Generational Climate Activism

Antarctica Melting by Ray Dahlstrom

When I first started acting seriously on a daily basis on climate change in 2008 I knew that this was a task that would consume the rest of my life. At that time I was angry with our elected representatives – that in a society based on knowledge they should ignore the clear message of science. I also felt a certain resentment, as I knew most of my energy was going to be diverted, though not entirely, from my preferred task of studying history.

Now my elderly disposition has started me thinking about the end of my career as a climate activist. Coincidentally, an opinion piece in a similar vein published this week in the Guardian by Sonia Sodha was entitled “We’ve got to start thinking beyond our own lifespans if we’re going to avoid extinction”.

Much as I dislike the use of the term ‘extinction’ in our literature this otherwise generally pessimistic piece makes the important point that global heating will be with us for a long, long time and that this requires a ‘monumental’ change to our way of thinking. Sodha noted “we could learn from those times in history when humans have proved their ability to think beyond their own lifespan: ‘cathedral thinking’ is based on those architects who planned spectacular buildings that would never be finished in their own lifetimes.”

On the other hand, Sodha downplays short-term activism, whereas I am of the opinion that the work of activists is cumulative. For many the lack of progress at a federal level of politics may seem a failure. Certainly, the ‘Vote Climate’ campaign at the last election did not gain the traction that we all had hoped. A number of my activities including my political campaigning and attempts to form a ‘climate’ party may be considered failures, yet there are now at least 2 single issue parties registered, and a number of locals entering the political arena as I have bowed out.

An old Arab proverb is a good guide for activists – “work today as though you were going to die tomorrow, plan for tomorrow as though you were going to live a thousand years”. With each action, each word, each vote, each lecture, each book, even each blog, we progress slowly towards our goal. We need those who come after us – our children and grandchildren – to follow, to help construct a ‘cathedral’ of ideas and action.