What kind of climate movement will help Australia play its part in averting dangerous climate change? What will it take to create this movement? How can the progressive philanthropic community support this movement? A discussion starter, arguing the case for three short-term priorities for grant-makers and other philanthropists.
1. Bridge building
There is no doubt that a more unified and linked-up climate movement will be more powerful. This requires groups to work across historical, political and cultural barriers; for environmental NGOs to work with non-traditional allies; unionists to engage more deeply with their members and other community groups; and activists occupying the rebel, reformer, citizen and change agent quadrants to align (to some extent) their analyses and actions. The silos and fiefdoms of parallel and competing climate campaigns cannot bring about the changes we need to see.
During the last 12 months, we have supported some significant bridge-building initiatives including the Climate Summit, where crisis talks were held between the emerging grassroots movement and some established environmental NGOs. Subsequently, the Climate Action Network of Australia initiated further dialogue during their annual conference. Since 2006, the Change Agency has encouraged and facilitated climate summits to foster movement dialogue and relationship building. Summits have now been held in Victoria, Queensland and New South Wales as well as the national gathering in Canberra. There is enormous potential for bridge building to further strengthen and diversify relationships within the movement.
Examples of the kind of projects that could be supported by philanthropists to increase bridge building:
- Future national summits of the grassroots climate movement, with participation and talks with other aspects of the movement
- Regional summits
- Collaborative projects between different groups in the climate movement
- Projects by established organisations to engage with and share resources with grassroots climate action groups
2. Capacity building
The climate movement is – and will need to be – unlike others we’re familiar with. It is more diverse, more porous, growing more quickly and fuelled by a greater sense of urgency than any other contemporary Australian social movement. One consequence of this dynamism and diversity is that many activists are engaging in community political action for the first time or in ways that are new to them. Many individuals who feel motivated to commit time and energy to climate change activism find it difficult to navigate their way in, and to develop the skills and resources required for effective and sustained campaigning. Our experience tells us that people benefit from supported real-life activist experience that is linked to achievable strategies and builds their relationships with other networks. Some climate change advocacy groups are building the capacity of individual activists, organisations and networks through education and training, skill sharing and internship programs. These learning activities are relatively isolated, however. The philanthropic community and climate movement would benefit from linking some of these activities together.
Examples of the kind of projects that could be supported by philanthropists to increase capacity building:
- Educational and skill-share elements of national and regional summits.
- Development of shared curriculum for climate action groups (including educational resources and workshop plans).
- Internship programs, where participants learn through direct campaigning.
3. Direct action and civil disobedience
The Change Agency has facilitated strategy development with climate activists for several years. According to their political analyses and theories of change, different groups espouse very different tactical orientations and critical paths. A recurring and almost universal point of agreement, though, is that bringing about the urgently required political changes in Australia will require a dramatic and sustained escalation in nonviolent protest: actions such as climate camps, power station protests and other actions targeting coal or carbon-intensive infrastructure; peaceful demonstrations in the offices of Members of Parliament and so on. Even scientists including the IPCC’s James Hansen are now calling for widespread civil disobedience. This, in turn, requires the climate movement to support activists to develop the skills and confidence to initiate and engage in strategic direct action and to provide safe experiential learning opportunities. The 2008 Climate Camp in Newcastle served this purpose. Just 41% of Climate Camp participants considered themselves likely to participate in direct action before the Camp. The experience of peacefully blocking coal trains for a day left more than 70% of participants ‘likely to take direct action’ in the future – even with more than 60 arrests.
The groups most actively involved in initiating direct action events and mobilisations receive minimal philanthropic (or other financial) support and some have turned to international funding sources.
Examples of the kind of projects that could be supported by philanthropists to increase capacity for direct action and civil disobedience:
- Infrastructure and/or wages to support climate camps.
- Educational workshops in nonviolent direct action.
tCA’s climate change action research project
This project started in mid-2006. As an action research project, it entails a series of cycles of reflection, planning and action. Each cycle focuses on a question or challenge that, if resolved, holds potential for more effective action. In the case of the climate movement, these questions influence how the movement builds and mobilises the power and momentum necessary to avert dangerous climate change. Since mid-2006, we have completed three action research cycles, focusing on: (1) challenges faced by climate action groups (CAGs) during their initial phases; (2) an internship program that focused on the craft of community organising including accountability sessions, relational meetings and mobilisation; and (3) how the climate movement’s online strategy and tactics can effectively build power.
During the last 12 months, the tCA team worked closely with the grassroots climate movement. At the request of the organisers of Australia’s first Climate Camp (July 2008 in Newcastle, and prior to that in Anvil Hill, October 2006), we contributed to a program of workshops to share and develop activist skills and supported the facilitators of the Camp’s spokescouncil and other decision-making forums. Between October 2008 and March 2009, we worked with the organisers of the first national Climate Summit to facilitate decision-making about the grassroots network’s structure and strategy. This culminated in the network adopting three campaign objectives to align their activities during 2009.
Our fourth action research cycle will focus on factors that radicalise and mobilise community-based climate action groups.