Climate Action: A Future Terror?

Climate actions and climate activists are currently on the rise. The question is, what do they mean for the future, and how can things go wrong?

In the recent past, we had a number of school strike actions, which were taken playfully, and activists who spontaneously appeared and disappeared. Others are here to stay. What drives them? And what can that lead to?Author: Manu Steens   In this post I write my own opinion, not that of any organization.

Why this suspicion?

An entire generation of people feel aggrieved by climate change. This does not improve in the future, where politics cannot deliver on promises. The formula that applies:

Frustration = Promise – Perception

Promises that you don’t keep cause a lot of frustration. Activists are already responding to this.

Context

Then: 1890-1914

The comparative context actually begins before 1890, not with climate terror, but with anarchy.

In those days, ordinary people had a hard time making ends meet. Their situation contrasted sharply with the nobility, the rich, and the politicians. This gave negative feelings about their situation, which fed the anarchist philosophers. However, it also fed the actual anarchists, who manufactured bombs during that period. There were many attacks, against monarchs, against police, against high officials of the state and ad random.

Because of the anarchists’ important share of criminal acts, and because of their behavior in which they hid in one country but carried out attacks elsewhere, there was first an informal cooperation of the national police of the various countries. In doing so, they were looking for a way to identify perpetrators, and the Frenchman Alphonse Bertillon made a proposal that he called ‘anthropometry’. Police officers took Photographs of the suspect, and measured his height and a number of other body characteristics. This became a standard for some time, until the perfection of the method of fingerprinting.

Anarchies, because of their cruelty, were a “crime against the foundations of the social order” from August 1892, and after some time could no longer count on the status of a political crime in most countries. This was important, because many anarchists appealed to political asylum. They never asked what that social order actually was, they neither answered it. They labaled the anarchist as a socialist who wanted to make changes in haste. (“De Anti-terroristen – de strijd tegen het anarchisme 1890-1914 – Wouter Klem”(The Anti-Terrorists – The Struggle against Anarchism 1890-1914)).

Importantly, there was an active group that committed extreme acts and a group that philosophized about anarchy.

One of the consequences was that, by trial and error, police of many countries worked together as an international police force, a kind of INTERPOL avant la lettre, which sometimes had the support of the politicians of the time, sometimes worked together rather informally.

A common approach was to expel anarchists. The states could do this, among other things, on the basis of recognition of people through the exchange of the databases of the time: books with photos and other body characteristics.

Now: 21st century

The fact is that the anarchy was ignited by wronged feelings, resulting in terrible acts.

Today, there are again dissented feelings, namely those of the climate activists. Organizations such as Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth International, Climate Action Network, 350.org are not unknown. Organizations such as Climate Justice Now, Earthjustice, Environmental Defense Fund, Union of Concerned Scientists, Rebellion Extinction… we know. These organizations are working on climate action in a variety of ways. They lobby governments and companies, organize public campaigns and carry out direct actions.

Currently, the most conspicuous actions are the gluing of themselves of people to floors, streets, paintings and the like. This often to their own inconvenience. But climate philosophers are also active: for example, climate philosophers and climate scientists discussed and criticized the climate summit in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, 1-2 December 2023. They felt that the summit was not ambitious enough and that not enough was being done to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Among them was Professor Kevin Anderson, a climate scientist at the University of Manchester. He said it was “a big disappointment” and says that “we are in an emergency and can’t wait until 2050 to achieve climate neutrality”.

Another critic comes to his aid: Professor David Spratt, a climate scientist at the University of Melbourne. Among other things, he stated that it was “a symbolic act”.

One of the climate philosophers is Professor John Barry, from the University of Edinburgh. He thinks the summit is “a missed opportunity” and that “we need a new way of thinking”.

A more radical critic was Professor Val Plumwood, of the University of Sydney. He said the summit was “a sign of the power of the fossil fuel industry” and that “we need to break the power of this industry”.

