The climate movement vanguard

The climate movement is not a “people’s” movement, but a vanguard, and one with a great responsibility.

Ahead of the UN Conference of Parties (COP) in Paris this December, there has been much talk of the “People’s climate march” and more widely the “People’s climate movement”, but to what extent is it really representative of “the people”?

COP21 officials at a preliminary meeting in September

COP21 officials at a preliminary meeting in September

Compared to the elites who make up the boards of the large multi-national companies and government ministries that will dominate the conference, those involved in grassroots climate activism are more representative of “the people”. However, can a movement really be a people’s movement if it does not yet represent the majority of the population?This is not to say that the climate movement does not have the interests of the population at heart; it most certainly does. But good intentions do not make it representative of the people.

At least in English-speaking countries, climate campaigns are dominated by white and middle-class individuals of liberal politics. While this coalition does represent sizable segments of the countries’ populations, for most people climate change does not rank highly among people’s day to day concerns or voting preferences.

Polar bears and glaciers work great on those who are already convinced. (click to enlarge)

Polar bears and glaciers work great on those who are already convinced. (click to enlarge)

This may cast doubt over the “popular front” discourse of climate activists, but it certainly does not diminish their importance. At this stage, the green movement is a vanguard: those involved have been moved to take action on climate change ahead of the majority of the population. This is largely because the way we have framed the issue resonates more strongly with this group than with many other segments of society. As our Editor Kyle Medin writes, our scientific and ecologic framing of the issue is only attractive to certain demographics.

Being the “early adopters” carries a responsibility: to recruit others into the movement. This vanguard of climate activists must work to engage the wider populace: the working class, people from minority backgrounds, and those of conservative values into the issue. There is an easy way to do this: simply talk to them.

Ahead of COP21, the Oxford climate communications charity Climate Outreach conducted the only social science research into the attitudes of the UK public towards the conference. Whilst they initially recorded feelings of dejection among participants it was found that by simply enabling them to talk amongst their peers their engagement and their willingness to take action increased noticeably.

So what does this mean? Whilst the huge demonstrations are certainly important and empowering, maybe the real climate revolution starts with a conversation in the pub.