POLITICAL LIFE WORLDS, CITIZENSHIP PRACTICES AND ENVIRONMENTAL ACTION
The importance of the study of ontological alterity in anthropology is reflected in the discipline's studies of human--ecology relationships. Anthropologists have challenged dominant dualisms of Western thought, such as nature/culture, subject/object, mind/matter, through enquiry into the cosmologies, rites and other practices of non-Western others. The ethnographic study of Western environmental activism opens up the prospect of studying subjectivities formed in opposition to dominant Western thought realities, and yet encapsulated within Western societies and democratic polities. One of the directions in which it points the anthropologist, and which this paper will pursue, is towards the study of the political life worlds of activists, their self-identity as citizens and their embeddedness in the wider society.
Scholars of environmental activism have suggested that new modes of citizenship are a necessary part of any transition to more sustainable societies. Active environmental citizenship, it is argued, will be a force to counteract or at least adapt to the threats to all life forms and ecologies from a rapidly heating planet, as well as other forms of environmental damage from economic exploitation of natural resources, high population growth, and wasteful consumption. Dobson proposes that 'ecological citizenship' is a form of 'post-cosmopolitan' citizenship that differs from the major traditions of citizenship: liberal and civic republican (Dobson 2003, 2004). (1) The chief characteristics of ecological citizenship (2) are: a non-territorial political space; the inclusion of the private sphere in the domain of citizenship; and an orientation to 'justice' rather than citizens' rights or mutual obligation.
Luque (2005) has posed the problem of the stirrings of environmental citizenship beyond the spheres of organised environmentalism and public policy. In Luque's view, environmental citizenship may manifest as a practice of daily life as well as a formal position of knowledge and claimed rights. Luque explores the emergent nature of environmental politics in citizen's everyday lives with the aid of John Dewey's concept of 'the public' as citizens who organise themselves to address the adverse consequences of situations that they experience in common (Dewey 1991). Successful organisation leads to regulation of these situations by officers, who are charged to 'protect and secure' the interests of the public (Dewey 1991 : 77), i.e., they are a government. Identification of a public is for Dewey purely an empirical matter. The primary problem of the public, he argues, is 'to achieve such recognition of itself as will give it weight in the selection of official representatives and in the definition of their responsibilities and rights' (Dewey 1991: 77). Thus in a political democracy an emergent public struggling for recognition of its issues is something of an experiment--an experiment that does not always come off. Moreover, in industrial capitalism where government above all protects property interests, (3) the forces ranged against emergent publics are immense, such that these forces 'determine the most significant constituents of the public and the residence of power' (1991: 107), controlling legislation and administration, and leaving the public 'inchoate and unorganised' (1991: 109).
Dewey deplored the decline of democratic processes that he observed in the 1920s era of US corporate industrial power. He saw the evil twin of corporate capitalism as the rise of technocratic power in 'the machine age', incarnated most destructively in the Great War of 1914-1918. The 'eclipse of the public' stems from the conditions of corporate capitalism that scatter and fragment face-to-face communities: industrialisation, science without social values, labour mobility and the growth of mass communications and transport. The public, he asserted, has a common interest in controlling adverse consequences of these changes, but is prevented by these very processes from 'identify[ing] and distinguish[ing] itself' in political action (1991: 126). In his analysis of the new obstacles to democratic participation in complex modern societies, Dewey's pragmatist optimism is tempered by his appreciation of the changing conditions of social life.
These structural contradictions of political democracies in the era of corporate capitalism have intensified since Dewey's time, and have been brought into sharp relief by the phenomenon of anthropogenic climate change. The social reproduction of corporate capitalism appears irreconcilable with survival of healthy ecosystems. Crisis-ridden capitalism expands while biodiversity declines and the planet warms. Each crisis provides the rationale for more environmental exploitation, in the name of maintaining productivity and profit, further marginalising 'green' values. Anderson (2010), drawing on Beck and Beck-Gernsheim's (2002) theory of individualisation has provocatively argued that environmentalism has become a 'zombie' category in the late-modern world: 'dead' in the sense of no longer culturally meaningful, 'alive' in the sense of still circulating in discourse (2010: 974), even if the discursive construction of the environment is highly anthropocentric and ambiguous (Muhlhausler and Peace 2006). Anderson proposes that the 'death' of environmentalism can be attributed to its disconnection from popular understandings and experiences, its stand against the pro-consumption culture of late modern societies, and its association with an unpalatable discourse of denial:
Conventional environmentalism is a living dead category, it exists on paper but in practice its seclusion into one pole of a 'green-not green' binary means it does not engage effectively with the contradictions, tensions and obstacles facing individuals who live in 'globalising modernity' (Anderson 2010: 982).
The Hunter Valley ethnography discussed in this article suggests that Anderson has overstated the case and would do well to look to the sort of 'critical anthropology of global warming' proposed by Baer (2008). Ethnographic research shows that 'green' values--sustainability, clean energy, social justice, biodiversity, environmental protection--are very much alive and well in community-based environmental groups. But Anderson's propositions do point to a very real problem of environmentalism in practice in affluent capitalist societies: the contradictions that are experienced in many contexts of everyday life, where people ('ethical consumers') struggle to reconcile collective environmental responsibility with their imperatives and pleasures as consumers. The individualizing nature of life under consumer capitalism as well as the large, heterogeneous and 'aspirational' middle class in countries like Australia create opportunities for conservative politicians, corporate interests and 'celebrity sceptics' wedded to carbon-intensive economies, to powerfully undermine precautionary and remedial environmental policies (Connor 2010). Johnston (2008) has highlighted the ideological inconsistencies of the 'citizen-consumer hybrid'. She points to the subjugation of citizenship goals to consumer interests in market-based 'solutions' to saving environmental commons.
On an international scale, the faltering policy initiatives on carbon reduction goals at international conventions testify to the impossibility of combatting anthropogenic climate change by national governments acting as 'global citizens'. The geopolitical magnitude of the contradictions is evident in the Pacific Ocean region, where the imminent submersion of small island states has become a cause celebre for climate change activists and many politicians, but alliances of small island nations have had little impact on United Nations sponsored climate conventions such as Copenhagen and Rio+20.
Questions of citizenship ideals and practices by publics are relevant for anthropological enquiry into community-based organisations focused on anthropogenic climate change. Dewey's vision of a politically efficacious public and its officers perhaps belongs to a transitional moment in American life as institutionalised roles gave way to heightened individualisation, but it has the virtue of a rigorously empirical approach that can illuminate the emergence of climate change environmentalism. Ethnographic study of specific localities allows us to discern the full spectrum of environmentally directed actions, from conversational idiom and expressions of neighbourhood sociality to the initiatives of formally constituted groups like Greens parties and environmental non-government organisations (ENGOs). This paper focuses on a middle ground of social action between the informal and everyday, and the domain of institutional politics. I analyse the practices of groups of people in small voluntary organisations who are moved to collective action to address the threatening aspects of anthropogenic climate change. These groups are emergent publics, in Dewey's sense, collectively seeking the means to define and express their interests (1991:146).
