Naomi Klein’s recent book ‘This Changes Everything’ presents the argument that our global systems will change whether we act on climate change or not and we should therefore act now to avoid the grave environmental impacts we could face.
However, international policy and large multinational companies are not acting; at least certainly not fast enough to avoid dangerous climate change, deemed by the UNFCCC as a rise in global average temperatures of 2 degrees C. The picture that Klein presents in her book is not entirely bleak as she goes on to suggest that many of the grassroots environmental movements are presenting real opposition to extractive industries and other entities responsible for climate change. This article highlights a few of these grassroots movements in the fight against climate change and suggests why they play an important role in protecting the environment.
In the UK, and elsewhere, the fracking of natural gas and oil has become a contentious issue as governments push for the technology, suggesting that it helps improve energy security by becoming less reliant on importing fuels from overseas. The fracking process involves fracturing rock or shale by pumping high pressure water under the earth’s surface in order to extract gas. There have been concerns about the safety of the process, with reports of earthquakes near to fracking sites, and the environmental impacts, particularly the large volumes of water involved in the process which have to be transported to the drilling site.
In the UK, the organisation ‘Frack Off’ have been protesting the use of fracking in a number of high profile locations. In Balcombe, a village in West Sussex, the company Cuadrilla were granted permission to frack for petroleum in 2013. This led to widespread public opposition, with 85% of local residents against fracking, and protests arose at the proposed fracking site, including a “No Dash for Gas” camp in August 2013. In an additional response to the proposed fossil fuel extraction in the area, the local people in Balcombe have set up ‘REPOWER Balcombe’ to invest in renewable, community energy generation and is installing solar panels on homes in the village. More recently, Cuadrilla’s plans to begin fracking for natural gas in Lancashire were rejected by the local council after widespread public opposition and a lengthy campaign by Frack Free Lancashire.
The Transition Network is another example of a grassroots movement working to increase sustainable lifestyles and reduce environmental impact. Beginning in 2006 in just two locations (Totnes, Devon, UK and Kinsale, Ireland), the network of Transition Towns has grown to over 1,107 initiatives worldwide. The aim of the Transition Network is to allow communities to become more resilient and reduce their CO2 emissions, through initiatives such as community energy projects or food growing schemes.
The examples of Transition Towns and Frack Free are just two grassroots movements, and happen to be large scale and high profile, particularly having a presence in the media in recent years. However, there are many, many more grassroots movements at a local level, from community wind turbines and energy cooperatives, to local projects reducing food waste or community allotments, which are reducing environmental impact.
So, why are these grassroots movements important?
The challenge of reducing emissions and combating climate change is immense, so every little helps. But grassroots movements are important in another way. Evidence has shown that large corporations have strong links into government departments developing policy for energy and climate change. In order to combat this, grassroots movements have an important role to play in balancing the arguments to government, fighting for local communities and protecting the environment. Just last week, the UK government made it easier to get permission for fracking operations, demonstrating that the need for grassroots movements to protect the environment is becoming ever more critical.
Clare Linton is a researcher at the University of Leeds. Her research examines pathways to a sustainable transport future, exploring both technological and behavioural approaches to the challenge. She has worked with the Institute for Public Policy Research and holds an MSc in Climate Change and Policy from the University of Sussex. Follow on Twitter: @ClareLLinton and LinkedIn