Organizing and seizing the moment

A memorable criticism in Frances Fox Piven and Richard Cloward’s Poor People’s Movements: Why they Succeed, How they Fail alleges that organizers often miss their opportunity because the use the moment of chaos in which the common people are prepared to rebel as an opportunity for institution-building instead of revolution or immediate large-scale reform.

The point is well taken, and organization-building can indeed involve tedious bureaucracy that bores volunteers and doesn’t seem to justify the time it takes. For the climate activism movement specifically, however, we need to think more than most about the durability of the edifices we create, because this fight isn’t going to end for decades. Even if miracle after miracle takes place, we aggressively decarbonize around the globe, and we manage to keep the temperature increase below 1.5 ˚C, there will still always be the temptation to exploit valuable fossil fuel reserves that nations have so far forborne to use for the sake of the climate. Perhaps we will one day have energy technologies so superior that fossil fuels will lose their commercial value, but especially with hard-to-replace applications like air travel and spaceflight rising in popularity, it seems imprudent to assume that will happen. And so we will need to keep the fossil fuels buried not just now, but for generations to come. In all probability, we will need to do so despite steadily-worsening climatic conditions and secondary stresses associated, from famines to mass migration.

Certainly organization-building can be done wrong, and we all learn from the mistakes of past efforts. Climate activism may well be unlike some other movements, however, and face a particular need to keep functioning and influencing public policy even after the current generation of organizers are dead, to say nothing of three years down the line when everyone involved in the movement has switched their primary organizational affiliation and central area of focus.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

One thought on “Organizing and seizing the moment”

  1. People trying to deal with climate change have to struggle through so much unhelpful human psychology. Not only do we need to know what really has to happen (stabilize CO2) but we need a whole process for the political system to accept it, and even to keep our own supporters engaged.

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