The Hunter Valley, Southeast Australia
The author's ethnographic research with climate change action groups was part of a larger study of climate change, place and community in the Hunter Valley between 2008 and 2012. The Hunter Valley is a region of New South Wales loosely defined by the catchment of the Hunter River, with a population of 630,000 mostly concentrated in urban and suburban coastal areas and Lake Macquarie. It is a region rich in black coal and coal seam gas. Large open cut coal mines dominate the landscape of the rural Upper Hunter districts, providing a strong flow of royalty income to the state government as well as profits to large transnational corporations such as BHP Billiton, Peabody Energy, Rio Tinto, Vale, Xstrata, and the Chinese government owned Shenhua, as well as smaller operators. Increasing volumes of coal are exported annually from Newcastle, the world's largest black coal exporting port. In the 2011-2012 financial year, 122 million tonnes were shipped out, mainly to Japan, Taiwan and Korea, with each tonne of coal burned producing around 2.4 tonnes of carbon dioxide. This is equivalent to an extra 50% of Australia's domestic C[O.sup.2] profile (Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency 2011). Mines, some owned by the NSW state government, also supply nearby power stations that produce just under half of NSW's electricity. Mining expansion is displacing the mixed farming, horse breeding and wine producing agricultural economy of the area. In the southern part of the Hunter Region, Lake Macquarie Local Government Area (LGA) includes Australia's largest salt-water lake, with a population of almost 200,000, mostly dwelling on the coast or lakeshores. Lake Macquarie is the highest risk local government area in Australia for sea level rise and storm inundation, with up to 7,800 buildings (about 10% of total) likely to be affected by a projected .9 metre sea level rise by 2100 (Department of Climate Change 2009:82). (4)
The Hunter Valley has a high exposure to global warming, both as an origin point of greenhouse gas emissions and as a region vulnerable to climate change effects--including sea level rise and storm inundation in the coastal and lakeside areas, and drought and other extreme weather events in the rural regions of the Upper Hunter. Hunter residents are dealing both with the presence of coal mining and burning that supports Australia's high greenhouse gas economy, and the effects from the global warming produced. Regional sensitivity to these issues is by no means universal, yet it creates a potential for certain forms of political activity that are manifested in voluntary organisations in the Hunter Region focusing on climate change and other forms of environmental action. As part of the larger study, the author and three research assistants undertook participant observation in organised events as well as 17 semi-structured interviews with climate action group members, attendance at meetings and media analysis over a period of three years.
CLIMATE GROUPS AND THEIR ACTIONS
The existence of climate action groups raises significant questions about the nature of innovative responses to a long-term crisis of planetary proportions that will far transcend 'the environment' in its effects. I turn first to the constitution of these groups in the Hunter Valley, their relationships with other action groups on the 'green spectrum', and collective forms of political action.
The main groups that designate themselves as climate change focused are Transition Towns (Coal Point and Newcastle), Climate Action (Newcastle and Lake Macquarie), and Rising Tide Australia. The membership, aims and values of these groups are diverse, reflecting the diversity of climate action groups in Australia more generally (Burgmann and Baer 2012).
The membership overlaps with many other Hunter Region organisations oriented to environmental and sustainability issues, such as Permaculture Hunter, Parks and Playgrounds Movement, Novocastrians Against Nuclear, Green Corridor Coalition, Hands Off Our Coast, Hunter Bike Ecology Centre and numerous community garden groups (to name only a few). All climate groups support or are part of wider networks and alliances--Climate Action Network Australia, the International Transition Network, Rising Tide UK and USA, Lock the Gate Alliance Inc., Nature Conservation Council of NSW, and regional networks such as the Hunter Community Environment Centre, a 'resource-hub' established in 2004 to 'encourage and facilitate environmental and social justice advocacy and education in the Hunter Region, NSW, Austraha'. (5) The climate change focused groups wish to create an 'effective public' that can change government policy in favour of a sustainable low-carbon or zero emissions society, thereby averting the worst catastrophes of global warming. Their structure, membership and means of achieving their aims are quite varied.
The Transition Newcastle and Transition Town Coal Point groups are part of a global network of geographically localised TT groups that comprise the Transition Movement or Transition Network. The Network, which adopts a 'viral' model of organisation based on loosely connected independent cells, began with the first 'Transition Town' in Devon, UK, founded by permaculture practitioner Rob Hopkins. The Transition Network is based on the principles and ethics of permaculture: care for the earth; care for people; and the concept of fair share.
The Network has as its core drivers the twin challenges of climate change and peak oil, with corresponding key responses of building community resilience whilst reducing the community carbon footprint. Whilst these priorities inform the movement, the Transition Initiatives Primer makes it clear that local communities must design their own transition:
Although you may start out developing your Transition Initiative with a clear idea of where it will go, it will inevitably go elsewhere. If you try and hold onto a rigid vision, it will begin to sap your energy and appear to stall. Your role is not to come up with all the answers, but to act as a catalyst for the community to design their own transition (Brangwyn and Hopkins 2008:27).
Transition Town Coal Point (TTCP) are not yet 'officially' part of the Transition Network and have been meeting since 2009, as a sub-committee of the Coal Point Progress Association (a more widely based residents and ratepayers association). This is the most suburban of the groups, with an older demographic of established homeowners. Thus far the membership is only a handful of people, and the meetings are monthly. In Transition terms they are still 'mulling it over': working through the first stage of 'awareness raising' in order to encourage community interest and participation.
Transition Newcastle (TN) officially joined the Network in 2008. This is a larger group, with a diverse range of ages, backgrounds, and occupations, reflecting the urban residential makeup of the city of Newcastle. They currently have four working groups in operation, focusing on transport alternatives, food, general group organisation, and an aligned permaculture group (Permaculture Hunter Region). (7)
Like the other groups, TTs do not have a hierarchical structure, although as has been pointed out recently by Scott-Cato and Hillier (2010), there are attempts to protect the Transition brand through the international Transition Network, with hurdles to be met such as the preliminary period of 'mulling it over,' accreditation rather than self-enrolment, and training programs. Lydia, one of the organisers of TTCP, accepts that even if they don't get full accreditation ('the badge'), the process is worthwhile:
So I think the principles of Transition Town are universal. And yeah, if it doesn't, if we don't have the badge, I think 'well we're still working on the guts of it'.
