An Audacious Toolkit: Actions Against Climate Breakdown (Part 2: D is for Divest)

  • A for Advocacy (climate communication),
  • B for Barricade (keeping fossil fuels in the ground) and
  • C for Civil Disobedience (acting to change government direction).

Becoming part of something bigger

If you are new to collective action, the first step is probably the most difficult one. It involves reaching out: picking up the phone, writing an email, contacting someone on facebook or twitter. Your goal here is to find ways to participate actively, to talk to others, prepare actions, build a movement. You will be asked to come to a meeting (easy!) or organize one yourself (harder, but surprisingly do-able, lots of practical support exists).

And once you’re at that meeting, or in that group, congratulations! You are now part of something bigger.

Any work within a group involves learning, discussion and compromise, dealing with diverse personality types, and trying to make progress in murky situations where the “best” way forward is unknowable in advance. The only general guidance I can give here is to insist that your group is led on a basis of kindness, mutual respect and good humour, is welcoming to newcomers of all horizons, provides you with avenues for action (not just endless internal meetings!), and is not given to being over-distracted by purity, perfection or circular firing squads. (Basically, avoid the People’s Front of Judea!)

And once you are acting, congratulations! You are now an activist: you are acting to change the course of history, rather than being a simple bystander to disaster.

As you navigate these new spheres, you will be making friends and comrades, people who are ready to join you and work together for a better world. People who will stick with you and your family, who will become shining lights in your life in dark moments to come. It’s more than worth it: it’s life-giving.

Three more letters for the Alphabet of Collective Climate Action

D is for Divest

Divestment is the financial equivalent of keeping fossil fuels in the ground (where they all should stay): it means cutting off the monetary pipeline to fossil industries. Why do we need to do this? Better late than never, this week the International Energy Agency made a clear and uncompromising statement: building anything that emits CO2 is utterly incompatible with addressing climate change and maintaining a planet where human survival and civilization is possible.

  • new extractive facilities (such as the Preston New Road fracking site just north of where I live in Manchester);
  • new transportation facilities, such the Trans Mountain pipeline in Canada;
  • new fossil-fueled power plants to produce electricity for industry.
  • Your personal or business bank account, if it’s in any old bank, might well be contributing to destroying the planet. You can check at “Fossil Banks No Thanks”, and then find a more future-compatible alternative. Many excellent ethical and fossil-free banks exist around the world: there is no reason why, by this evening, your money couldn’t be taken out of fossil hands and put into positive alternatives.
  • Your pension fund and state social security are probably invested in fossil fuels: you & your colleagues can join up to make sure that the investment you are making for your old age isn’t in fact destroying future life on earth (logic!). Many pension funds have already divested.
  • Your employer. You can influence the investments made by your employers and show that your work is not tied to the future of the fossil industry. In the UK, many universities have already divested from fossil fuels, for instance (although sadly not my own! Shame on you, University of Leeds!), thereby demonstrating their coherent commitment to future human civilization.
  • Your city, region and national government investment. You can influence these in multitudes of ways, including campaigns through schools (this is a good way to start talking about climate change and getting students positively involved), community & sports groups (friends of local park, dog walkers, pub quiz, cricket players: they all have in common a wish for survival), and so on. Many cities, regions and even countries have already divested from fossil fuels, and more are planning to do so. They can all use your advocacy and help — the movement comes from below. Even if individual politicians want to do something on their own, they will be able to do nothing without vocal constituents (you!) shouting out their encouragement.

You get the idea: the sooner we turn off the money spigot to the fossil industry, the sooner their plans for expansion, and even continuation of current emissions, become nonviable.

E is for Election

Stick figures represent Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (sorry!) and a mash-up of Caroline Lucas & Molly Scott-Cato (even more sorry!) because my artistic skillz are EXTREMELY limited … if you have better ones, and this pains you, you might want to help illustrate future posts? Thx.
Thousands Extinction Rebellion activists risk arrest & bring London to a standstill, 17/11/2018.
Representative Ocasio-Cortez supporting Green New Deal activists.
Representative Tlaib giving a speech to Green New Deal activists.

And perhaps most importantly, you can run for office yourself. Yes, you. Who? YOU. For which office? Whichever you want!

School governor, dog catcher, overseer of traffic cones … it all counts. Or go straight for national office, like Alexandria did — what’s the worst that could happen? You could become part of this wave of eco-social action, and move the world steadily towards a course of survival. You don’t have to be young, or a woman, or of color (although of course those can’t hurt!), but you do have to have an appetite for talking to people, being brave, making connections, arguing your case and their case passionately against the strongest forces in the world. Go for it! Encourage your friends and colleagues to run for office, support the heck out of their campaigns. What’s the alternative? Simply that someone else will hold office: someone who cares less, is less competent, and will give the future of your community less of their commitment and power. So go for it.

L is for Lawsuit

L is for lawsuit, because it turns out the law is a strong force in our countries and international contexts. Who knew? Well, a whole bunch of ace human and environmental rights lawyers and legal experts knew, that’s who. They are the real-life Justice League of planet Earth. The legal challenges enforce action on climate change are multiple, and have won remarkable victories. Just this week, for example, the European Court declared a form of hidden subsidy from the UK government to fossil power plants to be illegal.

  1. PlanB is a powerhouse UK group leading legal actions against the UK government on climate action and airport expansion.
  2. Urgenda won a climate case against the government in the Netherlands, compelling them to reduce greenhouse gas emissions immediately. This case is groundbreaking, and made governments around the world sit up and take notice.
  3. Mission LifeForce is a relatively new organization in the UK, with an impressive line-up of support and a strong, well, mission. The other lawsuits discussed here are civil cases: Mission LifeForce seeks to bring criminal cases for the death and destruction resulting from fossil industries and government inaction, under the banner of an international crime of ecocide. Join them and their important work!
  4. Juliana vs. the United States, often known as the children’s climate lawsuit, is a legal challenge to the US government to act on climate change in line with its duty of care to children. It is brought by the Children’s Trust, along with Earth Guardians. Just weeks ago, it was allowed to go forward by the US supreme court.

The Audacious Toolkit Climate Action Trilogy!

This post is Part 2 of a trilogy! Part 1, covering the crucial importance of collective action, and A is for Advocacy, B is for Barricade and C is for Civil Disobedience is linked here.



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Julia Steinberger

Julia Steinberger


Immigrant, Swiss-American-UK ecological economist at the University of Lausanne. Research focus on living well within planetary limits. Opinions my own.