Empowering local alternatives is the next essential #PeoplesClimate mobilization

Originally published 09/25/2014 Vancouver Observer

NOTE: It’s Interesting re-reading this now in the context of the discussions of the Green New Deal which are taking centre stage in politics. I will write more about this in future posts.

What an amazing weekend. It was so empowering watching the livestream of the estimated 400,000 people on the streets of New York Sunday morning marching for action on climate change.

I sat there delirious with joy (and also exhausted from running a half-marathon with an old friend earlier that morning). Around 1pm in Vancouver, I walked to middle of the sunny streets downtown along with thousands of our friends who were taking part in a grassroots event, one of the People’s Climate March solidarity events taking place in over 160 countries.

Seeing and experiencing that march was for me like fanning the flames of a fire with both hands. We are at the brink of a profound moment of change and what we do next couldn’t be any more important. How do we translate a desire for action in to the specific changes we all need at home? These are precisely the issues I am exploring in my book “Empowering Canada” (NOTE: the title has changed since publishing this blog…stay tuned for more information) that I am currently crowdfunding for.

Broadly speaking, it’s safe to say everyone concerned about climate change wants a transition off of fossil fuels to alternativesBut the tricky part is how do we make it a reality at home. That’s where the next big mobilization comes in. Clearly it has not been good enough just to call on world leaders to act.

In recent years, activists have shifted from focusing on global climate treaties to trying to stop projects that would expand fossil fuel dependence at home. 

This has worked well so far in fights against tar sands pipelines like Keystone XL in the US or Enbridge’s Northern Gateway and Kinder Morgan’s new Trans Mountain Pipeline proposals in BC. Along with fights against coal and fracking, environmentalists have been slowing the expansion of fossil fuel dependence at the grassroots level. How do we take that momentum and direct it towards better local alternative projects to fight infrastructure with infrastructure?

The idea behind my book is that the next big mobilization should be for the specific alternatives we need to develop in our communities. As Michael Brune from the Sierra Club so aptly pointed out speaking the night before the rally renewable energy sources are already at parity or less expensive in many places. 

Yet the overwhelmingly powerful fossil fuel companies won’t just disappear all by themselves. Even with viable, profitable energy alternatives it’s going to take engaged citizens working on this at the project-by-project level in our own communities worldwide.

It’s critical that communities are actively involved in determining for themselves what projects work best for them to facilitate the needed transition from their existing sources of dangerous pollution.

That’s where the mass mobilization comes in. I believe everyone returning home from the #PeoplesClimate March should focus on organizing around replacing existing or proposed infrastructure in their community with specific alternative energy and transportation projects.

I want this book to serve as a case study for this kind of struggle. Let’s get to the heart of the challenges and opportunities before us. This moment is critical because as new bad projects like Enbridge and Kinder Morgan are proposed in BC we can ride that wave of dissent and turn it into community support for better projects.  I want to make them have to pull down wind turbines if they want their pipelines to go through.

Making this a reality is all about effective community organizing. About a week ago I spoke at a screening of the documentary “Disruption,” a film that makes a compelling case for attending the People’s Climate March by talking about the role of mass mobilizations like this one in social change movements historically. In the film I watched as organizers of the rally in New York trained other organizers. It was a beautiful thing to see a film with such a strong focus on the importance of organizing.

One of the things I heard organizers emphasizing was the value of talking about action on climate change meaning solutions that create better jobs.  There is clearly so much hunger for positive solutions. Let’s run with it.

Let’s turn the threats of proposed and existing fossil fuel projects into an opportunity to empower communities and build a new thriving local economies of which we all can be proud.

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