Climate Action Newcastle and Lake Maequarie
Climate Action Newcastle (CAN) was established in 2006 as 'a committed group of local residents from all backgrounds', (8) The organisation focuses on behaviour change and influencing government policy in relation to carbon emission reduction and a clean energy future. CAN host an annual 'Smart Energy Expo' showcasing energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies and products, and have run practical programs, facilitating the installation of solar panels in individual homes and schools. Their approach to governance works within a representative democracy framework through aiming to influence government representatives, usually on a state or federal basis. The membership is younger, well educated, and oriented to market-based solutions to climate change. CAN have an active website and use events like World Environment Day to mobilise participation in rallies and other activities.
Lake Macquarie Climate Action (LMCA) was formed in 2007 in suburban Lake Macquarie, 'by a group of local residents concerned about the threat and lack of action to mitigate climate change'. Similar to CAN, the group aims to work collaboratively with local government, business, and 'other like minded organisations'. (9) Both CAN and LMCA aim for maximum inclusiveness of membership:
We do want to engage as many people as possible, and engage with them positively. Start to try and influence their mindset and push boundaries a bit, just to show how serious this issue is, and the old rules don't apply any more (April, CAN).
Rising Tide (RT), formed in Newcastle in 2004, is the most radical of the Hunter climate action groups, and most readily identified with other Direct Action groups. Rising Tide has what one founding member called a 'totally flat organising structure,' operating by consensus decision-making of all active members. It has a membership of students and young adults with a strong anti-consumerist ethic, for whom environmental activism is a large part of their daily life.
Rising Tide places less emphasis on geographically defined communities and incremental change. Its stated purpose is 'taking action against the causes of anthropogenic climate change and [campaigning] for equitable, just, effective, and sustainable solutions to the crisis'. (10) It is the only group that has a selective process for membership. Humphrey, one of the founding members of RT in Newcastle, a veteran of forest activism since his early twenties and recently employed by a large ENGO, remarked:
A lot of the climate action groups that are around in suburbs and towns all over Australia are basically just open door groups.... We do a lot of non-violent direct action, and we have to have some element of security....We're not as open as a lot of other groups (Humphrey, RT).
Much of Rising Tide's activity to date has focused on the coal industry in the Hunter Region because of its significance for anthropogenic climate change. In 2010, Rising Tide had a core membership of around 20 people, and met weekly to plan campaigns and direct actions. They have a well-developed website and social networking sites, which are used to disseminate information and publicize climate change oriented direct actions.
The climate change groups frequently align with other groups focused on coal industry threats to local environments, livelihood and health. These are a persistent feature of the Hunter Region as residents for several decades have mobilized in increasing numbers against the accelerating expansion associated with Australia's 'resource boom'. Some resident-sponsored organizations, such as Anvil Hill Action Group, Bickham Coal Action Group, and Southlakes Communities against Mining tend to have a limited lifespan and membership, until their battles with industry and government are won or lost. Others, such as Minewatch, Singleton Shire Healthy Environment Group, and Correct Planning and Consultation for Mayfield Group, endure for many years as they take up new challenges and recruit new members and leaders. While their issues are 'live', groups have the capacity to garner other groups' support, through rallies, submissions, social media and website publicity (Connor et al. 2008,2009). In the last decade, the political weight of these small local action groups has been bolstered by organized lobbying from producers in the big rural industries in the Hunter Region--the winemakers (Hunter Valley_ Protection Alhance) and the horse breeders (Hunter Thoroughbred Breeders Association). (12) Larger ENGOs like Greenpeace and the Wilderness Society intermittently join forces with local groups, usually on occasions where there is a high profile issue like threats to a species or a habitat, or a particularly striking community case against a development. Action group members occasionally take up paid positions in the large ENGOs. Local activists sometimes criticize these organizations for their selective, 'fly-in-fly-out' approach to supporting community causes. However their skills and experience in organizing events that attract media coverage and wider community awareness is valued. In 2012, Greenpeace and the Wilderness Society, along with Climate Action Newcastle and Rising Tide are part of the Coal Terminal Action Group (CTAG), an alliance of sixteen (at the time of writing) environmental and residents' groups fighting the development of a fourth coal loader, supporting a large increase in coal exports, at Port of Newcastle. Another non-government organization, the NSW Environmental Defender's Office, is regularly involved in assisting residents' groups fighting the coal industry. The NSW Greens party, although slow to take up the causes of the Hunter Valley in earlier decades, has been a visible presence in many campaigns and is currently supporting CTAG. Unlikely sources of political support, as coal and coal seam gas developments threaten ever-wider swathes of agricultural land, have come from the National Farmer's Federation and the largely rural constituents of the Federal National Party.
It is questionable whether the numerous and varied groups that make up this broad political field in themselves constitute a movement, either in the European theoretical tradition in which movements are 'agents of profound structural change' (Rootes 2007:609) or in the less restrictive empirical sense of social movements as 'collectivities acting with some degree of organization and continuity outside of institutional or organizational channels for the purpose of challenging or defending extant authority ...' (Snow et al. 2007:11). Most members of climate change groups frequently refer to themselves and their groups as part of a 'climate movement' but the parameters of the movement are left undefined. The groups' connection to wider networks and their affinity with international climate action organisations like 350.org fosters the sense of a larger community of concern about climate change. It seems however, that in their relationships to one another climate change action groups more closely resemble the 'molecular and supple segmentarity' (Deleuze and Guattari 2004:237) of a counterculture than the increasing organizational integration of a movement. Climate change activism often consists of ephemeral events that are enduringly remembered.
Climate action events
All the climate change groups, like many of the other environmental groups described above, aspire to connect themselves ('the grassroots') to a larger population ('the mainstream') in what de Rijke has termed the 'symbolic construction of similarity' (this issue), whereby social differences--of class, age, occupation, political values--are subsumed by common feelings of belonging and concern about adverse environmental change. In places where residents are fighting an unwelcome local development, such as the Traveston Crossing Dam in Queensland (de Rijke, this issue) and the many open cut mines in the Hunter, alliances of diverse residents must ideally last for the duration of the dispute. In the case of biosphere threats like climate change that bring no immediately identifiable environmental damage in a local area (even if it is, as the Climate Action Newcastle website proclaims, 'the single biggest issue facing humanity'), (13) the prospects of enduring local alliances are less bright. In these circumstances, activists rely on organised events to achieve, albeit fleetingly, a community of concern.
Members of all groups often cite the Climate Camp in Newcastle in 2008 as the first significant collective achievement of the climate movement in the Hunter Region. More than a thousand people including interstate participants gathered over 6 days in July for an 'information sharing and direct action camp' in a large inner-suburban park near Newcastle's coal port. Activities included lectures, film-screenings, music, kids' activities, rallies and marches, street theatre and numerous workshops, many focusing on skills and planning for non-violent direct action.
