How to organize a climate strike

This week the Tromsø International Film Festival (TIFF) is taking place, showing about 200 films from all over the world. Student tickets for every movie are just 100 kr and so today I met with a french exchange student, whom I met on the night train on our way north, to watch the film “How to blow up a pipeline” in the local theater. This film which is inspired by the homonymous book addresses the question of how to make a statement against the ongoing climate crisis if years of demonstrations and protests have led nowhere.
In 100 tense and emotional minutes the film tells the story of eight young climate activists who have suffered from the climate crisis in different ways and decide to take their protest to the next level by working on blowing up an oil pipeline to cause structural damage to the fossil fuel industry.
After the screening the film director Daniel Goldhaber talked about his inspiration and intention behind making the film and was open for questions from the audience. I took my chance and asked if he thinks his film will encourage people to talk about what kind of climate protests are reasonable and effective or to actually talk about how to avert catastrophic climate change. These last months I have had many conversations about how extreme climate protests may and should be, inspired by the recent protests of people gluing themselves on roads and throwing soup at paintings. During these conversations I came to think that a form of protest that leads to people talking about whether or not that kind of protest should be forbidden and less about the climate crisis itself is not very effective. So I was surprised to hear the film director respond to my question that right now we actually need this conversation about which forms of climate protest to choose and that he hopes to inspire these conversations through his film. To the question of whether he fears that his film will inspire others to actually blow up a pipeline he responded that he thinks those who want to blow up a pipeline are already working on it and will not be encouraged to do so because of this film, but that it will hopefully inspire people to come together and take action in the form reasonable to them.
The film and the following discussion left me in a mood of need for action indeed and I was glad to have two friends – I met another in the cinema – to talk about it while drinking some vegan chai latte in my favorite cafe. I want to share some of the thoughts and realizations I had during this conversation with you.

I think that, in general, extreme forms of protest have their place in our society and that they – in a blend with many milder forms of protest – are needed in our current situation. I am absolutely against violence against people, other living beings or critical infrastructure, to make this clear. And I wish we could perform the necessary transformation of our society in a slow and harmless way – but I fear we don’t have the time for it anymore. I also think that extreme forms of protest have the potential to both inspire people to engage more in climate action and to inspire them to turn away from the topic, and that this depends on the mindset they already have towards climate action. Let me tell you a story to illustrate my idea.
The first vegan person I met was the son of the couple I was living with during my first two years of bachelor studies. He wore a symbol expressing that he would not sit at a table with people who eat meat. This radical living did not resonate with me at all and so I quickly averted from veganism and put it down as some freaky way of living. Two years later a girl lived at our shared apartment for two weeks while trying to find an apartment of her own in Lübeck and it took my flatmates and me three days to figure out she was vegan. She did it in such a subtle and natural way without inflicting veganism on us or trying to convert us. I was inspired by her way of living and soon came to associate vegan food with high quality food. After a year, my flatmate who used to have cheese in every salad and could not live without having meat at least twice a week, suggested we start a vegan and sugar free month – what a change! This experience taught me that exemplifying climate friendly living to others through one’s own life will inspire others to mimic my behavior and is much more effective than confronting people with their faults. After all, the transformation of one’s mindset starts for everyone at another point and climate friendly living should not start where it is hardest but where it is easiest and grow from there. In today’s conversation I realized that it is these people who would like to do something about the climate crisis but don’t quite know where to start – and I think this is still the majority of people – who turn away from climate action by experiencing extreme forms of protest and decide to continue with their old well-known ways instead. That is harmful in our current situation and my biggest argument against these forms of protest.
On the other hand I have experienced that those who already integrated climate action into their lives and are looking for ways to do more – this is where I currently am – are motivated by extreme forms of climate protest. Not inspired to join these, but to look for new ways of integrating climate action into one’s life or joining forces with others to organize milder forms of protest. And there is a big potential.
So today, let me tell you from my own experience not about “How to blow up a pipeline” but “How to organize a climate strike”.

