Reviving citizenship to prevent run-away climate change

monbiot_ticket.jpgEven before George Monbiot started his interview with Sean Plunket as part of the 2008 Readers and Writers week, the British journalist and climate activist had made a big statement.

Monbiot declined to travel to Aotearoa to speak. Instead, he agreed to participate only by a video link. This decision was based on his conviction that air travel should be avoided because of the disproportionately negative impact flying has on climate change.

And there he was, beamed larger than life onto the cinema screen above Plunket’s head last Saturday.

It didn’t take long before more big statements were being slung around. Provocatively, Monbiot said we can’t shop our way to carbon neutrality.

“The first thing is to see yourself primarily as a citizen, not as a consumer. We’re not going to solve this problem simply by consuming better,” as he said in an earlier talk.

Typically he said new products supplement existing products rather than replacing them, and the rate of change of individual behaviour change is too slow and sometimes even counterproductive.

He argued that it will be only when citizens put pressure on their governments to reach an international political agreement, will there be any chance of preventing run-away climate change.

Revivifying democratic participation, something Plunket described as revolutionary, is the foundation for responses to climate change.

Afterwards, trying to digest Monbiot’s analysis and barbs, we talked about what is to be done. As I’m not so keen on joining another committee at the moment, I wondered about participating in local community activities (such as Friends of Owhiro Stream, Brooklyn Gardeners, etc) or perhaps adopting the ChangeMakers 5-10-5-10 recipe along the lines:

5 – spend 5% of your income directly supporting citizenship action that inspires you
10 – do ten actions in the next year on your personal passion in citizenship action
5 – spend 5% of your time on active citizenship tasks
10 – join with ten other people to create a learning community to support each other’s work for change

To get a taste of what Monbiot talked about at the Festival you can find a few other talks or interviews with him listed below.

Even if I feel I’m walking on hot coals, especially since I flew down to Christchurch within hours of hearing him speak, the message is sinking in.


What Australia Should do to Stop the Planet Burning, presentation to Friends of the Earth, Melbourne, 3 July 2007

Interview by Paul Jay, four parts, RealNews Network (USA), 1 May 2007

“If We Don’t Deal with Climate Change We Condemn Hundreds of Millions of People to Death”, Democracy Now (USA), 18 May 2007. Video, audio, transcript.

Global Democracy, ABC Radio National (Australia), 11 November 2001