ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVISM

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INTRODUCTION

This module covers the relevance of activism, advocacy, and campaigning for environmental justice and wellbeing. We’ll discuss why activists are important actors to catalyze change and provide examples of advocacy success stories including the story of the Climate Reality Project, a network of over 1 million digital activists.

OBJECTIVE

This module will help you identify the characteristics of an environmental advocate, and the main strategies you can use to raise your own voice to help generate the change you want to see.

SUMMARY

Activism

When you identify a problem or an issue that you truly care about, you can use activism, advocacy and campaigning to use your voice and connections to achieve the change you want to see in your community or country.

  • Advocacy: the practice to support a cause or proposal.
  • Activism: is when you conduct direct actions to support or sabotage controversial issues.
  • Campaigning: is when you do a series of actions to bring about a particular result.

These three practices may be different but they complement each other. The way to engage in advocacy, activism, and campaigning varies from individual to individual as we all have different interests and sets of talents. For these actions to be effective, here are some recommendations:

The Rule of 3.5%

According to a study conducted by Erica Chenoweth, Political Scientist and Professor at Harvard Kennedy School, if you want your movement to succeed, you only need to engage 3.5% of the population to support your cause. This means that if you want to bring about change in a neighborhood where 500 people live, you will need to join forces with just 17 other people.

Start With your ‘Why’

The first and most important step when starting your activist journey is to reflect on why you want to be an activist, what causes move you, and what situations you want to change. Paint a mental picture of the future you want to live in and work backwards to figure out a plan to achieve this goal. Use your power, skills and talents to speak up, act, and engage other people to give visibility to the issue you have decided to fight for. You can engage others not only in the streets, but in your house, at school, at work, via social media, or wherever you decide to you need to spread awareness and people might connect with your purpose.

Non-violence

Non-violent activism enhances the legitimacy of your movement by employing peaceful strategies and encouraging broad-based participation. You can use psychological, political and economic methods which can help your cause by mobilizing people to join your movement, discouraging investments in a certain sector or business, and halting the implementation of emerging policies. Lobbying and electioneering is an effective way to adopt a peaceful activist strategy to get involved in democratic processes. Some other examples of non-violent methods are:

  • Symbolic protest: This method usually takes place in the streets, where people gather to march, chant, and show their unconformity with a certain issue, policy or institution.
  • Strikes: This method is used to inflict change by workers or students that refuse to continue with the usual conditions and decide not to work / study until these conditions are improved. An example in environmental action , was the school strike started by climate activists that lead to the Friday’s for Future movement. Here Greta Thunberg and Luisa Neubauer at a school strike fighting for climate action.
  • Economic boycott: The purpose of this method is to stop economic support to a certain company, organization or country by refusing to buy their products or get into business with them, with the goal of modifying their negative behaviours regarding environmental, economic or social issues.
  • Social and political non-cooperation: One of the first non-violent campaigns of the 20th century act was led among others by Mahatma Gandhi in the 1920’s with the aim to obtain British India’s independence from the crown (modern day India, Pakistan and Bangladesh). To learn more and get inspired by this journey, check out this article written by the editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Examples of Environmental Activism

Greta Thunberg

Greta Thunberg might be today’s best known young climate and environmental activist. When she was 16 years old, Greta decided to skip class and sit in front of the Swedish Parliament with a sign that read “school strike for the climate” to incite stronger climate action and the achievement of the Paris Agreement targets by her country.

Vanessa Nakate

The first Fridays For Future activist in Uganda, as well as the founder of Rise up Climate, Vanessa aims to spread knowledge about the causes, impacts and negative effects of climate change, specially in Africa. Her work includes the creation of a campaign to raise awareness about the massive deforestation that Congo’s rainforest was facing, and to protect this ecosystem.

Nemonte Nenquimo

Nemonte is an waorani leader fighting for environmental preservation in the Equatorian Amazonas. She led a campaign and legal action to protect around 200,000 hectares in Waorani territory in the amazonian rainforest from oil extraction activities. She is one of the latest recipients of the Goldman Environmental Prize.

Your Story of Activism

The skills you’ve been building during your changemaker journey, are preparing you to start your own displays of, or contributions to activism, advocacy, and campaigning for the causes you believe in. In order to do that, you might want to reflect on the following questions:

  • What moves you? What do you care about?
  • If you could do so, what would you change about the current situation of your passion focus?
  • What can you do to achieve the future you want?

When you have an answer for these questions, the next step is to get informed. It is essential for activists to have a wide knowledge base about the causes they are supporting, the challenges facing those causes, the history of those causes, and what efforts are currently in place.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • An activist is an individual that decides to challenge the status quo to make a difference regarding a specific issue such as plastic waste, marine depletion, deforestation.
  • Non-violent campaigns and protests are six times more likely to be successful than violent campaigns. This peaceful approach usually gathers more stakeholders, thus bringing legitimacy to the movement.
  • To be a successful activist, you need to find your purpose and voice. Find a problem you wish to solve, an issue you want to fight for. Upon self reflection, you will encounter the answer and a plan to help your community, city or country to bring about change.
  • Not all activists have the same approach: Enjoy your uniqueness and spearhead actions based on your talents.

CHANGEMAKER CHALLENGE

  • Beginner: Research environmental activism in your community/country both past and present. What topics have historically been the focus? What about today? Does one of these stories or causes speak to you?
  • Intermediate: Join or start a campaign to draw attention to a certain cause near you, whether it is climate change, biodiversity loss, waste reduction, ocean cleanups. Dothegreenthing can inspire you with funny and simple ideas.
  • Advanced: Lead by example: show those around you what changes you are implementing in your life, what causes you are supporting, and tell them why. You can even start your own network to promote change or join Youth for Our Planet!

Keep in mind that this is a process, therefore you need to adjust your tactics as you go. Once you have gained more experience, you can decide what works, what does not, and how to better connect with your audience. There are many ways for you to advocate for your passion, so try a few and see what works and feels best. Becoming an activist might be scary and feel overwhelming, but the impact you can have using your voice to fight for the environment is immeasurable.

Once you have found your ‘why’ and are well informed about the issue, you can start your journey. Start simple: educate those around you about the cause you want to support; reach out to local efforts working on the cause you care about, continue to learn more.

OPTIONAL MATERIALS

REFLECTION CORNER

After watching the module’s video, reflect on the following questions:

  • Are there environmental issues that require more attention from the public and private sectors and the community in your local context? What are they? Is there anything you can do about it?

FACILITATOR

NATALIA LEVER
MANAGER FOR LATAM CLIMATE REALITY PROJECT
LATIN AMERICA

Natalia is an International Relations professional with 11 years of experience in public and institutional relations, both at national and international level. She has a proven track record of implementing strategic programs through collaboration and influence with a focus on climate change, sustainability and environmental issues. She is the current Branch Manager for Climate Reality Project in Latin America and Mexico.