Event summary by Nayah Thu
At this week’s event on the role of civil disobedience in the climate movement we heard from Patrick Bond and James Jasper.
Jasper is best known for his research on the emotional and social aspect of protest movements, and spoke about the necessity of utilising civil disobedience to grow the climate movement and increase climate action. He distinguished between long-run emotions, which shape our basic value orientations and perceptions of rationality, and the short run emotions seen in social movements. He argued that social movements have the ability to use short-run anger and indignation to shape long-run perceptions of morality.
Contrasting the climate justice movement with BLM, Jasper acknowledged the difficulty of creating a narrative about the climate crisis. The lack of clear causal links makes it harder to identify “villains” or sources of blame. Climate change manifests in events that appear like random acts of nature – which makes it difficult to make connections intuitively. Another part of the problem is that it is difficult to motivate people to take big personal steps, like not flying, or refusing to have children.
The most effective targets for climate action are those who can both be demonised, and who have an incentive to change – namely, corporations. Symbolic power is also important to consider, in order to raise maximum indignation. In a way, movements are speaking to a third-party audience, the general public. Unfortunately, sometimes the counter-movements are able to mobilise better than their inciters, making the outcome somewhat uncertain.
Bond is a professor at the University of West Cape School of Government. Bond outlined the climate justice principles from the Rights of Mother Earth conference in Cochabamba in Bolivia 2010, and their criticism of technological solutions as “sufficient”. Mentioning books like To Cook a Continent, This Changes Everything and How to Blow Up a Pipeline, he stressed the importance of direct action. As he pointed out, since Occupy and the Arab Spring, the frequency of mass protests around the world is increasing, and the last decade has been marked by popular movements, most recently exemplified in the farmers’ protest in India. When it comes to climate, there exists a generational anger: people want more.
Bond pointed to the Environmental Justice Atlas, an online resource explaining indigenous-led and other climate actions. He highlighted the importance of a just transition and made clear the inadequacies of prior climate policies, like the Paris agreement, and their inadequate focus on climate justice, as well as lack of binding commitments. He quoted Lumumba Di-Aping, leader of a G77 group, when he reacted to the Copenhagen accords, saying “we have been asked to sign a suicide pact”. Going forward, he maintained that civil disobedience will continue to be necessary, drawing parallels with the fight against apartheid.
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