Climate activism will save planet, not vandalism
    An analysis by Diplomatic Courrier

    WORLD  01 December 2023 - 01:10

    Climate activists have taken unorthodox and drastic measures in recent years to attract the most-possible attention to their protests, including gluing themselves to the road as was the case in Berlin or spilling soup on famous and dearly beloved paintings in museums all around Europe. The Diplomatic Courrier has demonstrated why these acts gain the wrong kind of attention and are counterproductive to actual climate action, laying out an alternative way of being pro-active. Caliber.Az reprints this article.

    "Soup and art in one sentence no longer solely remind us of Andy Warhol’s Campbell's Soup Cans at the MoMA. Lately it is also associated with often desperate, disruptive targeting of museums and art collections to elicit media attention and bring pressure on societies to take the climate emergency more seriously.

    Is art a legitimate target for destruction [or to simulate its destruction]? While climate activism is a worthy endeavor, in this case it poses a false dilemma. Curbed asked why activists chose to juxtapose art versus life to push for climate action? To unmask societal hypocrisy? For a shock effect? Obviously damaging art hurts sensitivities of the middle class, the right target audience, with the wrong outcome.

    The ends do not justify the means in this case. Ultimately, these disruptive methods of climate activism—vandalism—are winning attention but are losing the people. Even sympathizers see the measures as futile and divisive. The damage goes further. Politicians sympathetic to climate action lose credibility from these tactics. Radical politicians who seek to minimize the climate emergency are able to take advantage by depicting activists as eco-terrorists, laying the groundwork for legal action rather than climate action. Finally, climate movements themselves are hurt by this kind of activism, due to police crackdowns, a drain on resources, and a public that has been distracted from the core message of climate activism.

    The choice to simulate vandalizing art for shock effect has a privileged and elitist symbolism behind it. An invisible class dimension shows the privilege to be biographically available, a term coined in social movement studies. The working class cannot afford to skip a workday to go on strikes during the week or fly to distant places for the symbolic-performative actions. It is a privilege to be an activist and speak up or 'take arrestable action for climate justice'.

    While there is no 'correct' way to do activism, there are some ways which are counterproductive. Activism informed by dogmatic views is potentially dangerous. The extreme messaging used by groups such as Extinction Rebellion and Last Generation—which emphasize the climate emergency as a matter of life or death for humanity—is a powerful mobilizing technique. Yet it also resonates powerfully with the kind of messaging used by authoritarian governments historically, which focused on 'greater good' and 'existential struggle' narratives which creates a harmful us-vs-them binary. Presenting climate change as an existential question in which extreme acts are justified is dangerous, potentially evolving into 'climate authoritarianism'.

    Climate activism cannot be relegated to the radical fringes, instead we should broaden the scope of activism. Healthier and more productive forms of activism would follow a 'do no harm' principle, as it lays out powerful ethical boundaries which helps delegitimize destructive behavior. It is more productive in the long-term to organize non-violent protests that bring people together, not apart. So, what visible acts of activism can bring change without losing the people? One example that equally catches media attention is the latest cake attack on Ryanair CEO, which is symbolic and effective without alienating the people.

    Extinction Rebellion has begun to recognize that its extreme methods of activism are alienating potential support. At its massive UK march 'Big One,' Extinction Rebellion changed its tactics and partnered with around 200 other organizations to create a large, highly visible, non-destructive protest march.

    Politics of Labeling

    How can we evaluate if vandalizing art achieves its goals? Whether we personally like it or not is beside the point. Successful social movements appeal to the public to create change. If the public finds activist tactics off putting, then social movements need to reevaluate how they seek to motivate the public. Greta Thunberg’s famous 'How dare you' speech claimed a sense of collective moral responsibility for climate activism…responsibility to inspire the public to sustainable action. Chaos is not inspiring, nor is the destruction of property.

    The Missing Global Dimension

    Climate activism is a continuing, major part of the conversation in the Global North. Zooming out from the Western-centric logic, climate activism needs to evolve toward productive and inclusive ways to counter the climate crisis together with those outside the Global North. Countries in the Global South had little to do with creating this crisis and they are struggling with financial crises. Yet they need, somehow, to inspire their populations to also take climate action. Previous work published by Diplomatic Courier suggests realistic solutions for a global and just climate agenda. To globalize a green philosophy that accounts for inequalities around a world still impacted by the legacies of colonialism, any meaningful climate action must be epistemically inclusive.

    How would inclusive, sustainable, holistic, and productive climate action look? Climate activism means informed, considerate actions with transformational potential. What the current debates show us is that legality and legitimacy are not the same thing. Moral legitimacy alone does not guarantee acceptance. Insisting on radical methods risks alienating the public getting a negative label pinned. Climate activism should remain an inspiring label towards transformational action. The ultimate criterion: secure sustainable support to achieve real change towards inclusive and just futures".

    Caliber.Az

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