The transnational nature of the climate change activist movement


in Canada, PhD thesis, Politics, The environment

One challenge in the dissertation process has been repeated entreaties to only talk about Canadian campus fossil fuel divestment (CFFD) campaigns, not those in the US and UK.

I think Karen Litfin’s 2005 article “Advocacy Coalitions Along the Domestic-Foreign Frontier: Globalization and Canadian Climate Change Policy” may be helpful for making my case that divestment is a transnational movement and that more is lost than gained by imposing national borders on its analysis. Litfin argues that “the twin phenomena of economic globalization and the internationalization of environmental affairs are blurring the distinction between some policy subsystems and the international arena.” I would argue that this is especially true for climate change activism, for several reasons. The politics of climate change are inherently bound up in international relations, since unilateral actions can’t solve the problem in the absence of cooperation between states. Furthermore, in North America the highly integrated energy systems — and the everpresent concern about Canadian economic competitiveness compared to the US — contributes to the transnationalization of climate politics, as do influences between ideologically similar political parties in both countries.

In addition, the strategies of broker organizations which have promoted divestment — including, the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition, the US Fossil Fuel Divestment Student Network, Canada’s Divest Canada Coalition, and the UK’s People & Planet — are based around providing a “campaign in a box” with coordinated objectives, branding, and messaging. Since the CFFD movement is focused on non-government actors, governments and national policy environments have a secondary importance for the movement.

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