[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]
The culmination of the Camp was the 'Day of Mass Action' on Sunday 13 July (preceded by a 'Mass Action Simulation' the day prior), when about 1000 participants marched to Carrington Coal Terminal (Cubby 2008). Participants, previously organised in 'action teams', had designated 'arrestable and non-arrestable roles', the former involving walking onto the rail line to 'stop coal exports in their tracks' (Camp for Climate Action Australia 2008). The police presence was heavy, including 160 officers, riot squad, dog squad, mounted officers and water police. There were 37 people arrested after climbing on to the trains and chaining themselves to the carriages, and the delivery of coal to the port was halted for about 6 hours (Cubby 2008). It was this aspect of the Climate Camp that received the most media attention, with graphic pictures of mounted police and leather jacket clad officers corralling and dragging protestors. The following day, in an incident that made national news, five protesters chained themselves to the Kooragang Island coal loader conveyer belt, stopping work for about 2 hours (Sydney Morning Herald 2008).
While the 2008 Camp for Climate Action and subsequent Camps in 2009 and 2010 were impressively large gatherings of people concerned about climate change, the involvement of the 'mainstream' seems slight. Climate group members tend to recall the expressive moments of solidarity and communitas, especially at the first camp, and perceive this as 'a highlight' and 'a boost to the movement' (Caitlin, RT). However, the media focused on the more dramatic incidents that received coverage in the predictable news genre of 'protestors versus police': 'Port strike force: strong arm of the law on alert for climate protest' (Newcastle Herald 2008); 'Protestors again disrupt coal loading' (Sydney Morning Herald 2008). Public comments in newspaper letters and blogs ranged from the congratulatory to the censorious. [FIGURE 2 OMITTED]
The annual protest day of small craft flotilla on Newcastle Harbour, billed as 'The People's Blockade of the World's Biggest Coal Port,' is organised by Rising Tide and supported by all climate action groups and many other organisations. It attracts hundreds of supporters in kayaks, rafts, canoes and sailing boats, or just spectating from the beach. The Port of Newcastle authority suspends all coal shipping movements for the duration of the blockade. This event, with its festival atmosphere, beach volleyball, speakers and stalls resembles a picnic day, and is the most successful protest event that realises activists' ideals of a 'family-centred' non-violent direct action. The current flyer for the event, which is now in its seventh iteration, invites: 'Join hundreds of people in a fun, effective and peaceful protest against the tripling of coal exports from Newcastle Harbour'. (14) Speakers at the 2012 event were drawn from Rising Tide, the Hunter Community Environment Centre, the NSW Greens, Greens local government councillors and various trade union representatives.
ACTIVIST MOTIVATIONS AND VALUES
The Hunter Valley provides a significant challenge to those with a commitment to environmental protection and combatting climate change. The destruction of natural landscape by open cut mining is evident to motorists driving up the New England Highway from Singleton to Muswellbrook, and along the Golden Highway to Jerry's Plains. More than 16% (315 sq kms) of the Upper Hunter Valley floor is now taken up with coalmines and a further 64% (1280 sq kms) is under mining exploration leases (Rosewarne and Connor 2012). Many villages that were the hub of rural producer communities have literally disappeared under the draglines (Munro 2012). Horse breeders and viticulturalists have dealt with the encroachment of mines by leaving the valley or moving further north and west. Residents up and down the coal chain from Muswellbrook and Ulan to inner suburban Newcastle worry about the impact of coal dust, power station fall out, coal train diesel combustion and many other forms of pollution on the health of their children, the frail and the elderly (Branley 2012). Each new coalmine proposal or expansion is now the subject of vigorous contestation by residents, aimed at the departments and consent authorities of the NSW government as well as the companies themselves. These struggles have mobilized people--farmers, small townspeople, tree-changers, health workers--who might not otherwise have engaged in defence of local environments, and forged new alliances of rural dwellers directly affected by mining with largely urban climate change activists (Connor et al. 2008; see also de Rijke this issue).
These extreme circumstances in the Hunter Valley provide the immediate stimulus for environmentalist action including climate change activism. The declared focus of Rising Tide activism is the coalmining and coal-fuelled electricity industries because they are dramatically expanding industries with a dominant presence in the Hunter Region, and the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions in Australia. 'We've always had a coal focus, coal being the biggest problem around here' (Humphrey). Rising Tide members are very much local, rather than cosmopolitan, citizens in the importance they give to this local issue in fighting anthropogenic climate change. As their website proclaims, 'We live in the biggest coal port in the cosmos'.
Growing awareness of the seriousness of global warming itself also motivates many climate group members. Jack, a member of Transition Newcastle who describes himself as 'green around the edges but not an activist,' became inspired by the Transition Towns vision of a sustainable future. He commented:
I was involved in Climate Action Newcastle for two years, after I heard a Greenpeace guy talking about the tipping points. I just thought 'this is serious'. In fact I thought at the time, 'if this is as bad as he's saying, it's worth going to gaol for'.
Expressions of fear, loss, and sadness pervade personal accounts. They are imbued with a sense of the enormous adverse consequences of the threat of anthropogenic climate change, and the need for urgent action to address it. Lydia, a mother in her forties who has a science degree and describes herself as 'always been interested' in the environment, is one of the mainstays of Transition Town Coal Point:
I do get quite anxious about it [climate change], and feel sadness for the loss that we're going to experience before it gets turned around. I think the biodiversity loss is going to be the real loss (Lydia, TTCP).
Edward, in his late twenties, had been involved in forest activism and other environmental campaigns for most of his adult life before joining RT, and he had also worked for several ENGOs. He was introduced to RT in 2005 through friends, and decided to focus his energies on climate change activism.
My main concerns with climate change would be the destruction of life as we know it.... The loss of species I think is something that sets back the path of evolution (Edward, RT).
Underpinning their focus on climate change, most people involved in climate action groups report a longstanding concern with environmental issues as a major part of their self-identity. Humphrey, despite his tertiary qualifications, has put professional advancement on hold to focus on climate activism:
Since I was a teenager I've had a strong connection with and appreciation of biodiversity. I'm sort of from a biodiversity-based ethic really (Humphrey, RT).
April, in her mid-twenties, has an environmental science degree and is employed in that field. Prior to becoming a university student she grew up in the suburbs of Lake Macquarie:
I've been interested and passionate about environmental issues since I was about fourteen, through no real reason, just being aware and a bit sensitive to things going wrong with the world, in the sense of 'We're messing this up and we shouldn't be' (April, CAN).
There are also similarities in the sustaining ideals of these people. They are hopeful that 'micropolitical' actions will make a difference in creating alternatives to contemporary fossil fuel based economies and consumer cultures:
I think you need the grassroots drivers, so that the politicians have got motivation to do something, because they know that people are willing to do it, and it's not just fringe (Lydia, TTCP).
We do have the capacity to change our path. Like from what I've read, ... we can get enough C[O.sup.2] back out of the atmosphere quickly enough. Yeah, that's why I'm involved (April, CAN).
These common values centred on environmental protection and the efficacy of collective action by citizens who see themselves as part of the 'grassroots' suggest a play of 'utopian imagining' (Graeber 2009:219) about the future of the planet that is given expression in a variety of political practices.
