Activism and the Nexus: Shaping Policy

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Activism & the Nexus: Shaping Policy

by Miles Ten Brinke

Miles, Peak Water columnist and avowed Hydrophilic energy-head, has found his way to Britain where he’s lost his California perma-tan and is studying an Energy Policy MSc at the University of Exeter on a Fulbright.

Activism is a force to be reckoned with. This simple truth is one easy to forget in the grim utilitarian realm of policy analysis. It’s a factor that depending upon your given governance structure is easy to shove off to the side as secondary. When the problems seem so big, when you’re working at a global system change the contributions of active engaged individuals can seem so small to be insignificant.

You might find yourself starting to ask brutal questions. What voice does the little guy have when the big players have such loud lobbyists? Given their diffuse and often ephemeral nature what influence can grassroots movements really have on decision makers?-So easy to do, and so damning.

Lucky for me I’ve got you folks in the Peak Water network and friends around the world constantly reminding me of this. People power can wield enormous influence, regardless of the particular creed it amplifies. In the pursuit of a truly sustainable global energy-water- climate system transition it’s these movements that give moral purpose and a groundswell of democratic legitimacy. They animate  people, engaging them in the complexities of the problem while helping them grow into change agents.

Right now across the United States there is a movement to divest public institutions from fossil fuels. In this column I’m going to highlight the efforts of the folks in the University of California pushing for such change.

As of 20 February 2013 the University of California, San Diego student government joined their fellows at the Berkeley and Santa Barbara campuses in passing a resolution to fully divest its portfolio from fossil fuel funds. Equal parts inspired by the 350.org call to action and the success of the anti-Apartheid divestments of the 80s and 90s the movement is as much about a moral revolution as climate change mitigation. The college campaign in California has largely been coordinated by the California Student Sustainability Coalition (CSSC) which coordinates environmental actions by students across the state.

At Berkeley the charge is being led by senior Katie Hoffman, her tireless efforts leading the team at Cal through their unsuccessful campaign in 2011 to divest the UC from coal companies all the way through to the current momentum of the day. That is, of UC Berkeley’s student government setting a vital new precedent by voting to divest. Katie is an old friend; we first met as transfer students to the Society & Environment B.S. programme at UC Berkeley a few years back.

I’ve watched her work, witnessed her passion and drive first hand. I have seen what she and all the other activists in the CSSC have accomplished.  I can see what they’re capable of. Expect more big things to come! To have been there at the start and to be here now is an incredible privelege, even from across the Atlantic. Katie and all the other folks on the ground across California and the whole United States pushing forward with divestment are a true and continued inspiration.

Some would scoff at the arrogant naivety of students, denying them even the pleasure of small victories. Such folks need only look at the million dollar funds at the disposal of UC student governments to see how wrong they are. This is a targeted movement, with specific and modular goals. Across the country they’re succeeding and their campaigns are growing.

All of this has profound implications for not only how we concieve of each and every sutainability nexus but the pathways we choose to realize them.  To bear witness to, even join, movements such as these opens your eyes to the possibility of a democratised and decentralised (both of technologies and governance) transition. That is, of a radical departure from the status quo and viable in a multitude of different manifestations. Yes, activism is but one complex piece but  what a vital part yet!  

The choice we face is not simply between different technical and economic structures, so too is it a resolution on how we are to conduct ourselves-a new order to things. It’s about governance, and strategic decision making. Grassroots organizing, direct action, advocacy and all the other forms must orient towards this truth. From the ground up and back down again how we choose must be reshaped. In radical, chaotic little steps we may yet solve the riddle of the sustainability nexus.

Activism is about policy, an imperfect and fragile evolution.

~ Miles on Water

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