One cannot yet draw real parallels with the actions of the anarchists of 1890, but the question is whether we should wait for that. After all, these activists have an interest in preserving the planet for future generations. However, that is a task for politicians. (A quote from the 2022 IPCC report: https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/wg2/ “Taking political responsibility is essential to tackling climate change. Government policies and actions can influence the speed and extent of the transition to a sustainable society.” This quote is a clear statement from an authority on climate change that politics has a duty to preserve the world for future generations.)

This alone makes climate action politically tinged.

How can you estimate this future form of action?

Possible futures

In this I would like to contrast two uncertainties:

  • Will an extremist form after a radical form emerge from a political form of anarchy?
  • Will there be a soft form of anarchy or syndicalization or a form of climate anarchy?

I contrast these uncertainties as follows:

Discussion

Hope

Some climate organizations are coming to the fore politically.

  • Die Linke’ has been working in the EU for a fairer climate policy.
  • Greenpeace commits itself to a transition to sustainable energy.

In international politics, Greenpeace is an important climate organization and plays an important role in the international debate on climate change.

The United Nations and the International Energy Agency also have a role to play in tackling climate change. These organizations work together with governments and companies.

The climate crisis is more urgent than before and more people are worried. This increases the likelihood that climate parties and organizations will play an even greater role in international politics.

Peace?

Conferences of peace and climate are important, together with meetings of activists who collude.

One example is the Climate Peace Conference, which was in Berlin in 2023. This conference brought together activists from all over the world to discuss these topics. The conclusion was that peace and climate change are inextricably linked. Climate change can lead to conflict, while conflict can exacerbate the effects of climate change.

Another example is the Climate Action Summit, which was in New York in 2023. The UN organized it and brought together world leaders, activists and citizens. The participants came to a number of agreements, including raising the ambitions of the Paris Climate Agreement.

These conferences help to raise awareness about the relationship between peace and climate change.

Some other examples of conferences include:

  • The Peace and Climate Nexus Conference, which was in Brussels
  • The Climate Justice Summit, which was in Nairobi
  • The Climate Action Now Summit, which was in Sydney

These conferences and meetings are a sign that there is an increasing focus on the relationship between peace and climate change.

It is important to promote sustainable development. In doing so, the needs of the present are met without jeopardizing the needs of future generations. It takes into account social, economic and environmental aspects.

Sustainable development can help to tackle peace and climate change by:

  • Reduce poverty, which results in fewer conflicts.
  • Reduce the use of fossil fuels, in order to limit global warming.
  • Protect biodiversity, which mitigates the impact.

International cooperation is also necessary. It can help to:

  • Take ambitious climate action.
  • Mitigate the impact in fragile countries.
  • Financing the transition to a sustainable society.

These examples show that more and more attention is being paid to the relationship between peace and climate change. They offer hope to tackle these two important issues together.

Strike

The negative consequences of global warming, including heat waves, floods and droughts, rising sea levels with flooding of coastal areas, changes in agricultural patterns resulting in food shortages and the mass extinction of plants and animals, can lead to social unrest and conflict. The affected people will feel dissatisfied with the government and corporations that consider them responsible for climate change. This can lead to strikes, protests, and even violence.

In addition, trade unions can join the climate movement and organize strikes to reinforce demands that companies and governments do more to tackle climate change. Further, anti-militarist groups may join the climate movement and oppose military investments that could contribute to climate change.

In extreme cases, climate activists can carry out attacks. An example is the Unabomber in the United States in the 1990s.

Remember, though, that most climate activists are peaceful people. They are not looking for violence, but want a better world.

Some examples of how one might work with actions are:

  • strikes by workers in the fossil fuel industry,
  • protests by farmers demanding that the government do more to combat the effects of climate change,
  • attacks on oil and gas installations by climate activists.