MODES OF ACTION/ACTIVISM
The small scale, networked and non-hierarchical nature of the climate change groups means that individuals or small groups can take on projects or tactics they deem to be important. In all the groups, spontaneity can be an important factor in taking advantage of opportunities. As Humphrey, of Rising Tide, expresses it, actions may just 'happen organically'.
While the core of active members in all the groups is not large and this is sometimes a cause of disappointment or despair, it also promotes flexible and 'rhizomatic' forms of action. Regular meetings of the groups (usually held fortnightly or monthly) usually have a slim attendance, less than a dozen people.
CAN's very much about things being done by individuals, so unless someone's passionate about it, it doesn't happen. So projects are typically run by a couple of people, or just one person (April, CAN).
Long-term members observe that the waxing and waning of participation is an inevitable cyclical process in small voluntary groups. Lydia however worries that the Transition Town Coal Point Steering Committee has 'gotten smaller. ... We're still sort of trying to see where it's going'.
The climate action spectrum
The actions undertaken by climate groups span a spectrum of possibilities from direct action events like blockades to organised protests like rallies and street marches through to collective support of 'sustainable' practices like permaculture, cycling and farmers' markets. These activities have in common the attempt to create what Graeber has called 'small situations of dual power' in which a different social reality is prefigured (2009:433).
Members of all the groups see a place for a variety of tactics in the 'climate action spectrum'. April, from CAN, said of her group:
We occupy a different part of the climate action spectrum, to more 'extreme', in inverted commas, groups like Rising Tide, who engage in direct action. I think that's beneficial in terms of being favoured, or being seen in a positive light by ordinary Novocastrians, who are fairly conservative, just like most people are, you know?
CAN's most successful actions relate to expanding renewable energy awareness. They sponsored the 'Newcastle's Going Solar' project in 2009. On the initiative of three CAN members in collaboration with community sponsors, the group bulk purchased and installed 500 solar systems in the Newcastle area, at costs far below market rates. April comments:
It was a huge project. There was a degree of burnout with the people involved. It was Hugh and a couple of other people, and they threw themselves into it. It was a good, solid two days a week of their time. It was non-paid, so that sparked a debate.
This level of effort was greatly appreciated by the beneficiaries, and earned some return favours, although not necessarily a larger circle of climate activists. Leigh, a schoolteacher who joined CAN about three years before the interview after first becoming aware of the seriousness of the threat from climate change, recalls:
There was a protest down at Combet's office [Federal MP], and we had one guy come down, and we'd never heard of him before. He said 'I came to help you guys out, because you guys saved me a thousand bucks on me solar panels'. But ok, that's a different kind of way of coming at it.
The funds raised from the solar panel installations, along with grants the group has won, have been used to support other activities like media advertisements and flyers for the Walk Against Warming prior to the Copenhagen climate talks in 2009, and educational activities in schools.
CAN's other high profile event, indicative of their market based solutions approach, is the annual Smart Energy Expo in Newcastle, described on their website as:
... the premier event in the region showcasing a wide range of products, services, and activities for us all to combat climate change and transition our communities to a truly renewable energy future. (15)
Transition Newcastle, the more developed of the two Transition Town groups, focuses strongly on neighbourhood sustainable living initiatives such as community gardens, 'urban tucker' stalls, and the Transition Streets Challenge ('an opportunity for neighbours to come together and support each other in becoming more energy and water efficient, more vibrant and more connected'). (16) Transition Towns Coal Point Steering Committee focuses much of its energy on awareness raising and social events, in an effort to garner wider support for the initiative.
Non-violent direct action (NVDA)
Direct action shades into other forms of protest such as civil disobedience and organised protests conducted with the permission of relevant authorities (Graeber 2009:393). All members of climate action groups and the wider public may at times participate in such actions, such as the family-centred annual blockades of Newcastle Harbour. Rising Tide is distinguished by the priority it gives to NVDA as a political strategy, but the group also engages in other forms of activism. These include members' legal actions in the courts, websites satirising coal industry public relations campaigns (such as the NSW Minerals Council's 'Life--brought to you by mining' campaign) and co-organising large-scale forums and demonstrations. In 2006, one Rising Tide member, the late Peter Gray, won a notable case in the NSW Land and Environment court, achieving legal recognition that environmental assessments for coalmines should include 'indirect emissions' associated with the use of coal either in Australia or from exported coal. (17) But the distinctiveness of Rising Tide rests on its radical agenda of NVDA. The website features a page on NVDA, with quotes from Martin Luther King and the US pacifist, G Gene Sharp.
The group has made a specialty of dramatic disruptions to the coal export chain, with occupation of train lines and carriages, and climbing loaders. A notable NVDA undertaken by the group was the scaling of the three coal loaders at the Port Waratah coal-loading terminal in Newcastle in September 2010, effecting a shutdown of the facility for a day. Cranes removed the eight climbers, while 33 others who occupied the site were arrested. (18) The action attracted widespread media attention and an unsuccessful claim for 'victim's compensation' by Port Waratah Coal Services.
Rising Tide members and others see their group as having the most radical tactics for change, while also participating in the larger 'grassroots climate movement'. Caitlin is in her late twenties and has recently graduated with a social science degree. She was also an active member of the Australian Youth Climate Coalition when a student. She describes herself as having 'a longstanding interest in environmental protection' including extensive experience of forest blockades and this is reflected in her comments on activism:
Because of the scale of the crisis that we face and the intractability of it and the power of the opposition we face, I think that large-scale civil disobedience campaigns are going to be essential, and so I really wish that other groups would get on board more in advocating and participating and direct action. Because that's the sort of radical action we need to shift the debate along. Not that I would want to call it radical. [Why not?] It's not radical, it's just rational (Caitlin, RT).
Caitlin described the 'ultimate objective' of the organisation as 'changing the structure of our society, our economic system, and people's value systems ...' According to Edward,
The grassroots climate movement needs to be radicalising the population, radicalising themselves I think. Because at the moment they're still stuck in lobbying, in letter writing, in petitions, in marches, things like that, and I really think that the climate movement needs to get a lot more serious in campaigns of civil disobedience and just much more gung-ho kind of action ... Really pushing the boundaries of what's allowed, to really force the government's hand on the issue.
Humphrey articulated the same impatience with 'soft' activism:
We're sick of talking and sick of research, and all this sort of stuff, and we just want to make stuff happen.
In all these statements of impatience with more gradualist and moderate forms of activism, Rising Tide members are expressing their sense of urgency about climate change and their hopes for a more radical mobilization of the population that will achieve significant change 'more elaborate, and more permanent, forms of dual power' (Graeber 2009:434) where the crisis of the planet begins to take priority over established political and economic interests.
