Two Boats Battling the Headwinds of the Climate Crisis

Photo: Andrew Neel/Unsplash

Photo: Andrew Neel/Unsplash

Two very different sailboats have become symbols of the converging currents of social pressure and activism now uniting to fight the climate crisis.   

Greta Thunberg’s zero-carbon voyage in a racing yacht across the Atlantic to attend the UN Climate Action Summit in New York in September, captured global attention and the imagination of millions. Her message of, “Unite Behind the Science” combined with the “Fridays For Future” school strikes have galvanized hundreds of thousands of young people to act. 

The second craft is a pink sailboat, that occupied London’s Piccadilly Circus in April along with 6,000 protestors during the 11-day civil disruption in central London by the environmental activist group, Extinction Rebellion (XR). The sailboat was a theatrical focal point for the protestors, 1,200 of whom were arrested during the mass disruptions of roads, businesses and transit. It was the first of a small fleet of sailboats used to block city centres in the UK in July, with more mass protests promised for the Fall. 

XR co-founder Roger Hallam says ordinary citizens, most of whom had no history of political activism, were inspired to take to the streets. “We have 55-year-old grandmothers willing to risk arrest because they are so concerned about the lack of action on the climate emergency and what kind of world they are leaving for their grandchildren,” Hallam said.  Extinction Rebellion is now active in 56 countries implementing the strategies of past civil disobedience social movements led by Gandhi and Martin Luther King. 

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With each new scientific report, millions of people are waking up to the severity of the climate crisis and are joining together to demand that governments, industries, corporations and institutions take action before a tidal wave of climate damage makes the planet uninhabitable. 

Compelled by the urgency of the climate crisis and the desire of ordinary citizens to “do something”, there is a convergence of different social movements and interest groups getting behind the common goal of demanding action. It’s fueled by the growing realization that different groups need to work together, from environmentalists to animal advocates, to ordinary citizens, to achieve real change. 

A new group called Animal Rebellion is joining the XR protests to draw attention to the role of animal agriculture in the climate crisis. As an example, more than 50 animal rights groups in the UK have set aside their differences to support the XR disruptions. 

And the Save movement, founded by Canadian animal activist Anita Krajnc -- whose trial and acquittal for giving water to thirsty pigs crammed inside a truck outside a slaughterhouse in Toronto attracted global media attention — now has groups in 70 countries. It has also expanded its mission to include focusing on how industrialized animal agriculture negatively impacts the climate and our health, and they are reaching out to other groups to join forces to drive effective change.  

The latest UN IPCC reports say that to slow down global heating, we need to transition from fossil fuels to carbon free energy, stop biodiversity destruction, redesign our broken food production system and transition from industrialized animal agriculture to a healthier and environmentally sustainable plant-based food system. 

So, while political leaders continue to distract from the climate emergency by, for example, contemplating buying Greenland or downplaying the negative impact of a no-deal Brexit, ordinary citizens are joining together and calling leaders to account for their lack of action on the existential crisis facing all of us.  

The tide is turning on both sides of the Atlantic. The UN Climate Summit in New York will be a focal point for global debate, protests and public calls for action, kicked off by a global climate strike on September 20th. And in London, Extinction Rebellion is expecting 10-20,000 protestors to be sitting in the streets in October in a “non-violent, respectful and disruptive” demonstration.  

Can mass movements, concerned citizenry and advocacy groups combine effectively to drive real change to slow down global heating? Leading theories of social change say “yes”. Mobilizing millions of citizens will make it happen. So, if we all look for an opportunity to join the global climate strike on September 20th – who knows -- we could save the world.

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