Where, how, when and predict the probabilities of such actions is impossible. It depends on factors such as the severity of the impacts of climate change, the actions of governments and corporations, and the radicalization of climate groups.

Right Wing?

Are far right-wing parties going to pull the cart of the climate?

This is hard to say for sure. However, there are a number of factors that will play a role, such as:

  • The severity of the consequences of climate change: if they worsen, this could put political pressure on these parties.
  • The reaction of public opinion: if they feel that action is necessary, this may give the desired influence.
  • The internal divisions within the far right can make it difficult for far-right parties to draw a clear line on climate change.

Based on current trends, far-right parties are likely to play a more prominent role in this debate in the future. The effects of climate change are becoming more and more apparent and public opinion about it is changing.

It is possible that political parties will use the case to promote their own agenda. Some examples of how the climate issue can be drawn in the future (and these are already in the media):

  • through a radical transition to renewable energy, in order to reduce dependence on foreign oil,
  • by committing to a national approach to climate change in order to strengthen the country’s sovereignty,
  • by committing to a policy that fights climate change, but also protects the interests of its own population, such as continuing to guarantee employment.

There is no certainty yet to say which direction they will take. However, it is already clear that this is an important issue for the future.

Glue

Small attention seekers are coming to the fore, such as the ‘glue activists’ in 2023.

Another popular action is blocking roads or access gates to fossil fuel installations. This is to put pressure on governments and companies.

There is also the defacing of buildings and the disruption of events. These sometimes lead to arrests or other legal consequences.

Some examples of similar and other actions were:

  • On 30 Dec 2023, Extinction Rebellion activists blocked the A10 motorway in Amsterdam, near the former ING headquarters ‘De Schoen‘.
  • On 8 April 2022, Extinction Rebellion activists blocked London’s Tower Bridge against the use of fossil fuels. They had to close the bridge, which caused disruption to traffic.
  • Activists from the environmental movement Extinction Rebellion smeared the façade of the ‘Fondation Louis Vuitton’, a private museum in Paris, with paint on Monday, May 1, 2023.
  • January 16, 2023, Greenpeace made mincemeat of private flights to the World Economic Forum.

Some people see these actions as effective practices to raise awareness about climate change. Others feel they are being unnecessarily aggressive.

Despair

There have already been terror attacks by small cells, climate anarchists and lone wolves.

These attacks are often against symbolic targets. These include fossil fuel installations or companies that are seen as liable.

Some climate philosophers have explained and sometimes justified these attacks in different ways. This has to do with the idea that governments and companies are not doing enough to tackle climate change.

Other climate philosophers condemn these attacks. They claim that violence is never the solution. They are more concerned that these kinds of actions will discredit the climate movement.

Possible measures are in the document by UNIA: ‘Gevolgen na de aanslagen: dossiers bij Unia – Maatregelen en Klimaat’ (Consequences after the attacks: files at UNIA – Measures and Climate) (https://www.unia.be/files/Documenten/Publicaties_docs/2021-03_Maatregelen_en_klimaat_TERAD_2020_NL_maro.pdf)

Conclusion:

We find facts, arguments for, and activities within each of the six possibilities. The question is whether these trends will continue as diversely, which I think is most likely, or whether one of the trends will become the main trend. A number of trends may become more prominent. This will depend, among other things, on the frustration of the people in the new climatic conditions.

Question to the reader:

How do you see these possible futures evolving?

Manu Steens

Manu works at the Flemish Government in risk management and Business Continuity Management. On this website, he shares his own opinions regarding these and related fields. Since 2012, he has been working at the Crisis Centre of the Flemish Government (CCVO), where he has progressed in BCM, risk management, and crisis management. Since August 2021, he has been a knowledge worker for the CCVO. As of January 2024, he works at the Department of Chancellery and Foreign Affairs of the Flemish Government. Here, he combines BCM, risk management, and crisis management to create a tailored form of resilience management to meet the needs of the Flemish Government.

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