I have been wanting to write about this ever since the 23rd of September last year. On that day, people all over the world took to the streets in yet another global climate strike to protest for climate justice and demand that world leaders start to treat the climate crisis with appropriate climate action. Since I learned about two weeks ahead that there would be a global climate strike on that day it was clear to me that I would participate in that strike. I have participated in previous global climate strikes and as climate change doesn’t stop at borders, neither do I. After contacting friends and an environmental student organization I had to realize though that there were no plans for a climate strike in Tromsø on that day. The way ahead was clear: I had to take matters into my own hands and organize a climate strike myself. How does one go about such an undertaking? I had never organized anything like a strike before, so it would be good to have some fellow campaigners. And just the right person appeared only ten days before the date. I was at choir rehearsal and as we usually do we were chatting for a long time afterwards. I was talking to Elin, a Swedish exchange student in environmental science and when I brought up the topic of the global climate strike she was immediately dedicated to help me organize it. We agreed to meet the next morning at the town hall to find out how to organize a climate strike and to initialize the first steps. We were really pushing open doors and I couldn’t believe how easy it was made for us. When we came up to the town hall info desk and asked what we would have to do if we wanted to organize a climate strike outside the town hall we were given a phone number to call and a few calls later we were talking to Gunnar who apparently was responsible for this kind of events and arranged to meet with him the next day. Registering the strike with the police was foolproof with their online form and I immediately registered the strike with Fridays For Future at https://fridaysforfuture.org/action-map/register-report-strikes/ so that everyone could see that Tromsø will be represented at the global climate strike. At that time we were the northernmost point on the action map – pretty cool, isn’t it? We next prepared questions to ask Gunnar: Can we bring loudspeakers for speeches and music? Are we allowed to walk through the city during the strike? Where are we allowed to stand in front of the town hall? The meeting was surprisingly short. Gunnar told us to basically do what we like as long as we kept one door clear so that the workers could get past and he showed us which power outlets to use for sound equipment. Elin and I couldn’t believe it: We were actually going to have a climate strike at 4 pm on the 23rd of September. All that was left now was to make sure we had an interesting program and that as many people as possible attended the strike.
What should our climate strike look like? The goal was of course to inform, to be heard and to be seen. We would have speeches from different actors involved in the climate movement and after this stationary part walk along the pedestrian zone, shouting chants and showing our banners. Elin and I spent the next week contacting environmental organizations and scientists from the university to find speakers and spread the word over as many channels as possible to advertise our strike. I talked to the local leader of Besteforeldrenes Klimaaksjon (Grandparent’s Climate Action) on the phone who thanked us for our initiative and offered to inform their members as well as local newspapers about the strike. She also gave me the contact information of the leader of Framtiden I våre hender (The future in our hands) who offered to provide sound equipment for the strike and encouraged us to do all the moderation ourselves. He also created a Facebook event for our climate strike which I shared wherever I could. The university sent my text in their weekly newsletter to all international students and we tried to put information up on the big screens in university. It was thrilling to see the word spread. Two days before the strike, a student in my Norwegian class told me that two separate people had told her about the strike already that day. It was impossible to guess how many people would turn up for the strike on Friday. Finally, we had five speakers for the climate strike and everything we could think of was prepared.
The big day arrived and after my classes I biked to the town hall to meet Elin there. The evening before I had as usual been at the Folkekjøkken, an event where everyone is welcome to come and cook together with surplus food collected from a local supermarket, eat together and appreciate the food that would have gone to waste otherwise. This time only very few people were there and there were five boxes full of bread, fruit and vegetables left that I offered to give away at the climate strike. So Elin and I unloaded the boxes from her car, put up the sound equipment, met with the speakers and waited for people to show up. I must say I did not expect this many people to show up. I guess there were about 60 people listening to our program and given that we had only started advertisement less than a week ahead and Tromsø was a small place, this is not a small number. The climate strike went very smooth. I talked about why I took the initiative to organize this strike, Elin and I introduced each other, and I talked shortly about the climate impact of food waste and how we can reduce it in our daily lives. Did you know that according to the UN about 1/3 of all the food produced in the world is wasted even before it comes to the table and that according to the IPCC food loss and waste causes between 8% and 10% of current worldwide greenhouse gas emissions? You can reduce food waste by only buying as much as you can really consume and freezing leftovers, buying “ugly” food or single bananas because others won’t, and supporting initiatives to reduce food waste such as surplus corners in supermarkets or the app “To Good To Go”.
Next, Elin introduced our speakers. We had a meteorologist talking about why climate change is a scientific fact, an activist from Besteforeldrenes Klimaaksjon talked about oil drilling in Norway, a philosopher talked about to what extent we could solve the climate crisis technologically and an activist from Extinction Rebellion talked about cooperation between environmental organizations in Tromsø. The fifth speaker was I and I was very excited but also highly motivated to hold my first speech. I got a lot of positive feedback for it and because I want to share it even further, I attached it for you at the end of the page to read it yourself.
In between the speeches we practiced a few chants that we later let the people walking by hear as we walked up and down Storgata. I had immense fun and I hope that not only the people attending our strike and joining us in the street but also those seeing and hearing us left the event with a bit more of awareness and motivation do live some change themselves. I certainly learned a lot in the course of organizing this climate strike and it was an enriching and wonderful experience.

