The ultimate aim of the Climate Cycle to Canberra is to help create the conditions in which an effective, society-wide response to the climate crisis is possible. Our best scientists are telling us that unless we cut emissions rapidly and deeply, as well as begin a process of drawdown of greenhouse gases, we may face existential breakdown over the coming years and decades. The effects we see already, today, are very serious.
There is growing consensus that an emergency-scale, society-wide mobilisation is now a reasonable and necessary response to the climate crisis. Yes, this is a radical step but it reflects the seriousness of the problem. And before this is possible our political leaders need to tell the truth about the climate crisis, and declare a climate emergency.
So this is our #1 aim: to get the Australian government to declare a climate emergency.
But what happens after that?
After that it becomes more complicated. Emissions targets would need to be set that are far more ambitious than those currently in place. We would need to begin the process of drawdown of greenhouse gases. A transition plan would have to be developed. But the precise means by which we would achieve all this is an open and complicated question—a question that a loose collection of bike riders don’t have the expertise to answer.
Answering this question adequately will require input from the nation’s best thinkers and researchers, the resources of government and the wider public discourse. All that we are saying is that before any of this can happen, we need to decide, as a society, that this is an emergency and we will treat it as such.
If all this talk of ’emergency action’ makes you suspicious, you should be. And if it doesn’t, it should do. There are many examples in history where the pretense of an emergency has been used by despotic leaders to tighten their grip on power. It’s possible that the same could happen here. So it is useful to define what an ‘emergency response’ should not be.
1. It should not involve dangerous and undue suspension of democratic norms.
There may be a case to modify some existing decision making processes, or create new ones. A citizen’s assembly, for example, has been proposed as a way to de-politicise decision-making and guide the path forward. However we need to proceed with deliberation and caution as we do this, and guard against any opportunistic power grabs by political actors. There is a contradiction here of course; we need to exercise caution in order to do something radical. It’s a delicate balancing act that will require the very best efforts of all involved.
2. It should not involve massive and abrupt social upheaval for which people are not prepared.
One of the biggest blocks to climate action is the effect it may have on certain industries and the people who work in them, as well as the families and communities of those workers. An emergency response to the climate crisis needs to make adequate provisions for these workers and communities, and spell out exactly how this transition is going to work. There is in fact is an opportunity here to take back some control, and provide greater certainty than the status quo.
As we saw with the closure of Hazelwood coal power station in Victoria, if the transition is left to market forces, large disruptions can happen with little warning. The fate of local communities are left to executives of large international companies that are far removed from the consequences. A proper transition plan would afford communities more certainty over their future, and an ability to plan ahead.
3. It should not be a trojan horse for unrelated economic or social agendas.
Most people agree that an effective response to the climate crisis will require a greater role for government, and therefore a move to the political ‘left.’ However some idealogues on the far left see the coming upheaval as a way to implement a socialist-style political agenda that may or may not have anything to do with the problem at hand. Not only does this put the horse before the cart, it alienates moderates on the right, who need to be on board in order to garner the broad-based support that any successful movement needs.
We should be agnostic about the political direction a response to the climate crisis takes us, while remembering our values as a modern western nation; values such as freedom of expression, freedom of association, freedom from oppression, economic freedom, secular education and the due processes of law and politics.
We should work to break down political polarisation, and try to find common ground with reasonable people of all political, economic and cultural groups. We must be a coalition of ‘imperfect allies.’
How does the climate cycle move us towards these goals?
It breaks down barriers
Remember that bit just before about reaching across divides. Well adventure bike riding is one of the best ways of doing that. When you ride a loaded bike through a place—any place—it always makes people curious. All sorts of people will come up to you and ask you questions. You will make connections with people you would never meet in your ‘day-to-day’ life. And you may be surprised by how much you have in common.
It raises the climate emergency in people’s consciousness
Simply bringing people’s focus onto the climate emergency for some part of their day or some part of their year helps to maintain momentum in the movement for change. If a person is prompted to think about it, even for a small moment, there’s no telling the knock-on effect that that could have, months or years down the track. Whether that is people we meet along the way, family, friends and colleagues, or politicians we meet, we will be moving the climate crisis up in their thoughts.
It attempts to create structural and political change
The pledges of action are designed to create the kinds of structural and political changes we hope will lead to meaningful action on climate, as well as to encourage supporters to engage with the issue on more than a superficial level. Donating money to causes and individual consumer action (such as driving less) certainly have an important role to play, but we feel that the most potential lies in changing the systems underlying the problem.
Direct political lobbying—meeting politicians in Canberra
It’s hard to say exactly how effective direct political lobbying is, but if you were a politician, it would be hard to ignore, say, a dozen people riding 1000km to your doorstep simply to ask you to do something. And that’s not to mention the many more pledges of action those riders would have garnered.
Getting people more connected to nature, which fosters a desire to preserve it
Giving someone an opportunity to spend time in the outdoors can often change their outlook and priorities. The more people feel connected to the world around them—particularly the natural world—and develop a positive relationship to it, the more desire they usually have to preserve that world.
Giving people a break
Fighting for change, particularly with the backdrop of environmental calamity, can be exhausting and at times demoralising. But activism doesn’t have to be grim and lonely. The Climate Cycle to Canberra is a positive outlet for people who want to do something about the climate crisis. But it’s also an opportunity to give yourself a break, have some fun, do something joyous and recharge the soul for the long road ahead.