As the world is preoccupied with Covid-19 has Climate Change taken a back seat? Darryl Horan investigates.
Last year saw an explosion in environmental activism - from the School Strikes for Climate Change to the world-wide actions by Extinction Rebellion. Millions of young people, fuelled by outrage at the perceived lack of action by world's leaders on tackling climate change, took to the streets from Dublin to Sydney to make their voices heard. This peaked in September 2019 with over 4 million people marching around the world.
This year almost all protests and outdoor demonstrations have been cancelled or postponed due to fears of transmission of Covid-19. However, this does not mean that the climate crisis has gone away. In fact, far from it, as global temperatures are still predicted to rise by 2-3% over the next century. The pictures of fires in California, flooding in central Africa, and the melting of ice in the Arctic circle all show that the conditions which brought millions on to the streets still exist. To talk about where we are now, The University Observer spoke to Sarah Ní Dochartaigh, a member of Extinction Rebellion and convenor for the Climate Justice Coalition, and John Molyneux of the Global Eco-Socialist Network.
As an Environmentalist, one of the central aspects of our movement is listening to the science. Traditionally this has been taken in an environmentalist context, but we now must take it in a public health context. So, if something is not safe for the public, we are not going to do it.
A member of Extinction Rebellion, a group famous around the world for their peaceful protests, Ní Dochartaigh notes that while protesting is still an important component of putting pressure on the government, current health guidelines must be taken into consideration. “Of course as an Environmentalist, one of the central aspects of our movement is listening to the science. Traditionally this has been taken in an environmentalist context, but we now must take it in a public health context. So, if something is not safe for the public, we are not going to do it.” However, she says that this should not exclude all protest action. “There are ways to certainly to have demonstrations, such as having them spaced out across the city or really strongly enforcing social distancing and mask wearing.”
Speaking about how the Covid-19 crisis and the lockdown initially affected Extinction Rebellion, Ní Dochartaigh said “First thing that comes to mind is that we did have to cancel our ‘Climate Action Now’ rally which had been planned for the weekend lockdown happened. It was a big coalition of environmentalist groups, trade unions... cancelling that was a big disappointment”. She went on to add that, due to the lockdown, “we had to cancel our in-person meetings” but “we had been operating quite a bit over Zoom anyway... which certainly made meetings more accessible for some people, especially for people around the country”.
One of the first major challenges for Extinction Rebellion was the Programme for Government proposed by Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party. “The formation of the government was the big issue we focused upon. There were divisions in the environmentalist movement over the Programme for Government.... Extinction Rebellion obviously came out against the Programme for Government. We want a path to a just transition... where there were environmental aspects to the programme, they were quite shallow and lacking”.
Following up on this, Extinction Rebellion seeks now to launch its 100 days campaign. Ní Dochartaigh continues “In the Programme for Government we were promised a revision of the 2019 Climate Action within 100 days of the formation. That’s up until October 5th, so we are going to raise a publicity campaign to ensure it comes about”.
Similarly, the Climate Justice Coalition launches its first campaign on the 3rd of October. “We are launching on the third with actions in Dublin, Cork, and Galway. It is a coalition of trade unions, migrant organisations, and student groups”.
Speaking to The University Observer, academic and activist John Molyneux, who is a member of The Global Eco-Socialist Network, seeks to popularise the concept of a global climate strike. He states that “we are working towards popularising the idea of a global strike, there is a climate conference called COP26 occurring potentially next year [depending] on the Covid 19 restrictions, thousands of activists and NGO’s will be coming to Glasgow.... By focusing on this event, it has given us a focal point for action”.
Crucial to this, Molyneux adds that despite the focal point being in Glasgow, this must be a global event. “What is also clear is that if you are not a rich person or if you're an ordinary person, like in Brazil where there is a major movement to try and defend the Amazon Rainforest, or an activist in South Africa, or in Australia facing the bush fires, you can’t get to Glasgow...So, the global strike is a form of framework for action around the world where people are. Within this strike you can do a number of things, rallies, demonstrations, and of course strike actions”
“The key to this is a set of demands that can reach beyond borders and relate to people around the world. The role of the global eco-socialist network is to bring together groups from around the world to push for demands that keep climate front and centre”.
In tackling these issues it should be clear that the problem is not one of overconsumption. Ordinary people do not over-consume. If you pose the problem in this way it let off the hook the people that primarily are responsible.
Molyneux finishes by underlining the importance of our approach to the climate crisis; stressing that we must not place the burden of the solution on those with the least agency. “In tackling these issues it should be clear that the problem is not one of overconsumption. Ordinary people do not over-consume. If you pose the problem in this way it lets off the hook the people that primarily are responsible”.
“The burning of fossil fuels is a key example here. Carbon emissions from this will not end by telling ordinary people that they have to walk when their commute is tens of kilometres and there’s no reliable public transport”.