Environment & Climate Change

Organizing Activism for Climate Justice: A Handbook

11 years. That’s how long the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) suspects we have before temperatures could be raised an estimated 1.5ºC  higher than they are today. By the time children beginning kindergarten this year reach their high school graduation date, the Earth’s climate could be catastrophically different from the one we live in today–that is, if we continue to tread down the path we’re currently on.

Climate change is no longer the so-called “distant nightmare” it has long been discussed as. It’s happening in our backyards and all around us as species face extinction, temperatures continue to rise, and sea levels follow suit as coral reef decays to the point of no return.

With the rise of climate strikes transpiring across the globe, the student-aged population have acted as trailblazers at the forefront of the movement. Youth have not only become leaders of tomorrow, but leaders of today. After all, with sand trickling from an 11 year hourglass at alarming rates, there is simply no time to wait until tomorrow.

Activism on the organizing level can seem daunting to many, and particularly to the young. The trouble lies not in the fact that youth are “uneducated” on climate-related issues; in fact more often than not, they are much more engaged than many of their adult counterparts. Instead, a lack of experience or knowledge of resources available may pose as a barrier that deters youth away from action. It’s one thing to advocate for climate justice through a social media post, but another to organize a rally of hundreds, or even thousands of students.

When broken down into smaller components (as this guide will), climate activism can prove to be a lot less intimidating than it may at first glance. From the classroom to the striking base, all the way to proposing legislation, the hope with this manual is to make the ongoing process of community climate justice appear much less overwhelming and much more attainable.

I. Educate Yourself.

Educate yourself and on climate change and environmental policy in your community. What measures are currently being taken, if any, to combat climate change in your city? What about on a national level? Answering these questions will allow you to better understand what gaps exist within your both your nation and community, and allow you to later come up with proposed solutions to these problems.

Does your city/town have a ban on plastic bags? A bike-share program? Examine the environmental impacts of day-to-day activity as it occurs in your city/town–what could be bettered? 

II. Inform Others (Effectively).

After you’ve gained knowledge of the relationship between climate change and the place you call home, the next step in the equation is bringing what you’ve learned into the classroom, on campus, and out to the general public. This doesn’t have to mean standing in front of a PowerPoint presentation (though it by all means can be). Less “traditional” routes can be just as, if not more effective. Whether that be through film screenings, eco-friendly craft sales, or composting workshops, there are endless options given an added touch of imagination.

Host a lunch-hour film festivalThe National Film Board of Canada offers dozens of short and feature length films on sustainability and environment for free use in educational settings

Low-waste pop-up marketWhile this might take a bit more time and effort, creating a space for eco-conscious artisans to sell and share their work can both support local creators, while also promoting ethical spending and greater awareness of an environmentally conscious lifestyle.

III. Organize.

Gathering others to promote a shared mission of climate justice amplifies your cause, and in the meantime takes a handful of weight off your shoulders. Whether this be through gathering signatures petitioning a climate-related policy or starting a student group, the choice is yours.

Reach out to other nonprofits. Take an interdisciplinary approach to climate justice: how could your group and a local human rights organization collaborate to advocate for environmental issues? Reach out to other organizations working on climate-related initiatives and branch together to make an impact.

IV. Strike.

Youth climate strikes have headlined news outlets for the past few months, and for good reason; the image of thousands of youth gathering from coast-to-coast in front of town halls and parliamentary buildings has had a profound effect on the greater context of global awareness and engagement.

  1. Check out the Fridays for Future website. Strikes registered under Fridays for Future are divided into three different categories: weekly (several countries), big (large strikes including multiple countries), deep on May 24th, (when numerous countries strike at once).
  2. Decide on a location. Climate rallies are often held at in front of town halls, but don’t let that stray you away from examining other options. The Climate Strike website makes the suggestion of holding smaller strikes at places such as gas stations operated by companies with proposed plans to drill into the arctic.
  3. Register your strike.

V. Sustain Your Efforts.

Schedule a meeting with your representative and discuss what can be done to make your community more eco-friendly. Talk to your school administrator about sustainable campus practices. Examine the ways in which you could lighten your ecological footprint.

Take action on campus. Does your school/university have a ban on plastic water bottles? Does your cafeteria have a dish/cutlery-return program? Address these issues with administration and work towards creating a campus that reflects innovation in sustainable practices.

Make being eco-friendly a priority in your everyday life. Living a low-waste lifestyle doesn’t have to be perfect. It can begin with as little of a change as bringing a reusable travel mug to the coffee shop (you’ll reduce the waste of an average of 500 disposable coffee cups per year, and may receive a discount for bringing one). By making small but incremental changes in our everyday lives, each one of us holds the power to soften our impact on the environment.

Climate change is a uniquely universal issue; it turns a blind eye to one’s characteristics, background, and upbringing. Though conditions may appear dire, we have the unique opportunity to bind together in bettering a situation that affects us all. 11 years is not a long time, but we mustn’t slip into apathy—our voices and our actions must collectively advocate for our shared home. As the tried-and-true slogan of climate strike posters will tell you, there is no Planet B.

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