ACHIEVING POLITICAL INTELLIGIBILITY
All climate action groups recognise that behaviour change in households and businesses, while important, will never be enough to avert the unfolding crises of a planet stifled by greenhouse gas emissions. But they seriously struggle to achieve political intelligibility for their issue, in the sense of a larger public that will resolutely mobilise around climate change and affect government policy and economic priorities. The problems of political intelligibility can be thought about in terms of the process of individualisation in modern societies, as theorised most notably by Beck and Beck-Gernsheim (2002). They conceptualise individualisation as 'institutionalized individualism,' essential to the structural integration of highly differentiated societies. Elaborating on a major tradition of European social theory about complexity and anomie in modern societies, they write, 'the individual is becoming the basic unit of social reproduction for the first time in history' (2002: xxii), with the 'precarious freedoms' of choice the only obligatory touchstones in a person's life course. Zygmunt Bauman (2002) has pointed to the 'corrosion and slow disintegration of citizenship' associated with individualisation:
... if individualization spells trouble for citizenship-based politics, it is because the concerns and preoccupations of individuals qua individuals fill the public space, claiming to be its only legitimate occupants and elbowing out from public discourse everything else (2002: xviii).
Action group members acutely experience the contradictions of political life in a representative democracy where each citizen has the freedom to engage or disengage at will with any number of issues, and where the subsuming of public life by private concerns leaves very little space for any but the most urgent civic issues:
... The whole culture has got everybody separated, looking after themselves, worried about their own futures, their own little patch.... You don't get much community in suburbs these days. Everyone's individualised in their own little home.... Television in each room. The whole society is angled against working together, and working for common purpose, and certainly with ecological goals in mind (Edward, RT).
Members of all groups see their problems reflected large in the failure of the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Summit to achieve any significant agreements. Some associate this juncture with collective feelings of disappointment, disillusionment and exhaustion in their organisation and many others. 'There's just a real low point post-Copenhagen, everyone's just exhausted and wants a break' (Clare, RT). They ask: How could citizens have done more to motivate their politicians to action? Why is it so difficult to politically mobilise the public and political leaders to act decisively on climate change? Individualised lives, and the anomie of affluent post-industrial societies, as described above by Edward, is one part of the explanation proffered. He also appreciates the influence that fossil fuel corporations have over governments:
... the power of the fossil fuel industry is so much greater than the power of the grassroots, and Rising Tide is just a little part of the grassroots.
Others speak of the disorganising effects of daily life in a capitalist society, where a sense of community interests is hard to achieve, and small volunteer organisations have very little call on people's time. Matt, in his forties, is employed in the mining industry, and is a long term homeowner in Coal Point. He became involved in TTCP through his longstanding association with the Coal Point Progress Association:
Coal Point's pretty much a dormitory suburb. It's a place where people live but don't work.... People conduct a lot of their lives elsewhere (Matt, TTCP).
My frustrations have been that we, we're not moving fast enough with anything ... Everyone's already as busy as. I mean this is a volunteer organization (Jack, TN).
Beck and Beck-Gernsheim (2002: 28) have identified individualisation as contributing to the 'depoliticization of national politics,' and this sensibility is evident in the lack of confidence expressed by activists in the processes and leadership of representative democracy. Clare expressed her doubts about the efficacy of Rising Tide's small scale actions given the magnitude of the climate change problem, and the extent of public apathy:
People are barely engaged in voting and I mean that's partly the fucking politicians' fault as well. But like it's so hard when things are generally going well for people like, they just don't seem to fucking care.
Like many activists, she takes hope from the mass protests around the Vietnam war, and leaders like Martin Luther King in the American civil rights campaigns. But she commented that in those instances, 'it's not the same sort of problem,' people were 'directly affected' in a way that they are not (yet) by climate change. The difficulty of 'getting through' to people on the urgency of climate action is a common frustration of members of all groups. April, of CAN, a group heavily involved in school and community education campaigns, observed:
What I find is that people can get climate change, they can understand it on an intellectual and mental level. But it doesn't really strike home with them, the moral side, for want of a better word. The emotional side, and I guess the more humanistic reality of it, doesn't strike home, you know?
The difficulty of 'getting it' and the contradictions of climate change as a local action issue have been widely discussed. Ross Garnaut, in his introduction to the 2008 Climate Change Review for the Australian Government, called climate change 'a diabolical policy problem' because of its insidious, long term nature, the numerous and powerful special interests involved, and the necessity for short term actions to solve problems that will only become evident in the longer term (Garnaut 2008: xviii).
Action group members likewise talk about the complexity of the science, the lack of public understanding about how scientific knowledge works, and the intangibility of the threat for most people. Kempton et al. (1995), in an early study of environmental values in the USA, also noted that policy solutions to global environmental problems needed to 'overcome the disconnection between cause and effect' (1995: 26). These authors demonstrated that most people's cultural models of global warming were built from knowledge about longstanding, well-publicised environmental problems like pollution and ozone depletion--knowledge that led to misunderstandings when applied to climate change (1995: 219).
Even among those who appreciate the seriousness of global warming, achieving a low carbon lifestyle means overcoming the challenges of consumerist values and the many societal arrangements--work, transport, energy, entrepreneurship--that are linked to heavy fossil fuel consumption. All climate action group members commented on the importance of changes in individual consumption practices, while acknowledging it will never be enough.
Nonetheless, the gulf between rhetoric and reality is readily apparent. In one sense, in arguing that ecological citizenship is anchored as much in the private domain as the field of politics, theorists promote a limited view of change. If all one has to do to exercise one's citizenship is to engage in new consumer behaviours such as vegetarianism, buying solar panels, or using low energy light bulbs, then why do more? One will have fulfilled the criteria of environmental citizenship (reducing carbon footprint, modifying private behaviour that adversely affects ecosystems and the atmosphere, and showing compassion and a sense of justice towards other people and life forms) while maintaining one's momentum as a consumer. Johnston (2008) has analysed the pitfalls of green consumerism for the 'citizen-consumer hybrid,' arguing that:
... the rise of ethical corporations and ethical consumption practices represents the privatization of social and ecological concerns, and the neo-liberal state distances itself from responsibility to ensure equitable and ecologically sustainable means of social reproduction (Johnston 2008: 262).
In her example of food provisioning, Johnston points out that the commodification of nature and natural foods has symbolic power in environmental marketing, but will not disrupt the 'meta-discourse of liberal capitalist productivism' that contributes to climate change and associated disasters. Hunter Valley action group members, like Lydia (TTCP) had similar analyses:
Until we can actually address people's core sense of happiness and self-worth, without having it tied to consumerism, I think that's the hardest battle ...
