As usual, I have many ideas about what to write about and unfortunately I have to limit myself to just the one. This one is extremely fresh however (just like your nan used to make 'em), so you're welcome.

I was talking to an activist about Code Rouge and they said "It was fun, of course it didn't change anything." After further discussion, I understood that she meant it in the sense of actually helping to stop Total extracting more oil and gas or push governments to adopt stricter measures, that sort of thing. I felt somewhat ashamed to reveal that I thought it was successful in that it had given XR and other movements a bit of a kick up the arse after being decimated by Covid and whatnot. I was ashamed that my bar for success is so low.

The conversation moved on to how neither of us thinks things will change. Honestly there's A LOT of legwork being done by "things" and "change" in that sentence, but I'll assume that if you're reading this you can probably intuit well enough what I mean by that (I'm not paid to write this blog or express myself exactly you know). In any case I'll come back to that. First, I want to explore a follow up question - if we don't believe what we do has an impact, then why do we do activism?

In short, I see the belief that nothing will change as problematic because then it means that you're doing activism solely to feel good about yourself. There's nothing wrong with doing what is best for you per se, but the stated goal of most activism is not to make (white) people feel good about themselves - it's about fighting injustices and building a better world. Sure, you can redefine the goals of activism (most problems can be solved this way in case you're interested), but that still leaves you turning an activity that has a whole host of positive adjectives associated with it - noble, brave, empathetic, ... - into the hippy equivalent of going to the spa. Personally this don't sit right with me.

A brief digression on empathy...

You may want to skip this, it's horrible to read

One of the other articles I've been meaning to write was about how activism has partially restored my ability to empathise. It was going to be a beautifully written article by the way, where I railed against "my ability to empathise being robbed by being forced to accept the world as it is." OK, I just had that one image of my empathy being robbed, and honestly I hadn't thought much about what additional details I could have added to make that theft more vivid. Currently in my head empathy is a baby, but that's about it.

What I mean by that is that since I believed that "things are the way they are" I was (and to a large extent still am) unable to empathise with people who are suffering, because that requires the belief you can do something to help. This idea is elaborated in more detail in this video, though there it is used to explain why we blame victims e.g. of rape rather than the perpetrator, since doing otherwise would shake our belief in a just world.

Writing this, I realise that my conception of what empathy is has changed, namely that it doesn't require the belief that I can help the person I'm empathising with. Now I see empathising is accompanying someone on their journey experiencing their emotions without assuming that I can improve their lot.


... and we're back!

As I'm writing this, two thoughts come to mind: one is to challenge the binary "salvation vs apocalypse" thinking which try as I might I keep doing. The second is to engage in some constructive doublethink.

It's not all or nuffing m8

I'm sure I've written about this before, but a particularly pernicious (bloody love that word) belief is that when it comes to climate or environmentalism more generally, it's all or nothing. A parallel where this was perhaps more true was the ozone layer (which is honestly quite a scary tale - see the part here entitled "And things could have been much worse"). We realised there was a problem, "fixed" it, and if we hadn't fuck me would shit have really hit the fan.

When it comes to climate, until the last human is wiped out it could always be worse. The mantra "Every fraction of a degree counts" is truer, more hopeful and constructive. I would hazard that this is the case for most issues.

Constructive doublethink

What I'm suggesting with this phrase is that it is possible to employ doublethink, a term coined by George Orwell loosely meaning "To know and not to know", to our own benefit and not as a tool for indoctrinating and oppressing others. My proposition would be that even though you know that you will have very little impact and that ultimately everything you do is to some extent pointless, you also don't know it, because truly knowing it would prevent you from doing what you want to do and believe is right, namely fighting to prevent climate change*.

Aside: I'm re-reading Kurt Vonnegut's "Cat's Cradle" and the book of Bokonon begins with a similar idea. Nothing new under the sun, eh?

Other people have definitely thought longer and harder about this than I have, so ignore all of the above

Only one particular idea or practice comes to mind, and that is The Work That Reconnects from Joanna Macy. Her work keeps cropping up within activist circles, and I'm a bit wary of having only the one reference since it makes it seem that Joanna Macy's word are gospel. However, it's been a long day and it's getting late, so I'll leave it there.

* I've just spent the day attending decolonial workshops, and I can't help myself but to add that I feel that to frame climate activism as "fighting climate change" is in itself problematic, because it leads you to only addressing the surface level, technical causes of climate change and not, say, colonialism, capitalism, patriarchy, ...