With the UK, Ireland and Iceland all just declaring a climate emergency and a global movement swelling around the demand (including Peter Garrett calling on the ALP to declare one if they win government), it’s worth taking a step back, checking our privilege and seeing that emergency powers being invoked rarely fairs well for people of colour or those on the margins of our society.
Initially my trepidation was a communications response - you can’t compel people to take sustained action by instilling fear - they need anger (at the fossil fuel industry), solidarity or hope to act. But when you dig a little deeper, this call for an “emergency mobilisation of government resources” lends itself to top-down corporate and government solutions that entrench disadvantage and disenfranchisement, rather than putting decision-making in the power of people and creating a better world for everyone, not just a wealthy few.
When I hear the phrase “climate emergency” I think about the “emergency response” of the 2007 NT National Emergency Response (known as the “Intervention”), sending the military into remote Aboriginal communities and stripping people of their rights. I think about the “disaster capitalism” response of the US Government to Hurricane Katrina, criminalising black and poor people. I think about the inability of neo-liberal governments to address other complex emergencies like homelessness, violence against women and wars.
It’s clear that when emergency powers are invoked, people of colour and those on the margins of society bear the consequences.
The urgency framework enables people to support false solutions like nuclear, untested geo-engineering, handing over power to private corporations to fix the problem for profit. Under this scenario - the ends justify the means and all the existing power structures and injustices are reinforced.
Yes it’s true that we are rapidly running out of time. For many that time has already run out. We have mass extinction on the horizon, nation states are already relocating, and sea ice is melting at an alarming rate. It is terrifying, it’s massive and I understand your fear response and hunger to address it with the urgency it deserves. I am a young climate activist, it causes me immense anxiety every single day.
But climate change is not a simple problem to address, because it is caused by the most complex system of powers - capitalism, white supremacy, colonialism and the patriarchy. We can't "fix" climate change but we can set up fair and just systems to respond.
At AYCC, our core value is climate justice. That means coming to terms with that fact that the only way to solve this climate crisis is with a social movement that elevates the voices of those on the frontlines, undoes the injustices of the past, and is committed to doing things the right way, not the seemingly “faster” way.
Climate justice means working together, understanding that all our struggles are connected, to overthrow and undermine the systems of power that got us into this mess, and believing that we are strongest and unstoppable when we work together.
It means backing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in their fight for land rights, which will stop fossil fuel companies from exploiting sacred country. It means standing with unions and workers to change the rules so corporations don’t hold the power in our society, the people do. It means lowering the voting age so young people are enfranchised to make decisions about the world they are going to grow up in.
Climate justice does not look like governments forcing solutions on communities from the top down, it doesn’t look like billion dollar contracts for private companies to build big renewable energy projects on land without consent, and it doesn’t look like greater power for the military to control food or energy supplies.
This is what I think of when I hear “climate emergency” - and it scares the hell out of me.
I know it’s scary to look down the barrel of an uncertain future - but do you know who has done that for the last 230 years? Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. We should be learning from First Nations resistance, and elevating the powerful voices of those who know most about protecting country.
We should be looking at communities who are leading the fight against fossil fuel companies or developing their own community energy. We should be inspired by the resilience and courage of communities of colour who are rising up to undo power structures that try and squash them everyday.
Only social movements that are diverse, strategic, huge and led by those with most at stake can solve the climate crisis. Our campaigns for climate justice of course must be urgent, but that momentum should never become a bulldozer. It should be about rapid transitions of existing systems, new voices amplified, new leaders elevated - all this can't happen quick enough, so speed is good - but careening down the same roads isn't.
We need a massive transformation of our economy. It will require unprecedented transfer of resources, transfer of power, unprecedented collaboration and collective decision making. If we don't do this then we'll just create new crises.
Repeat after me: you can’t solve the climate crisis by trusting those in power to get it right.
Instead of selling me fear, sell me a vision of the world we can co-create if we work together to solve this crisis from the bottom up. Tell me about the kinder society our children will inherit if we start putting people before profit. Tell me about the clean air, clean water, thriving communities and food networks we’ll create together.
Tell me about how we’re going to end wars, how we’ll value care and art, how our fulfillment won’t be measured by our bank accounts but by our relationships. Paint a picture of a world that’s possible so we can mobilise our community towards it, fuelled by the courage of those who fought before us.
I hear your fear, I understand the urgency, but there is more at stake than our atmosphere, it’s also our shot at a kinder, safer, fairer world.