Connecting grassroots and mainstream
Activists see climate change activism as an assemblage of values and practices that are vital for the future of the planet, that they hope will become 'mainstream'. They predict that the cascading adverse effects of climate change will spur a majority of people into constructive action, and aim for this to be sooner rather than later. However, they also acknowledge the vicissitudes of climate change concern in the wider public. Caitlin (RT) observed:
2006 is when I feel like it [CC concern] was happening all around the country.... Hopefully there'll be another peak in the future.
The mobilisation of a large public, expressed in the idiom of 'connecting grassroots and mainstream', is a priority for all groups. They strive for expansion of public commitment to their cause but in quite different ways. Climate Action Newcastle embraces market thinking in its quest to expand renewable energy through Expos and publicity campaigns, and also endorses a moderate program of activism that will appeal to the mainstream:
... not the lowest common denominator, but we do want to engage as many people as we can, and engage with them positively. And as I said before, start to try and influence their mindset and push boundaries a bit, just to show how serious this issue is, and the old rules don't apply any more (April, CAN).
Transition Towns have a communitarian ideal, focused on awareness raising, sharing and neighbourly cooperation to achieve more sustainable lifestyles:
The biggest thing that probably we're doing is slowly awareness raising (Jack, TN). Yeah, it would be good to see people sharing transport, sharing gardens, connecting with each other as well, using the hall (Lydia, TTCP).
Rising Tide members also hope for 'more interaction between activism and mainstream society' through a wide public commitment to direct action and large-scale non-violent civil disobedience actions that are not seen as too radical or 'fringe'. 'I think that one of the biggest achievements of Rising Tide has been to inspire other people to take action themselves' (Edward). They do not wish to alienate a larger public that is not activist in orientation. Some members have reservations about relying on forms of activism that rely on physical fitness, technical expertise and bravery, and what Edward called 'vanguardism'.
We wanted to kind of yeah engage people, get mums and dads to come along to our actions.... We definitely have had successes but it's been a constant concern that we would appear to people to be, yeah 1 suppose, too fringe. Because I suppose like Greenpeace they do things that no one at home could actually do. You know no one at home has got a Zodiac they can zip out in front of a whale ship (Edward, RT).
Caitlin and Edward (who were interviewed together) express their hopes and frustrations about mobilisation:
Caitlin: I don't know, we just ... need more people, more activists.... more people giving up what they do in their lives, and other ambitions to go.... And we just need everybody to step it up ...
Edward: Alternatively, we could have 22 million people prepared to go out on a weekend and sit down in the street and not bloody move you know ... so that we didn't have to get a few people working all the time, so much better if you can get hundreds of thousands or millions of people.
Going for the bad guys
While all groups have a vision of inclusiveness and mass citizen participation in climate change actions, these ideals are sometimes at odds with Rising Tide's more radical agenda. They aim to use the most dramatic tactics possible to highlight the consequences of corporate and government complicity in fossil fuel based affluence. A media strategy is integral to their tactics. Their website states that NVDA 'needs to be used as a tactic towards a campaign that is broadly supported, and it needs to be widely publicised through the media (so that the immoral behaviour of the opponents can be revealed)'. (19)
Their actions are sometimes viewed, even by members themselves, as 'going too far', and they comment that discussion of the merits and disadvantages of the more daring tactics occupies much time at meetings focused on group consensus. There is a diversity of opinions in the group about their more extreme actions. Clare remarks:
It is hard to know whether we've gone too far, because I'm part of this little group. I sort of want to see it from other perspectives. I don't know whether it's more effective or not, but definitely it seems to be throwing yourself out on the limb a bit more often.
Humphrey, on the other hand, embraces both the diversity of the grassroots groups and the particular niche occupied by Rising Tide:
We often get criticised for not being about solutions, and being about problems, and we'll totally agree that we're about highlighting problems. Other groups can talk about solutions, but we very much see our role as attacking the bad guys. And so when we do an action, we generally just go for the worst culprit. We did a big blockade against the Tomago aluminium smelter a few months ago. Basically we went for them because they're the biggest, baddest aluminium smelter, and they're getting the most payout under the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, and we figured if we're going to go for an aluminium smelter, we may as well go for the worst one.
The actions that 'push boundaries' the farthest are the ones that attract the most public attention through news coverage. Janet, when discussing Climate Action Newcastle's moderate approach to climate change action, commented that a lot of the members were professionals who are 'a little bit more conservative in how far out they'll go'. She went on: 'Unfortunately the media does seem to like people getting arrested, to get it out there'. Rising Tide members themselves have no illusions about their vulnerabilities at the more radical end of the environmental citizenship spectrum. Clare, when reflecting on some of Rising Tide's tactics, commented:
Like I get quite concerned. I feel like the State has a complete monopoly on violence, and they just sort of play along with us while it suits them.
Smart, in his mid-twenties, is a member of Rising Tide who has lived in the Hunter Region most of his life. He had little experience of environmental activism before participating in some CAN events about two years before the interview, and then joining Rising Tide after making friends with one of the founding members and becoming inspired by the direct action philosophy of the group. Stuart had scant experience of direct actions, but his experience of state-sponsored violence was palpable, after he was apprehended by police while taking part in a blockade of Hunter Valley coal trains during the 2010 Climate Camp near Bayswater power station:
I was quite sore afterwards because of the way the police treated me. They'd more or less assaulted me, like bending my wrists down really hard to the point where they cracked, and I thought that i'd broke one of them, and then putting my arms up around behind my back, and pushing my throat against the hand railing and I couldn't breathe. And this was in front of cameras, a camera crew. And then dragged me along the ground, dropped me on the ground from about sixty centimetres so I'd land on my face. Pushing me up against the van, and then, like being called a 'cunt,' lots of different stuff. And virtually then being pulled into a van, after being very, very passive, and having my head slammed into the van as well. So that was my experience, but it was all worth it.
[Were you surprised by the way the police treated you?]
Yeah I was, for a couple of reasons. Because it was happening in front of lots of people, including cameras and journalists. And also, I was surprised that they would actually treat people this way, well someone who was involved in a passive protest, that they'd actually use that much force, and be so aggressive, verbally and physically as well.
Reflecting on the experience, Stuart said:
Twenty-seven people got arrested, and it got lots of media coverage and it went off quite well. I ended up meeting lots of great people, and ended up spending 12 hours in a gaol cell with nine really interesting, inspiring people.
Stuart's experiences, first of the police and then of the communitas of fellow arrestees in the gaol cell, illuminate the contrast that Graeber makes between the political ontology of violence and the political ontology of the imagination (2009:511-12). The Bayswater blockade is an example of a direct action that, at least for Stuart and his fellow inmates, created a 'new horizon of possibility' (Graeber 2009:532) beyond state repression. Reflecting on his participation in Rising Tide, Stuart said simply:
It's a source of happiness because, through actions and through friendships, we're actually working towards something that's meaningful.
