Sunday, 4 December 2011

Civil society on crutches

I know I haven’t written in quite a long time. Partially, it’s because we’ve been fantastically busy, and partially it’s because I’ve been trying to formulate this blog post in a mind for a while now, rather unsuccessfully. How do I summarise the complexity and vastness of the past few days so that it’s coherent, readable? So perhaps I should start with a disclaimer: I might not be able to explain my experiences clearly, perhaps because the experiences themselves were not particularly clear.

I’ve been in Durban for about a week and a half now, and I’ve not yet been in the official COP negotiations – my accreditation only starts next week – but I have experienced a lot of what the civil society and side activities consist of. I did not have too many expectations about what the unofficial COP would present, but I must admit that I had expected slightly more evidence of “action” and organisation. After all, these are the people who actually do stuff on the ground, rather than make abstract decisions.

Perhaps it was watching the formation of various separate youth climate groups all with the same objectives, or experiencing the disorganisation of Howard Campus for C17, or the rather white-middle-class “Occupy COP17” which contributed to my sense of disappointment. To a large extent, I’ve been struggling with a cynicism about the whole thing; a niggling disappointment which echoes quietly a sad resolution in my head: perhaps we’re not effective; perhaps we’re not helping. It’s difficult to retain a clear sense of solidarity and motivation toward solving a problem which seems gigantic when there is so much going on; so many whistleblowers; so many events.

To try to describe my impression of the Climate movement during the last few days is very tricky, but perhaps the keywords complex and dispersed help me a bit. The vastness and diversity of highly motivated people’s movements working toward an ultimate goal is staggering and overwhelming. On the one hand, thinking about the amount of people working toward something is fantastic. On the other, seeing these people together in Durban in a situation which can only be described as “chaotic confusion” is rather disheartening.

On a plus side, it seems that the confusion within the actual COP negotiations equal, if not outdo, those amongst civil society. I’ve been very cynical about politics and the way that it restricts fast action and creates power disparities amongst people – it’s been no different in COP. With an emergency situation pending, our political negotiations are like a wheelchair on a sandy beach: trying to move forward but ineffective to match the speed of the incoming waves.

But the civil society does seem restricted to crutches in its attempts to be a real lobbying force for the climate movement through its dispersion and complexity. Perhaps it’s unity which we need – and by that, I do not mean the lack of diversity. There is no doubt that there are millions of fantastic initiatives around the world doing real changes and with diverse experiences and approaches – this is a strength, not a weakness, of the civil society movement. But our skills and forces could be utilised more effectively if we were more humble, more open to delegating and sharing our vision and tasks. Let’s not reinvent the wheel if it’ll get stuck in the sand; let’s airlift ourselves out of the reach of the waves.

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