Enter the Disruptors:  Calling BS and Mobilizing the Masses

That’s the title of Chapter 4 of my new book, Saving Ourselves: from Climate Shocks to Climate Action, which I’m hoping will be in press at Columbia University Press by early 2023. The book synthesizes my research on climate policymaking and activism over the past 20+ years to look at where we are going and how we save ourselves (for an overview of the conceptual framework for the book, see my paper on AnthroShift in a Warming World published in Climate Action this summer)

The book begins with the increasingly depressing news about the climate and the effect humans have had on it. The news is not unexpected for those of us who have been paying attention, but it still is not fun to see report-after-report saying the same thing: the world is warming, we have yet to stop it, and system-wide change is needed as soon as possible to limit how bad the effects will be on society and the planet. In the lead up to the COP27 round of climate negotiations, there have been a number of studies formally reporting that we are not doing nearly enough to stop climate change (or even come close).

In response to this lack of climate action, many activists have shifted their tactics from peaceful legally permitted and institutionally focused efforts to those that are more confrontational. These tactics include innovations that have gotten a lot of attention in recent weeks involving crazy glue and throwing food. I spent much of the summer interviewing leaders of climate groups that have made the conscious decision to shift towards more confrontation forms of civil disobedience and I am in the process of writing up this chapter (which is extra challenging as the tactics and activism continue to innovate and diffuse while I’m writing).

With this new wave of confrontational activism, there has been a lot of discussion about confrontational tactics and their effects on public opinion, support for social movements, and willingness of sympathizers to participate. At this point, the jury is out on the specific effect of throwing food on artwork (in a manner that does not damage the artwork), but there is plenty of research that suggests what the effects will be. A great recent overview is provided by social psychologist Colin Davis, who has done experiments to measure the effects of specific social movement tactics. I would start there. In the meantime, be prepared for much more activism to come–activism that involves civil disobedience has been organized by groups around the world in the lead up to and during the COP27 negotiations that begin in Egypt on November 6th.