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People’s Climate, 2014

So you want to be a climate campaigner? Here’s how


The planet is getting hotter, leaving people hungry and fuelling wars around the world and you want to do something about it. But with a green movement to cater for every age, location, and type of plastic recycling, how to turn your enthusiasm into action? Maeve Shearlaw’s tips for getting started as a climate activist.

Maeve Shearlaw, The Guardian

The planet is getting hotter, leaving people hungry and fuelling wars around the world and you want to do something about it. But with a green movement to cater for every age, location, and type of plastic recycling, how do you turn your enthusiasm into action?

We talked to campaigners and politicians to glean their top tips for getting started as a climate activist.

Find the ‘little big thing’

“The age old problem for green campaigners is how to make something so big, so important, so potentially catastrophic seem like something people should engage with now,” says John Coventry from GoFundMe. “The very best campaigns take those huge problems and make them real for people in their day-to-day life.”

He calls this the “‘little big thing’ – the clear relatable story that brings a wider issue to life”. Once you have this locked, says Coventry, you should campaign with tenacity, utilising every platform “from old-fashioned newspapers to snapchat” to get your message across. “Unexpected things will happen and things will fail. Learn from all of it and keep going,” he adds.

Work backwards from the coal face

Naia Bazin Lopez from People and Planet, a movement for students, recommends researching the people most acutely affected by climate change and working backwards.

If you believe, as People and Planet do, that fossil fuels are the root causes of climate change the first step is to get acquainted with the people fighting to keep them in the ground, from Canada’s indigenous community in Tar Sands to the Colombians living near the Cerrejon Mine,” she says.

Their message is simple: keep it it ground. So for campaigners thousands of miles away, says Lopez, the first step is to stand in solidarity, but the second tangible thing you can do is to pressure businesses and banks to stop contributing to an industry destroying the communities around the world.

Power is with the people

The online petition site Change.org has hosted many successful campaigns – from a UK schoolgirl’s fight to keep climate change on the school curriculum to the action to stop the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline. Change.org says all of its campaigns start with ordinary people campaigning on an issue that has affected them personally or that they feel passionately about, before realising others share their plight.

Lopez also believes the “power is with the people” and says that while signing a petition is the simplest way to get involved, others have more to add. “If you are going to organise an event locally it’s key to build people’s confidence and be interested in their skills,” she says. Amazing campaigns, including climate camp, began after people took the time to talk, listen and collaborate with their communities, says Lopez.

Small changes can have global impact

Sometimes encouraging the simplest behaviour changes can have a massive global impact, says John Coventry. Even if you have to put a monetary value on that change.

The 5p charge for plastic bags in England is one of the most successful green campaigns of the past five years, he says. “It may seem trivial to some [but it’s] a relatively simple policy solution that drives behaviour change among consumers and businesses.”

Within six months of the ban, the number of single-use plastic bags dropped by 85%, with the government heralding it as a major breakthrough, not least for the world’s marine life, which is being drowned by 8bn tonnes of waste plastic every year.

Politics can change policies

Unless you are a US registered citizen, there was very little you could have done to stop Trump gaining power, but from Albania to Australia, Zimbabwe to Zambia there are local, regional and national politicians trying to protect the environment through policy.

Caroline Russell, already a local campaigner, got political after a young child was killed by a lorry near her house. Now a member of the London Assembly and an Islington councillor for the Green party, Russell realised that a better road policy was needed to stop the tragedy happening again. “If you get yourself elected, then you have a hope of some influence,” she says.

Russell’s advice for anyone interested in getting involved is ask what you can do for your local community. “That’s the power and strength of the Green party which needs a diversity of voices [from] all backgrounds and all ages.” She adds that a strong local network is crucial if you are to have a hope of getting elected, especially in systems like the UK where the big parties dominate.

Stick to the facts but don’t feed the trolls

In the era of fake news where sceptics try to play down the impact of climate change online, it’s important to have the facts at your disposal: this exists in the form of a paper endorsed by 97% of scientists who say climate change is as a result of human activity.

Lopez recognises that sceptics can be a problem for campaigners but cautions against expending energy on fighting trolls who, she says, are an “absolute minority”.

“Let’s not fight those who don’t believe in climate change, let’s find the people who believe in it but don’t know what to do about it,” she says.

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