What will your next steps be in our joint fight against the climate crisis?
What are your thoughts about different forms of protest?
Let me know and contact me if you need some inspiration for how to integrate climate action into your daily life. Remember: Begin where it is easiest for you and you will grow from there.

Global climate strike, 23rd of September 2022, Tromsø

“Why are we not reducing our emissions? Why are they in fact still rising? Are we knowingly causing a mass extinction? Are we evil? No, of course not. People keep doing what they do, because the vast majority doesn’t have a clue about the consequences of our everyday life and they don’t know the rapid changes required.”

These were the words of Greta Thunberg at the Declaration of Rebellion in London on the 31st of October 2018. When I first heard those words, my immediate thought was: I know what’s going on! I know what climate change is! And then I started really reading about it and realized that I indeed did not have a clue. I learned about tipping points in our climate system and that avoiding them is the real reason nations agreed to limit global warming to well below 2°C in the Paris Agreement and to pursue efforts to limit global warming to 1.5°C. I learned that some of those tipping points may already have been reached, such as the complete melting of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, or may be reached even if we limit warming to 1.5°C, such as the loss of coral reefs. I learned that until we reach one of the tipping points there is a linear relationship between cumulative CO2 emissions and global temperature rise, meaning that every tonne of CO2 emissions counts (nearly independent of time and place). And I learned that this gives rise to the concept of a remaining carbon budget and how incredibly fast this remaining carbon budget will be used up if we continue like we do today.

As soon as I understood the full impact of the climate crisis and how little was being done, I simply could not continue to live on as I did. That is why I am standing here today.

The continued existence of our civilization depends on a rapidly declining carbon budget that hardly anyone knows about. So let me make sure we all understand this.

How much time do we have left?

The Intergovernmental panel on climate change, shortly IPCC, is an elected group of scientists who compile the best available climate science in long reports and make it accessible to decision makers and the public. In their 6th Assessment report the IPCC states that if we want to have a 50% chance of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C we have a total of 500 Gt of CO2 emissions left that can still be emitted globally from 2020 onward. This is our remaining carbon budget. We have 500 Gt, that is 500 billion tonnes, of CO2 that we can either spend all at once now (which is a terrible idea) or we can reduce our emissions quickly now where we can to buy us more time and have some budget left for those emissions that are really hard to avoid.

If we continue to emit at currents rates the remaining carbon budget will be used up in about 9 years and 7 months. Did you hear that? In about 9 years and 7 months, that is in April 2032, we will probably hit the 1.5°C which governments promised to avoid when signing the Paris Agreement. That is unless within that time we manage to bend the emissions curve steep down. Time is running out, but we have it in our hands to add time to the clock.

Are we succeeding? The remaining carbon budget is a global concept, but we do not have a global government. How do we share the 500 Gt among nations? This is an extremely complex question, because it’s a question of ethics. It might be fair to say that every person in the world has the same right to emit carbon. Norway has 0.07% of the worlds population, so it would get 0.07% of the remaining carbon budget. Norway has recently updated its target to reduce emissions by at least 55% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels. The Climate Action Tracker rates this target to be in line with the Paris agreement. Norway’s current policies, however, are projected to lead to an emission reduction of only 21% by that time. That is not enough.

I am from Germany and there the situation is even worse. Germany’s 2030 target and its goal of becoming net zero by 2045 are not strong enough to stay within our share of the remaining carbon budget. And the actual policies cannot even achieve these insufficient targets. Let me make something clear here: The Paris Agreement is not a new years resolution you discard again after a few weeks because you can’t gather the energy to go to the gym every day. The 1.5°C goal is not a goal in the sense that we need to reach it. It is a limit we need to avoid at all cost!

We are failing to keep the promise we made to the world in Paris. We are failing in our responsibility towards those who have contributed to climate change the least but are suffering its consequences the worst! We are claiming a bigger share of the remaining carbon budget than what might be considered fair. And is it even fair to share the remaining carbon budget equally among people? Shouldn’t the developing countries get a bigger share to be able build the infrastructure we already have? Those countries that became wealthy through unrestricted carbon emissions, like Germany and Norway, have the greatest responsibility to not only stop global warming but help other countries adapt to climate change and develop economically with nonpolluting technologies. This is what we call climate justice.

Today people all around the world take to the streets to demand honest climate action that keeps us in a world of well below 2°C of warming. We demand that developed countries are held responsible for their failure and take responsibility for those people and areas most affected by climate change. We demand that we build a system where we prioritize people not profit. Today all of us stand together because we share the same planet. We are failing, but we have not yet failed. The problem behind climate change is simple, but the solution is incredibly complex. Yet we must do the seemingly impossible. Not to act is not an option. So let us start today. Every one of us.

Thank you.

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