The political intelligibility of this sort of NVDA does not necessarily extend to 'the mainstream', however. Letters to the Newcastle Herald on the subject of this and similar actions are often disapproving: 'These protestors ... take pleasure in preventing ordinary citizens from going about their normal occupations'; 'Tying yourself to coal loaders does nothing'; and, 'Why do Rising Tide believe they are above state law?' These censorious public reactions appear to consolidate the situation of structural violence that activists denounce. However, the political ideals of NVDA also embrace a sanguine view of the mainstream, not as an inert entity with entrenched beliefs and values, but responsive to new horizons of possibility (Graeber 2009:528-9) that will realize the group's own aspirations towards greater inclusiveness.
CONCLUSION: EXPERIMENTAL PUBLICS AND ACTIVIST CULTURE
Community-based climate action politics, like environmentalism generally, is often classified among 'new social movements' in post-industrial societies, focused on identity, culture and lifestyle rather than class inequality (Melucci 1985). However this designation is best understood as an abstraction or ideal type in the Weberian sense (Rootes 2007), and even then its heuristic value is doubtful. Many activists articulate a stark appreciation of the structural inequalities in Australia's capitalist society, and changing this is an explicit part of the 'climate justice' approach towards the structural causes of environmental exploitation:
I think the ultimate objective is changing the structure of our society, our economic system, and people's value systems like our culture. We can't continue to have a growth-based economy and a culture of people that value consumerism above environmental protection, and above everything else that should be held more highly in their esteem (Caitlin, RT).
Environmentalism is subject to the vicissitudes of 'institutionalised individualism' in contemporary societies, whereby citizens in loose organisational networks can easily replace one political cause by another. However the life history statements made by the people who were part of the author's study suggest that commitment to environmentalist ideals is a stable life project for many.
The urgent need to address global warming has fortified activists' commitment. Rootes (2007) has observed that the strength of environmentalism in the West has waxed and waned over the last 40 years, as measured by the size and political influence of the large environmental movement organisations (EMOs). The most resilient EMOs have been those with local chapters where local issues were addressed. At the more informal end of environmental activism, local non-affiliated action groups also contribute to a 'cycle of regeneration that maintains the dynamism of the movements' (2007: 633).
Claims of the 'death of environmentalism' or its ossification as part of government policy development frameworks do not ring true for local climate action groups in the Hunter Valley. The major problem for this self-designated climate movement, in all its diversity, is the failure thus far of the larger body of citizenry, the 'mainstream', to feel that global warming is a situation with adverse consequences for them. April (CAN) observes:
So you need to engage with people's hearts, as well as their minds, for them to take action [on climate change]. Like they need to be somewhat scared into action, they need to be a bit fearful for their children, to do something about it.
Jack (TN) thinks that people need to be personally affected to act on climate change:
But you need to get the community on board. I'm noticing more and more the bigger dilemma that the community is not going to move until they're faced with a real, immediate need.
This fundamental criterion for the formation of a public, in Dewey's sense--the experience of meaningful or significant adversity--has not been met. Moreover, given the complexity of the planetary climate system, it is not surprising that there is no consensual agreement on causes of anything that is experienced--resulting in the tentative or weak presence of a climate action public, susceptible to strains of scepticism or denial. Shellenberger and Nordhaus (2005), as part of their thesis about the death of environmentalism in the USA, link the lack of action to address global warming to the rise of a technocratic society:
... political strategy [of environmental leaders] became defined around using science to define the problem as 'environmental' and crafting technical policy proposals as solution (2005: 7).
This argument is reminiscent of Dewey's complaint about the rising influence of scientists in matters of public concern in the 1920s. However, the world of environmental leaders is far removed from 'grassroots' community groups. As both de Rijke and Tuckwell have discussed (this volume), local groups involved in environmental disputes vigorously contest state--and corporate-sponsored science of their antagonists, utilising many forms of knowledge to support their own environmental narratives, worldviews and political purposes.
Climate activists, even those with a moderate agenda, have a reflexive understanding of their practices that goes far beyond the reification of the environment. They envision fundamental changes to the structure of societies and the way life is lived in local communities. They reanimate ideas like 'neighbourhood' and 'locality' through place based climate politics, in company with many other action groups contesting issues like pollution and ecosystem degradation. In so doing they enact forms of resistance to hegemonic cosmopolitanism which perpetuates consumer capitalism's forms of exclusion, inequality and marginalization of placebased belonging (Rootes 2011). Ecological crisis is inspiring new political life worlds and forms of democratisation where the quality of all planetary existence will be an ethical imperative, despite the contradictions that citizens constantly encounter in their everyday lives.
Thanks to the participants in the author's research project from the Hunter Valley, research
assistants Sonia Freeman, Gillian Harris, Vanessa Bowden and Gina Krone, Nick Higginbotham and Adrian Peace for critical comments, and the anonymous reviewers. This research is funded by an Australian Research Council Discovery Project (DP0878089).
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(1.) Dobson (2003) summarizes this: 'Liberal citizenship can be characterized as the establishing and claiming of citizenship rights, while civic republican citizenship is most often associated with the fulfillment of citizenship duties, in the service of some common good associated with the bounded polity in question'.
(2.) Often termed 'environmental citizenship' by others, although Dobson (2003) clearly differentiates the two terms.
(3.) '... the main business of government is to make property interests secure' (1991:10).
(4.) Lake Macquarie Council's modeling for sea level rise projections is derived from the 2007 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The inclusion of sea level rise projections in Council planning is a NSW Government requirement (NSW Government 2009).
(5.) http://www.hcec.org.au/content/about Accessed 8 August 2012.
(6.) http://coalpointprogress.blogspot.com/2010/11/transition-town-where-to-nextform-or.htm Accessed 28 March 2012.
(7.) http://www.transitionnewcastle.org.au/Accessed 8 August 2012.
(8.) http://www.climateaction.org.au/Accessed 26 March 2012.
(9.) http://www.lmca.org.au/about/Accessed 8 August 2012.
(10.) http://www.risingtide.org.au Accessed 8 August 2012.
(11.) http://huntervalleyprotectionalliance.com/hghome.html Accessed 8 August 2012.
(12.) http://www.htba.com.au/protectourindustries Accessed 8 August 2012.
(13.) http://www.climateaction.org.au/Accessed 26 March 2012.
(14.) http://www.risingtide.org.au/Accessed 26 March 2012.
(15.) http://smartenergyexpo.com.au/Accessed 6 March 2012.
(16.) http://www.transitionnewcastle.org.au/project/transition-streets-challenge Accessed 26 March 2012.
(17.) Gray v The Minister for Planning, Director-General of the Department of Planning and Centennial Hunter Pty Ltd  NSWLEC 720 (Anvil Hill Case).
(18.) http://www'risingtide.org.au/activists-shut-down-worlds-biggest-coal-port Accessed 26 March 2012.
(19.) http://www.risingtide.org.au/node/1126 Accessed 25 March 2012.
Linda H. Connor
The University of Sydney…