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Friends of the Earth International: the systems of oppression that we all fight in our movements are deeply connected and reinforce each other

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“Life is short. The world lives forever. When you make a positive difference in the lives of others, you too will  live forever.” Steven Jay, Founder, Mobilized.news  

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Everyday, Mobilized focuses on the people, the places and the organizations that are making a difference in the world for all of us.  To have a better understanding of their work as well as their challenges,  we spoke with  Lucy Cadena,  a Climate Justice & Energy International Programme Coordinator at Friends of the Earth International, the worlds largest grassroots environmental network.

For years each of the major progressive movements (environment, peace, justice…) has agreed that a “movement of movement’s” is needed. Why do you think this has not yet happened? What could FOEI do to spark one?

As a grassroots environmental network, FoEI works on a number of interconnected struggles. Food sovereignty, gender justice, land rights, economic justice, climate justice, biodiversity, indigenous rights – these are just a few of the issues tackled by Friends of the Earth member groups across the world, alongside allies across movements. Increasingly, the links are being made between movements, although much work is still to be done. What is clear is that the systems of oppression that we all fight in our movements are deeply connected and reinforce each other – we see this for example in the patriarchal and militarised systems that oppress the rights of indigenous women protecting their forests and water, and in the power dynamics playing out in the halls of the UN during the climate talks.

We recognise that in order to re-set the balance, we need to build enormous power as movements. This however takes time – grassroots movements make decisions from the bottom-up and we need to ensure that no one is left behind. Movements are eco-systems, and mobilisation takes many forms – even if we do not see billions on the streets, that does not mean that change is not happening. The process is underway, and we are building power.

 In watching Greta Thunberg’s speech and panel discussions at COP 24, many of us were touched and moved by her words. But it takes more than words, it takes action. How do you feel people can realize that we’re all powerful, that the future is truly in our hands and not in the leadership that continues to push very bad ideas and policies, the same ones that got us into this mess?

It is very easy to feel powerless when our ability to make a change is often reduced to our power as consumers (‘stop buying this, buy that instead’). We see more and more companies green-washing their image and encouraging us to buy products that are less impactful on the environment. However, living ‘green’ is often exclusive and expensive. It places the burden of change on the individual, and shames those who do not have the resources to practice a green lifestyle. This ‘change your lightbulbs’ narrative has been pervasive in the last decades and has diminished our sense of power as political subjects. In the face of climate catastrophe and a biodiversity crisis, and while many people in the poorest and most vulnerable countries are losing their lives and their livelihoods to climate impacts, people are afraid.

There is a risk that this fear can be manipulated and co-opted by right-wing forces in an effort to push for greater security and militarisation, further isolationism and anti-migration policies. These actions will not solve the crisis, nor will they quell peoples’ fears. They do not offer hope. The inaction – and at times, obstruction – by our governments (particularly in rich countries of the Global North) appears completely out of touch with the reality we are in. The best antidote to fear is to collectively fight for a future based on hope, solidarity and reciprocity between peoples and nature. Communities on the frontlines of climate and harmful energy impacts have been leading this fight for decades, and are at the forefront of the movement for climate justice. As we have learned from many of the youth movements rising up across Europe, the US, Australia and a few other parts of the world in recent months – inspired by Greta Thunberg’s action – taking collective action gives us real hope, which spurs further action.

What is the most productive things that people can do with the local and Community level that lead up to the regional National and international levels making the policy changes needed for a sustainable planet?

Transformative action is likely to look very different depending on where in the world you live. Many people feel overwhelmed by the state of the crises we are facing. As mentioned before, we only have so much power as individuals, so we need to find our community, and work together with them. We are all members of a community – whether that’s our neighbourhood or apartment building residents, our church, our kids’ school, our workplace, our union, our university, our local Friends of the Earth group.

  • What are the political demands we can make as a community?
  • What changes can we make to our community to make it more sustainable, inclusive and just?
  • And then how can we use that as an example to push for municipal-level, or national level changes?

This may be about forming a solar cooperative and then campaigning for your municipality to go solar; scaling up the social and solidarity economy by starting or joining a cooperative; supporting local economies and fair trade, and demanding that your government amend their procurement policies to prioritise small-scale and women farmers. There are just some examples of how we are more powerful and can push more transformative change when we work together, rather than only implementing individual lifestyle changes.

What policies can people push towards the local level state legislatures? We see an abandonment of plastic straws and in some cases, plastic bags, but this is not enough? Does it make a difference? And what needs to happen in the local, regional, national level to truly make a difference?

We need nothing short of a complete system change in order to genuinely address the challenges we currently face. It no small feat that many governments are imposing bans on single-use plastics. Campaigns against plastics have been hugely successful in part because the impacts of plastics are very visible and ugly. Seeing our pristine wildernesses blighted by unsightly plastic waste, and endangered animals choked by straws, moves people to action. There are direct consequences and relatively simple solutions. Climate change and biodiversity loss have a myriad of impacts that are no less shocking, however, the solutions are more complex. No one ‘needs’ plastic bags, but everyone has the right to energy. This means that in order to tackle climate change, for example, we need to fundamentally re-structure our societies and economies, which poses a much bigger challenge to the corporates and elites in control. Our reliance on fossil fuels has to end, but to truly address the crisis, energy must no longer be bought and sold for profit, but must be recognised as a common good, in the hands of people and not corporations.

Further reading is found below, Courtesy of Friends of the Earth International

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