Bridging the Gap from Activism to Informed Influence

We’ve all been there. You’re sitting casually in a room; maybe absent-mindedly paying attention to what’s going on, when suddenly someone mentions climate change. Your ears perk up. Suddenly you’re wide-awake. The person across from you who you barely know starts talking about how climate change is a natural process and we as humans don’t have to worry about addressing it. What do you do? Do you raise your voice; maybe shout in response to the person’s ridiculous claim? Or maybe you keep quiet because this isn’t the time and you believe in picking your battles. There is in fact a third reaction you could choose: you could logically and definitively respond to the person stating that climate change is one of the largest issues facing humankind today and you can explain why. I call this “informed influence.”

As a twenty-three year old who just attended COP19, I felt a bit out of place. I looked at those younger than me and saw that so many were interested in activism: conducting actions to raise awareness on climate change. I looked at those older than me and saw that many were involved in political analyses for Non-Governmental Organizations or worked directly for a government party. Where could I, as an environmental engineer studying climate change, fit in? I’ve never called myself an activist or a political scientist. Then it hit me: I should be part of the group that bridges the gap.

There is an enormous gap between those on the ground (activists) and those at the top (politicians). Don’t misunderstand me, both are needed and play a crucial role in combatting climate change today. However, so often you’ll hear of activism being dismissed by those in power or indirectly through the media claiming that activism is a waste of time and that they should ‘get back to real work.’ Activism is vital and helps mobilize civil society to shift change. This brings me to where I fit in: in between.

There is a need for those non-activist and non-politician types to speak up. We must educate ourselves and have an open mind to combat climate change. I do not mean we must replace the role of activists or take power in the government. Instead, we can help activists and government to work together and form a dialogue. Who are these illusive gap-bridging people, you might be thinking. They are you and me. They are university students, educators, and industry-workers. They are those from the private sector interested in making their businesses more sustainable or simply those interested in helping out with climate change.

No matter who they are, we must remember three crucial things. First, only together are we going to solve this climate change crisis, and thus neither activism nor governance should be dismissed. Second, each and every one of us has a role to play in addressing climate change. And third, the time to act, to speak up, and to make change is now.

Author: Glenn Milner

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