Climate activists can seek power and strength in communities

Acting locally allows us to build resilience, show solidarity and reconnect with the environment.
Emma de Saram

My generation is growing up in a world at the tipping point of climate chaos and spiralling social and economic inequality. We’re the ones reading the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports and being told that ‘Any further delay in concerted global action will miss a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a liveable future’.

Yet when we demand climate action, we’re portrayed as radicals. When we take to the streets, the government responds with draconian laws to stop us. When we ask politicians if they’ll stop licensing new fossil fuel projects, they ignore us.

In the face of climate inaction and delay, we must seek power and strength in our communities. When we act locally and in solidarity with those experiencing the severest consequences of climate inaction, we come closer to realising our movement’s goal of a new system which puts people above profit.

We must work at the local level

I’m part of Green New Deal Rising, the youth-led movement pushing for a Green New Deal: a rapid decarbonisation of the economy, a just transition and promoting global climate justice through financing countries which haven’t benefited from a century of fossil fuel extraction.

Our plan is simple. We’re putting pressure on the system by holding politicians to account, and forcing them to face up to the scale of the crisis. We’re uniting with our allies in Parliament and mobilising across social justice movements. And we’re demanding radical alternatives to systems that don’t serve us, our communities or our planet. By disrupting the political system, we will change the narrative and force politicians to take the climate crisis seriously.

But we must also work at the local level because Green New Deal policies need to be truly democratic, powered and sustained by grassroots communities. A Green New Deal is both a vision and a realistic plan of action. It means better public transport, well-insulated homes and funding community strategies to build resilience against climate-related extreme weather events. We saw that during the devastation caused by Storm Eunice and how it was communities that pulled together to deal with the consequences.

Green New Deal Rising is holding politicians to account. Image: Green New Deal Rising.

However, a Green New Deal means investing in mitigation and climate adaptation now, rather than waiting for the storms to pass. Only by building resilient communities across the country that are on the side of climate action and social justice can we realise the possibilities of a People’s Green New Deal.

We know the crises of our time are mutually intersecting, stemming from the structures and systems geared towards power and profit, and we are working to create alternatives.

Communities are necessary for mobilising the force of change we need to get politicians to act. Within every school, workplace and family we can find the components for community-led climate action that drive change and places where we can return to for support.

Working on climate justice means working between and connecting across regions, sharing resources and skills to become more resilient. In the face of COVID-19, towns and cities pulled together to provide for the most vulnerable through mutual aid. Recently, we’ve seen an outpouring of compassion with local schemes to rehome Ukrainian refugees. In times of crisis, collective spirit and unity emerge.

In the face of COVID-19, towns and cities pulled together to provide for the most vulnerable through mutual aid. Image: Tim Dennell via Flickr.

My own climate activism is balanced between working locally and directly engaging with the political system to push for the Green New Deal Bill. Officially titled the ‘Decarbonisation and Economic Strategy Bill’, it’s a clear set of policies that translates our demand for climate justice into action by decarbonising the economy and reversing inequality.

Local acts of sustainability are solidarity

Last year at COP26, Green New Deal Rising activists came together from all different walks of life to learn about the Green New Deal and build our movement as we marched through the streets of Glasgow. We learned, listened and created art together to build a sustainable and compassionate vision for the future.

Alongside fighting for a Green New Deal and pushing for policy changes, I have been inspired by actions in my local town. Thinking and organising locally with global outlooks is vital. After COP26, I returned home feeling radically disconnected from the heart of real change and completely disillusioned by the enormous failings of world governments. At home, I spend Saturday mornings at the community garden and set up my hometown’s repair café. The purpose of the repair café is simple: we organise sessions for people to bring broken items to be fixed for any small donation, along with a coffee and conversations.

Run by volunteers and supported by local businesses, the repair café simply shows the meaning of community in action. Yet in a world driven by production and consumption, fixing sweatshirts and remote controls are small but powerful, solidaristic acts of sustainable behaviour. In the longer term we’re looking to invest in a permanent community climate hub, like several towns and cities across the UK are doing.

The community garden at my university has also been somewhere to return to, away from the frustrations of political inaction. While we cannot garden our way out of the climate crisis, spending time learning and belonging to the gardening group has provided some balance and reconnection to the environment we’re working to protect. Our garden proves that the solutions need to be intergenerational, as my friends and I learn from the wisdom of more experienced gardeners.

Spaces like community gardens enable us to reconnect with the environment we're working to protect. Image: King County Parks Your Big Backyard via Flickr.

With the politicisation of climate action, we can lose sight of our ability to seize creativity, nature and enjoyment as tools of radical change. Following a period of slipping into the depths of climate dismay over simultaneous lockdowns, and becoming obsessed with living a perfectly sustainable lifestyle, I've also reconnected with people which has shown me that individual action is not enough. The roots of resilient communities are embedded in our individual motivations for action; planting those seeds together, we grow alternatives to dismantle systems of oppression and exploitation.

But it’s not just up to our communities to fix the crisis. However messy politics is, we must vote for politicians who are serious on climate action. The COP26 agreement ultimately failed to rule out new fossil fuel projects. The UK has already been exploiting this loophole with plans for a Cumbrian coalmine. Greenhouse gas emissions must peak before 2025 and be reduced by a quarter by 2030. We have the technology available to start this transition in an ethical and equitable way. I’m currently campaigning with Stop Cambo and Green New Deal Rising to prevent the government approving Shell to drill in the new ‘Jackdaw’ gas field.

Together, we can ignite the flames of hope, and put an end to corruption and inaction. Change starts small, and we cannot underestimate the power of conversations and simple actions. Ultimately, we need mass mobilisations of united communities, trade unions and climate justice groups to gain the momentum and to realise the possibility of changing the course of history in the direction of hope. We need our communities to build the foundations from which we can fight for collective liberation and to fall back on in times of immediate crisis. There’s a place for everyone, where everyone’s skills are needed and where everyone can make a difference.

Emma de Saram is a climate justice advocate and undergraduate history student at the University of Exeter. She works with People & Planet on university divestment and the Plant Based Universities campaign. She is passionate about working locally for social and climate justice.

Feature image: GND Rising.

Emma de Saram

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