Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Only a marriage of youth and experience will change the world

As I sit on a cold Tuesday morning with the heat off and many sweaters on, I am simultaneously reading the paper, listening to Radio Four and catching up on the Bloggers Circle. I am forced to reflect that all of this collective hand ringing is actually reaching a very small audience and that this small audience is not very effective at putting the collective hand ringing to good use. I am an active participant in the collective: I read, I write, I listen, I have heated discussions with friends, I go to lectures at the RSA...and yet I feel, as Patrick Hadfield does that, on some important issues such as climate change, the world is not changing for the better - or at least not fast enough.

There are probably loads of different reasons for that, most of which have to do with the fact that the people with power are older, less energentic and idealistic, and have a short term view which stems from the fact that their main priority is keeping their jobs, and have less time for "extra curricular activities". The net result of the list is that they are more interested in doing what it takes to maintain their status quo than in effecting world change. Realistically, that is what drives decision making both at a corporate and at a government level.

These people can be influenced to a point. The questions are who does the influencing and in what way?

On the influencing front, I have tried writing letters to my MP (no response), joined in the protest of the war in Iraq (failed), and recently participated in Climate Camp which was a thoroughly depressing experience. Firstly, because I did not have dread locks and am clearly over 21, I was consistently asked if I would like a leaflet, rather than accepted as a participant. Secondly, for all the enthusiastic chat, and gung ho educational modules about how to "do" civil disobedience, among other things, the organisers actually did not know, in the main, who - WHO - they were trying to influence. We gathered outside the head offices of large corporations. Did the protesters know who ran them (and thus who they should write to, phone, e mail in order to influence them?): no. Did the protesters know the latest about the enviromental policies of these large companies: no. They meant well but are too prejudiced and narrow minded to ever make a big impact because they refuse to learn who they should be influencing, and how.

We need to be able to marry experience with enthusiasm in vast quantities in order to change the world. Age and youth need to work together. So here is my starter for ten list of suggestions to the members of the Bloggers Circle, the RSA, and the reader regarding how to do that and, in that way, ideally change the world:

1. Get your criminal check done so you can go and speak about something at your local school (get them while they are young).
2. Contact an action group and see if they are open minded enough to have you come in and speak to them about organising themselves better and getting to know who it is they need to influence. Give lessons in corporate culture, how to write a letter, draw an org chart on the wall to show them how the decisions are made, teach them about CSR and how to manipulate it.
3. RSA: find some way to get university students involved on a regular basis in what we are doing and see if we can harness some of their ideas and enthusiasm in return for...?

I have motivated myself whilst writing this and will contact Climate Camp forthwith to have a chat about my observations and offer my services to them. Sadly, I am nearly 100% certain I will be thanked and dismissed because I don't fit their profile. Watch this space.


  1. i think you've slightly misunderstood the climate camp, our aim isn't to influence companies to but to stop them directly and build a movement that is an alternative vision of society. The climate camp isn't about asking others to do things it's about doing it ourselves.
    if you wanted to feel involved and make a contribution at the camp perhaps you'd have been better off emptying the composting toilets, doing the washing up or one of the other hundreds of jobs needed to build a strong grassroots movement, rather than telling us we are doing it wrong - have you read the news this week? victories for us (not alone but as part of broader movement) include Kingsnorth delayed for at least 3 years and not likely to ever happen, BAA backing off on the 3rd runway and a new coal threat at Hunterston called off before it even starts.

  2. Well, you seem a lot more active than me! Whilst I will be marching in December, I think the vast scale of climate change means individuals can do little themselves - Matthew's response shows that knowledge isn't necessarily enough. We need to influence governments - I can't remember hearing any of the big three party conferences discussing climate change, but I heard a lot about the global economy...

    I do actually have a CRB check, but I am not sure what I would take into a school - as Matthew said, climate change is now part of the curriculum!

    But you are right: I really should be more active, and volunteer for a local group. It has been on my to-do list for a while...

    By the way, you may have followed the link in my blog, but if not, my post was in part prompted by Francesca, asking how people who feel strongly about things should organise - it might be of interest!

  3. Good post Jane. I too am interested in working out what I can do to have most impact. I haven't been to Climate Camp but I'm involved with a group of parents which does "stuff" around climate change - stalls at events, a bit of letter writing, etc etc. I think it's important stuff but I'm also very aware that it's not lighting my fire.

    In my work I talk a lot about activism and entrepreneurship - how I started down this road as an activist (hardly a radical one but an activist all the same) and have slowly focussed on being more entrepreneurial to deliver social change.

    I think I want to continue down that road. I'm not wholly sure what that means, but it probably doesn't mean spending my limited time writing letters to MPs. It may well mean a complete shift in the work that I do - to get more effective at supporting entrepreneurial approaches to tackling climate change. We'll see. I think the important thing - like both of us are doing - is to keep questioning.