Each time I attend one of these global climate change conferences, I am committed to discovering something that makes a real difference in the matter of ending the crisis, something that brings a perspective to the situation that is unique, something contextual and not apparent in the general culture.
Tuesday, that discovery hit me during my conversation with the head of one of the major global climate initiatives. Given that the conversation (as is the case in all my conversations) focused on citizen engagement, I started to hear in the background that for him, citizen engagement means “citizen joining.” That engaging citizens in climate action is a function of citizens joining a climate organization.
It then got clearer and clearer in my conversations with other climate organizations that how they see engaging people is as a function of people joining their organizations. So the engagement they are out to achieve, although it looks to be engagement in the situation of climate change, is in actuality engagement in their organization. This is not to say that the two are not related; in fact they are absolutely related. However, the nature of that relationship and how it plays out in the matter of citizen engagement in climate action is what begs investigation.
You hear it in the meetings here in which civil society engagement with the UN SDG’s is discussed, when the questions posed are “How do we get people engaged with the UN? How do we bring people into the UN framework?” Or when you hear the people from globally renowned environmental organizations speak about increasing participation, when what they are actually saying is increasing membership in the organization. The fundamental contextual component at play in the background in all of this is: “Participation is a function of joining X” (whoever or whatever the X happens to be).
So the question being addressed is not, “How do we achieve the result that the organization exists to fulfill?” but rather, “How do we get people to join the organization?” Without real examination, they appear to be one and the same, and in fact they aren’t at all.
2020 or Bust is about mobilizing humanity to end the climate crisis, which translates to 500 million people taking the actions necessary by 2020 to get us on track to making that happen. 2020 or Bust is not about people joining 2020 or Bust. In fact, I would suggest that most of our demographic doesn’t want to join anything, including us.
If the only people who are going to take action are the people who become members of organizations, or who are in some way affiliated with an organizational entity (government, social agency, business association, etc.), then we will be severely limited in both scope and effectiveness for causing direct-action climate engagement.
2020 or Bust exists to foster citizen awareness, mobilization, and empowerment, which can and in fact must take place outside the parameters of our “organization.” Our demographic is everyone, and many if not most of that demographic has no interest in joining anything or becoming a part of some movement.
The engagement that we offer is not to engage with us; that would actually only perpetuate an aspect of the fundamental mythology we are out to bust: the notion that where the power to affect significant change exists is in some structure or organization. We offer the opportunity for a new kind of engagement, an engagement not affiliated with any organization, rather an engagement with oneself as an owner/stakeholder in the matter of climate change and a future of sustainability, an engagement in and with the world as the one who makes the difference.
Is this to say that organizations are not useful, not effective, even undesirable? Of course not; organizations have made and continue to make huge impacts on the health of the planet through their chosen fields. It is simply to say that it is important to keep distinct the mission for which the organization exists and the organization itself. And that when this is not distinct, when the two are collapsed, then the mission becomes the growth of the organization and no longer the accomplishment of the mission.
The action we are out to have happen will come not from people joining organizations, but rather as a function of the climate crisis, and the ending of it, living for people as a compelling opportunity, as a difference they can make, as an amazing and life-worthy game that they can play and win.
And that who they are for themselves are the ones to make that difference.