Climate change conferences have been tarnished, but communities coming together to create a ‘global power shift’ show we are all on the frontline, says student activist Tom Youngman
Global climate conferences have a bad name. Annual UN gatherings of diplomats – most recently in Doha, but most famously in Copenhagen – have not only failed to meaningfully act on climate change but have disenchanted and disengaged many who otherwise would have acted.
The Global Power Shift conference, staged in Istanbul from 24-30 June, has enabled people and communities to reclaim the concept of a global conference on climate change from the politicians and corporations that despoiled it.
To survive and thrive
Global Power Shift is a process of exploration, understanding and discovery. It’s a process that all are welcome to join and shape. My part in this process began at the Istanbul conference (designated as ‘phase 1’ by its conveners, 350.org). I joined 600 climate change activists for a week of training and planning but, more importantly, also to befriend and understand one another.
People came fresh out of revolution in Libya, in the wake of recent murders of environmental activists in the Philippines and with first-hand accounts of loss of life and livelihood due to climate change. People of diverse backgrounds joined to celebrate the cultures we want to survive and thrive, as much as to bemoan catastrophes we want to avoid.
From a culture of power to the power of culture
We are all on the frontline of climate change. It calls for responsibility from dispersed communities with diverse cultures and, on other issues, often divergent interests. Our opponents in the fossil fuel industry are uniform in language, motivations, politics and even fashion. To win this struggle – which includes liberating those causing climate change from dehumanising industries – we must match their unity in purpose without resorting to a monoculture in practice.
We must sing as much as we shout and dance as often as we demand. We must build shared understanding of our differences, to wield the force that allows humanity to triumph in a common struggle: solidarity.
This solidarity cannot be between elite activists; it must be inclusive of all. We must co-create space for social change that respects our different origins, situations, abilities and limitations. We must engage with those disempowered and marginalised by society, and even by our own movement, discovering what is vivifying for them.
In the UK we need not just for six courageous people to climb the Shard to voice our dissent, but for 60 million people to climb whichever pinnacle of power they need to reclaim in their community.
Think global, act local
This is a movement for the climate and the beauty it sustains – far more powerful than a movement against catastrophes from which it evolved.
It is difficult to answer the questions most often posed about the conference: “What was the outcome?” and “What next?” The outcome was and will be different for everyone. South East Asia will fight coal mining, the Pacific will use their warrior tradition to unite resistance, and Europe will fight fracking and push for EU ambition. There will be national Power Shift events. But the actions, discussions and connections catalysed by the process will look different in every town and village, let alone each nation, and will rarely carry a Global Power Shift banner.
The most beautiful thing about this, for me, is that I’m returning home from a global conference excited about action in my community – among friends, colleagues, elders and neighbours. I’ve learned that a Global Power Shift is millions of collective power shifts and seven billion personal ones. They will be different, their similarity sometimes barely recognisable, but together they will be beautiful and together we will win.