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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Anita's Angle: Climate activism, collective action


After the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on Oct. 8 -- the fifth of its kind -- we may be finally realizing the gravity of climate change. We have 12 years to limit devastating global warming, and as Vox explains, “we either invest now to clamp down on greenhouse gases, or we pay down the line through property damage and lost lives.” From nonprofit work to impact investing to activism, there are many different paths towards helping mitigate the problem, although it is too late to fully reverse the trend of warming. While each approach has its upsides and downsides, climate activism in particular has been scrutinized for its 'extreme' approach, especially when it uses public dissent and protest. However, activism is quite broad in its scope of actions. The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “the policy or action of using vigorous campaigning to bring about political or social change.” Activists have many tools available to them to engage in this campaigning, and nonviolent resistance is one of the most salient. It has proven effective in the past. Last year, federal authorities halted a $3.8 billion project to build the Dakota Access Pipeline after thousands of protesters went to North Dakota to stand in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Although the pipeline is currently operational, it is awaiting review by a federal judge who will determine the seriousness of the environmental threat it poses. This progress seems slow, but nonviolent movements are quite effective in inciting change compared to many other strategies and have played a role in almost every prominent social movement from abolition to suffrage to marriage equality. Some have even described nonviolent mass movements as the most important invention of the twentieth century.

Bill McKibben is one such individual. The Boston Globe named him as “probably the nation’s leading environmentalist.” He is known for his work in founding the anti-carbon campaign group and leading prominent resistance movements, including the protests against the Keystone XL Pipeline and the 2014 People’s Climate March. He spoke at Tufts last week, explaining that activism can be multifaceted. He said that activists have many tools in their toolbox and that young people, especially young people of color, have more at stake when it comes to civil disobedience than those who are older, richer and whiter. Activism always has a cost, precisely because it seeks to challenge the status quo. For black and brown people, risking a run-in with law enforcement potentially carries much more serious consequences than it does for others. Young people in particular may not be able to afford retaliation from institutional actors because of their lack of financial stability. For these reasons, we should not expect different people to all engage in the same way with any social justice movement.

Rather, we should leverage our individual privileges and talents to advocate for a more equitable and safer world. While we all have different ways we can contribute, we must organize around shared goals. When asked about actions to combat climate change, McKibben said, “the most important thing the individual can do is be less of an individual. Join together with other people in movements large enough to effect changes in policy and economics."