3. Understanding the stories you unconsciously hold about others in your activism
In the previous sessions, we took a deeper dive into how we interpret the events we witness, how we see ourselves and how the internal narrative we hold about ourselves impacts our change-making. Session three will shift the focus away to seeking to understand how we perceive others in our activism.
Often, climate activism is defined by the idea of resistance and struggle against someone else - the fossil fuel industry, politicians, corporations or meat eaters. We are trying to identify and fight enemies, an approach that is reinforced by social media, which simplifies complex issues and leads us to decide who’s right and who’s wrong, who’s good and who’s bad.
And yes, we like to put a face to the problem. We prefer to think that the climate crisis is someone’s fault - and of course, we’re partially right in doing so. People in powerful positions have a responsibility for the state of the world. Yet, the personification of ‘the enemy’ has significant risks. Although specific groups have certainly played a role in getting us into our current position, personification of the problem shifts the focus away from the wider systemic issues that are causing the climate crisis.
In your climate activism, do you believe that multinational corporation are the enemy? Is it the fossil fuel industry? If so, did you ever think about the driving forces behind the way they operate and why they do what they do? Our system operates through competitive advantage, both in national markets and globally. It’s based on a win-lose game theory, which encourages actions that give people and entities a competitive advantage, rather than those that benefit humanity and our planet as a whole.
Under our current system, companies are forced to make
profit to remain in business and survive. If they don’t, they risk being
eaten up by their competitors or going bankrupt. This gives companies
in our current system strong incentives to exploit nature and people.
This framing as win-lose shapes the decisions companies make. Let’s look
at an example. Imagine a forest with all its biodiversity, providing
both livelihoods and benefits for the climate. As a company, you can
either decide to cut down the forest or not. Cutting down the forest
would create financial profits, not cutting it down doesn’t. In a
perfect world, the forest would remain standing, as we know it is
essential for our and the planet’s wellbeing. However, in our current
system, companies are incentivised to profit from cutting down the
forest. Why? Because it gives them a competitive advantage and they know
if they don’t do it, there’s a good chance someone else will.
Although the abuse of power and resistance to change by certain groups is certainly a key factor in that system, pitching people up against each other and increasing polarisation won’t help us address the climate crisis effectively – that much is clear from recent decades. Maybe it’s time to stop looking at the world through our ‘us vs. them’ glasses, and to start thinking about the bigger picture - the underlying system that is causing the climate crisis.
We’d like to explore why we often portray others as the enemy in our story without understanding the underlying system. We also want to look at the biases that make individuals, groups of people, companies or institutions think or act in a certain way.
To unpack the story you hold about others in your activism, the one that drives polarisation and hinders us in making effective change together, we invite you to make a drawing or draft a short story that includes the following aspects.
The ‘something’ or ‘someone’ you identified as the enemy or barrier to solving the climate crisis
The reasons for why you think fighting this particular enemy will help tackle the climate crisis and make a difference.
The context and underlying conditions that make the enemy act in a certain way
The possibilities and opportunities for the enemy to act differently.
Questions for reflection
If you want to continue this reflection and uncover these dynamics, we encourage you to reflect on the following question by yourself or with others.
To what extent do you define your strategy as a struggle against ‘something’ or ‘someone’ else, and why?
Can you imagine that you may be perceived as the enemy in other people’s or organisation's activism?
What would it take to disassemble the story of the enemy about ‘someone’ or ‘something’?
When you imagine your perceived enemy, can you think of something positive about them?
Do you believe that thinking in categories of good and bad is helpful in tackling the climate crisis? If, so why? If no, why not?
For further exploration
Why we need to address polarisation if we want to tackle the climate crisis: In our opinion piece, we unpack how social media fuels in-group favouritism or out-group animosity.
Which side are you on? In this video, Charles Eisenstein talks about how picking a side can actually divert attention from the underlying cause of the issue.