Published on March 13, 2015

Give the marching public something to do

16560066878_929caf70f8_oLast Saturday, I joined thousands of people to march through London for the “Time to Act” Climate Change protest.

Why were we marching? Neither I nor any of those I spoke to were actually that convinced that marching would really make a difference to climate change.

But we marched anyway. Why?

Because we have no other option. Because we feel our voice is ignored. Because we want to feel part of something bigger than the Big 6 energy firms, bigger than the 650 MPs in parliament and bigger than our own individual actions.

Ultimately, we wanted to be involved in something. We were marching for democracy.

This point was made loud and clear by the majority of speakers, who focused more on the democratic deficit than any specific climate issue.

For example:

“We’re here to call for a clean future. Not just clean energy but clean politics too”

“Debates on the TV do not reflect the public debate. But the internet can.”

“This is what a democracy looks like”

“It is sick that the decisions are in the hands of so few. That just 90 companies are responsible for two thirds of greenhouse gas emissions.

“It is time to get organised.”

“If you want a paradigm shift, you don’t ask a candle maker to invent a light bulb,”

“The main parties just want power, they believe everything should be owned by a few people that don’t want change.”

“We want MPs who don’t agree with the old system.

Our representatives (many of whom are unelected) at the climate talks have an important job, but at the same time they are powerless when the strategies agreed come under threat from the groundswell of organised distrust to shale gas, onshore wind farms, or politics in general.The need to get citizens understanding and accepting climate strategies is therefore just as important as the words that will be negotiated in Paris.

In reality, there is an overwhelming agreement to act on climate change, among the public,  scientists and among politicians. But it is the speed of action, and the scale that is under question. It is the shape of our politics that prevents what many feel is needed. As researchers at Yale found, our politics creates a cognitive dissonance around climate change that threatens progress.

I would suggest that the best response government can provide, is to give these marchers something more useful to do. Invite us to help make decisions, or facilitate us to talk to others about what strategies should be developed. Such public conversations that stretch beyond superficial tribal loyalties could be invaluable.

The potential is huge. A quick, back of the envelope, calculation suggests if the 20,000 people who marched spent 1 hour a week supporting government decision making, they could donate over 1 million hours of “climate action” a year.

The government could untap this climate action potential by hosting climate conversations around the country, empowering people and government to get the climate ball rolling.



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