Climate Emergency Fast. Photo: iStockphoto

I’m incredibly excited about the September 4th Climate Emergency Fast being organized by the U.S. Climate Emergency Council and others. I’ve signed up and hope you will too, by clicking here. In one week, the number of fasters has grown from 395 to 795 and continues to multiply. Everyone I’ve talked to about it is instantly drawn to it; people seem to instinctively understand that we need to move beyond the polite letter-writing, lobbying, and yes — blogging — that has characterized response to the climate crisis thus far.

In most true crises, people take to the streets if the government doesn’t act. What’s happening to the planet is a crisis of that scale, but thus far hasn’t got the dramatic response it merits. Institutional advocacy just won’t cut it; as a recent groundbreaking study by Jon Agnone of the University of Washington shows. As Ken Ward summarized in a recent post here:

  1. Protest is significantly more important than public opinion or institutional advocacy in influencing federal environmental law. Agnone found that each protest event increases the likelihood of pro-environmental legislation being passed by 1.2 percent, and moderate protest increases the annual rate of adoption by an astonishing 9.5 percent.
  2. Public opinion on its own influences federal action (though less than protest), but is vastly strengthened by protest, which “amplifies” public support and, in Agnone’s words, “raises the salience of public opinion for legislators.” Protest and public opinion are synergistic, with a joint impact on federal policy far more dramatic than either factor alone.
  3. Institutional advocacy has limited impact on federal environmental policy.

Coming in the wake of Al Gore’s call for civil disobedience against polluters, this fast could be the start of a vital shift in the strategy of the environmental movement — getting out of the halls of power where it’s easy to have demands mollified with half measures and into the streets: the point at which leaders start freaking out and wondering what you’ll do next. Of course, it’s always important to keep any protests accessible and sympathetic to the average person. It’s necessary to do the organizing in advance to ensure that your action has widespread public support and won’t provoke a crippling backlash, but I think we’re getting to that point in the climate crisis.

Already some climate big shots have signed up: Rev. Jim Wallis, Vandana Shiva, Dennis Brutus, Sally Bingham, Bill McKibben, Rev. Bob Edgar, Van Jones, Mike Tidwell, Billy Parish, Brent Blackwelder, Ilyse Hogue and many more.

So join me and sign up now!