The climate for activism is now

Photo: 22-Dublin by Sonia Luna (21/11/2010)  Flickr CC license.
Photo: 22-Dublin by Sonia Luna (21/11/2010) Flickr CC license.

It’s hard to escape the ‘devastation’ that the ‘adverse weather conditions’ have ‘ravaged’ across the UK and Ireland, to limit it closer to home. Writing from Dublin, we have ‘escaped’ the ‘worst’ of the storms, but the reality of the huge impact of the damage across the country is readily and constantly in the limelight.

Is this climate change? Scientists believe unequivocally that it is.

The message somehow isn’t loud enough or somehow hasn’t reached those of us outside of the science lab. With David Cameron relaxing building rules to reduce the ‘burden’ of cost to builders and house buyers of the many environmental regulations, it seems climate change is too expensive for development and for those of us here in the West. While there is very little that we can do to guard against the climactic events that occur, we can take action to prevent similar events from happening in the future. The link between our consumption and its effect on climate change and the urgency with which we need to respond is old news now (or is it?) so that leads me to ask, what’s it got to do with me and what are we  going to do it?

At the same time we are being fed images of weather damage, there are countless images of citizen activism and demonstrations from across the world reacting to infringements on human rights – Ukraine, Central African Republic, Venezuela, Syria, to name just a few. At times it can be quite disconcerting when you take the time to absorb the torrent of bad news that plagues us daily. Even if you don’t listen/watch the news, you can’t escape it. Oftentimes, it really is depressing viewing and can make me feel quite helpless. Yet, we need to be aware that over the years, dramatic change has taken place all over the world when ordinary people seek it.

The recent, and very brilliant, movie “Mandela. The Long Walk to Freedom” (if you haven’t seen it – do!) set me thinking about how change takes place when ordinary people demand action and its impact on global change and where I fit in.  While the global attention of the South African struggle for freedom from oppression was intensified through the imprisonment of ANC leader Nelson Mandela for 27 years as a consequence of the struggle, Mandela did not fight a regime and its mindset alone. There is one scene in the movie in particular that highlighted this message for me. Mandela, along with 7 others were sentenced to life imprisonment on Robben Island just off the coast of Capetown in South Africa (the 8th person, Denis Goldberg served 22 years in Pretoria Central Prison, then the only security wing for white political prisoners in South Africa)  for their struggle related activities after the Rivonia Trials.

The scene in the movie is set on the island with Mandela and his compatriots, now elderly men, pruning vegetation in the prison garden. With the struggle intensifying in South Africa, a group of young people were arrested and sent to the prison on the island. One of these young people recognises Mandela in the garden and is horrified by what he sees. With the violence escalating, here was the great freedom fighter, now an old man chatting and tending to the garden while people were dying on the streets of Johannesburg. He questions why the country was waiting for Mandela to do something and where was his ANC now? Mandela’s response to this young man was that alone we can have a limited impact, but that together we can achieve great things:

Patrick Lekota (the young man): “I told you these old men had given up. They’re killing us on the streets. But even the children are fighting back, and he grows tomatoes.

Nelson Mandela: What is your name?

Patrick Lekota: My name is Patrick Lekota.

Nelson Mandela: Mr. Lekota, we have been in prison for a very long time. We would be very happy to listen to you, to learn.

Patrick Lekota: We closed down the schools, all the schools. There was no ANC. We don’t need your ANC.

Nelson Mandela: I can see… that you are very brave. [pointing to the young inmates beside Lekota] And you… and you. But alone, what can you do?

[showing three fingers, then closing them into a clenched fist].

Together we have power. Together.

You and I can be killed or imprisoned, but the organization goes on … forever”.

In January 2012 the ANC celebrated its 100th anniversary in existence, having successfully defeated apartheid.

For me, we are at a critical time of global political and social activism. Societies throughout the world are demanding change, and change is possible as the realities of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa and supported throughout the world, including Ireland shows – the Berlin Wall, the Nestle Baby Food campaign in India, Vietnam, Iraq, the civil rights movement, the suffragette movement, etc.

The climate struggle, for me is something we can achieve together, if we begin to seriously consider action now. It begins with our individual actions – do we check in with our consumption levels and waste reaction?  For example:

  • What do we buy?
  • How much do we buy?
  • Do we buy what we need or just because it was on sale for example?
  • Do we take the time to plan what we need to buy?
  • What do we do with our waste?
  • Do we practice the 2 R’s – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle?
  • Do we use earth friendly products, do we cycle when we have the capacity or opportunity rather than drive?
  • Do we speak out against waste?
  • Do we pick up waste in the street and dispose of it or do we just wait for someone else to?
  • Do we support local initiatives that respond to waste and pollution such as the Dodder Action group that engages with the local community in cleaning up the River Dodder in Dublin?

As a modern society that has been shaped to expect instant gratification of “buying now, paying later” perhaps the Long Walk to Freedom may seem too long of a walk as it concerns our natural environment and difficult behaviour choices.

But there is so much that we can do as activists at an individual, local and wider community levels and globally.

The immediacy of the issues concerning our environment and climate change was critical 30 years back, the legacy by the lack of international action is only too evident in the recent climactic impacts.

I am in no way negating the long and arduous journey to sustainable development that was commenced and continues to take place and will need to continue. There is certainly no shortage of research, High Level Meetings, Forums, etc., and indeed success stories. However, the natural environment is a collective responsibility and concerns the future of our planet and as a result our lives. All of us need to take full responsibility for our behaviour and join with others in advocating for wider action to change government, the private sector and global behaviour.

A brilliant account of success with action is articulated by Benjamin Ferencz, nearly 95 years old, and now the only living prosecutor of the former Nuremberg War Crimes Trials, after World War II.

In this short video, produced in 2014, Ferencz talks about three essential elements needed to create a more humane and peaceful world:

“laws which describe what is permissible and not permissible…courts to enforce the laws… a system of effective enforcement…We don’t have that in the world today, and we have suffered the consequences.”

Yet Ferencz feels that global action in support of human rights since 1945 has made significant progress towards this. Creation of laws through the International Criminal Court in The Hague, local courts, and national groups aimed at enforcing human rights is supporting peace. Enforcement is the next challenge however, he says,

“We can do it, and we are moving in the right direction, very slowly. It’s not a job which can be done quickly or easily. It requires a change of heart and a change of mind, and that means that all human beings must begin to recognize that they are members of one small planet, and they must learn to divide the resources on that planet, so that everyone, regardless of race or creed, can live in peace and human dignity that can only and best be protected through a rule of law, which we are now in the process of building, and we need help.”

This is our Long Walk. Ferencz is nearly 95 years old. Mandela recently passed away having reached his journey. Are we prepared to pick up the baton and continue the relay?

There are very many action groups, campaigns, organisations, initiatives, etc., at all levels across Ireland that you can begin to engage with if you are serious about your future.

There are hundreds, but for starters: