitate relationship building, networking and collaboration.
- critical reflection on our tactics
- facilitating open, reflective and critical sharing of the different approaches and experiences of activists working around climate change including learning from what has come before, successes and challenges
- reflecting on and strategising for cultural change, as well as the more familiar campaigning which primarily aims to influence public officials and decision-makers.
- introducing resources (research, case studies, frameworks) to help map and conceptualise the range of strategies evident in Australia and elsewhere. This may include Movement Action Plan and Beckwith & Lopez’s four-part framework that includes community organising, community development, advocacy and campaigning, and service delivery. We expect this phase will focus on the craft of community organising.
- ongoing support to climate action groups, with a particular focus on helping groups develop achievable medium-term campaign objectives in order to ensure impact and a sense of agency, and on developing group development and maintenance skills.
- groups with particular interest in community grassroots mobilisation may be interested in participating in initiating action research projects to identify, develop and evaluate strategies to recruit, mobilise and sustain grassroots organisers.
The action research project suggests a range of learning and strategy activities, with priority for approaches that are:
- face to face. We need to get away from our workstations and bring people together at a local level in discussion and learning.
- broader than elite organising. We see a disparity in current climate campaigning — a gap between elite NGO lobbying work and household community-based social marketing projects. This climate project aims to generate a sense of agency beyond changing light bulbs and is broader than ‘environment groups’ working on climate.
- informed by current and past approaches. The project creates a space for people to reflect on current forms of climate campaigning and ways that we have approached climate change organising in the past — what’s working? How? What is there to learn from experience to date?
- locally-potent – the strategy informing this project has a local-focus and demands direct personal communication between citizens and their elected representatives at all levels of government but with emphasis on council or shire scale?
- committed to creating achievable impacts within two years?
- focused on moving people along an activist continuum and generating personal agency and political engagement
Contact tCA for further information about the project,