Are Citizens Finally Mobilizing on Climate Change?

CC BY 2.0. Andrya Hart

School strikes, non-violent direct action, office sit-ins. It feels like something might be building.

"What did you do during the great climate wars, Daddy?"

I sometimes feel like it's become somewhat of a cliche to ask this question. And yet whether any of us are really doing enough to stave off what is rapidly becoming a civilization-altering crisis is surely something that future generations are going to ask.

I mean, sure, if you're reading this website, chances are you're already doing something. Maybe, like me, you've bought an electric car. Or you've cut back on meat eating. Or raved about the basket on your electric (or regular) bike. Maybe you've planted some trees, or attended a protest.

I hope you know that every single one of these actions matters. And I hope you also understand that every single one of these actions is inadequate. The scale of the climate crisis requires society- and economy-wide change. And that's going to take collective action and immense public pressure.

Recently, I've gotten the inkling that a movement, or movements, might finally be stirring that could start to push this change. We've seen activists and law makers rally for a "Green New Deal". We've seen students walking out of school to protest how we're selling out their future. We've seen activists shutting down London and risking their freedom to draw attention to global extinctions.

There's a real sense that activists' ambition is rising up to meet their impatience; and also that a push for real climate action—not incrementalism—might allow for the kind of leap forward in policy makers' ambitions that the science is telling us is necessary, especially if there's a generational shift in our political leadership coming.

Heck, we've even seen Senator Thom Tillis—whose North Carolina Republicans are not exactly known for their climate realism—stepping out and contradicting some in his party:

That said, we should be careful about interpreting the growing movement, or words meant to pander to it, as suggesting there's broad support for the kinds of changes that are actually needed. Polls might show broad concern about the risk of climate change, yet as Paris knows all too well, citizens are just as likely to show up in the street to oppose new diesel taxes as they are to protect their climate:

That's not an excuse to embrace defeatism or to settle for incrementalism.

But it is a reminder that any push for real, ambitious climate action must put economic equity and a just transition at the heart of its vision.