Collective action could create the climate for change

19 Nov 19

Australia’s emissions of greenhouse gasses continue to rise as we near the conclusion of a critical decade, writes Community Sector Banking CEO Andrew Cairns.

In the face of an existential threat to our way of life, we have failed to muster an adequate response. Yet the actions of a 15-year-old student on the other side of the world have sparked renewed hope that humanity may yet rise to the challenge of climate change.

The sight of Greta Thunberg standing alone outside the Swedish parliament, calling for stronger climate action has inspired a generation of young student activists and put the rest of us to shame.

To those who would dismiss these young activists, I would remind you that movements of students and young people through history have often acted as the moral compass of their time. In the past sixty years alone, young people have driven protest movements against dictatorships, apartheid and war.

And while those in power like to deride younger generations as apathetic and disengaged, in reality they have been the only ones that have reacted to climate change with the appropriate sense of urgency and clarity of purpose.

We are currently sleepwalking towards a world with more frequent and intense extreme weather events, cities and entire islands being swallowed by rising seas, increased spread of disease and reduced food production.

But this isn’t just some prediction of a possible distant future – we are experiencing the reality of climate change now. July was the earth’s hottest month ever recorded, Greenland is suffering record ice melts and bushfires are ravaging Queensland even though Australia has only just emerged from winter.

Who could be surprised that this is not the future young people want to inherit? They have recognised the existential nature of this threat and simply want it to be treated like the emergency that it is.

Last week, on September 20, millions of students around the world held a strike against inadequate action on climate change. They took a stance once again, but this time there was more people, organisations and businesses standing with them.

Hundreds of thousands of Australians, including more than 2000 B Corps and other like-minded businesses joined forces to support the strike effort. Some of these organisations are climate or energy-focused but many are not – they just chose to think and act beyond their own narrow interests. While it may not be the private sector’s job to lead the way on climate action, it shouldn’t be the responsibility of children and students either – so we can all do our part.

While I didn’t ask my employees to attend a strike as a representative of the business, Community Sector Banking happily supported any employee who makes the personal choice to go along.

Community-minded collective action is the best way to build a thriving civil society and overcome the most serious of challenges. And make no mistake; climate change is a challenge like no other. The scale of economic, political and technological transformation required is unprecedented, but we can’t let that condemn us to a continued state of defeatist torpor. If we work together and each do our part, there isn’t a challenge humanity can’t overcome.

It was anthropologist Margaret Mead who said: never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. What started as one thoughtful, committed student standing alone in Stockholm has grown into a global movement that stood together on September 20 – let us hope that the UN Climate Summit this week heeds our call.

This article was originally published in Third Sector.