Climate action: Left, Right, Left, Right….

Ironically, while the climate movement is still too white, it is also way too liberal. When the future of civilization is at stake, we are called to find ways to work together with EVERYONE. Meeting that challenge will not only help us address climate but also steer social change towards healthier forms of democracy and society in general. Luckily, there exist ample resources and opportunities for doing that work.

The article below – “Here’s a radical idea: Climate activists need to engage conservatives” by George Marshall – bemoans the left liberal progressive bias of the climate movement. Marshall suggests that our climate challenge is now so vast and complex it demands participation by the whole of society and thus its movement cannot afford a narrow self-identity. He notes that while the liberal environmental movement talks increasingly about “diversity”, it also tends to limit its concerns about diversity to non-white marginalized minorities, oblivious to its own dismissive attitudes toward conservatives and even people from mainstream majorities.

To the extent we recognize that our climate-related challenges are generated by our economic and political systems, our lifestyles and our cultures, we also recognize that those patterns in our collective lives will need to shift in fundamental ways to address those challenges. This will require the kind of whole-society shift in perspective and mobilization that we saw, for example, in World War II. Indeed, given the scope of our climate response choices, we stand at a crossroads for the future of civilization – in more ways than one.

Marshall writes:

“The process by which we respond to climate change will lay the groundwork for our future adaptation. If we build a narrative around our interconnectedness and shared humanity, then we stand a good chance of pulling through, just as divided communities can settle their differences to pull together after a hurricane. If we build our movement through distrust and division, we create the preconditions for future infighting, blame, and scapegoating.”

The co-intelligence perspective highlights the necessity and the remarkable value of using ALL forms of diversity creatively. It helps us see where diversity is already being used creatively and how to improve our own efforts to do it.

In response to George Marshall’s challenge I suggest there is now a tremendous amount of experience and know-how reaching across political divides.

I recall my own eye-opening introduction to this potential on the Great Peace March in 1986. After intense conflict over a proposed dress code for peace marchers, we realized that young punk anarchist marchers and elder conservative marchers – precisely BECAUSE of their distinctive appearances – should go out in pairs TOGETHER to speak about the urgency of nuclear disarmament in schools and churches along the way. There was little else they agreed on, but their visible differences EMBODIED how we all needed to come together to prevent nuclear war. (You can read the fascinating story at “Circles and Dress Codes”.)

One of the most popular articles on the co-intelligence website – “A Personally Transformational Encounter of Left and Right” – describes my own awakening to the dangerous limits imposed by my progressive upbringing and ideology – not because it was progressive but because it was an ideology that over-generalized who my fellow citizens were and kept us from creating urgently needed alliances together. ALL of us were divided and conquered.

That event brought home to me in a very personal way the “transpartisan” perspective I’d been introduced to years earlier through the remarkable prolife/prochoice dialogue hosted by the Public Conversation Project in Cambridge, MA. PCP describes its thoughtfully designed approach in detail here. PCP’s whole initiative and its outcomes were reported in the Boston Globe by the abortion activists on both sides who participated with PCP in six years of confidential conversations. Today there is a whole movement emerging based on transpartisan insights, experiences, and methodologies.

Perhaps surprisingly we find substantial common ground and complementarity between certain proposals that appeal to people who consider themselves liberals, progressives, and greens on the one hand, and those who consider themselves conservatives, patriots, and libertarians on the other. One way of making sense of this is the quadrant model that has a Left-Right horizontal axis and a Power-Freedom vertical axis. The giant, well established US Democratic and Republican parties – with their close ties to big government and big business – compete in the upper “Power” quadrants, while the Occupy movement and Greens occupy the lower left quadrant and the Tea Party and Patriots occupy the lower right (with varieties of Libertarians distributed on both sides, depending on which issue is at stake).

One of the main common-ground issues for both sides is local community empowerment and resilience – local economics, local self-government, local mutual aid – without interference from big government and big corporations. I was surprised at how passionately this value and vision was held by a religious conservative Mormon colleague. We both saw its relevance for shared work to address climate change, even though my vision was rooted in a desire for a sustainable society and his was driven by a religious commitment to stronger communities and families and independence from corrupt, sinful power structures.

Other realms where common cause can be co-created between Left and Right on the climate issue are the “Creation Care” evangelical movement; support for alternative energy among the “energy security” and “free market” movements; various Left-Right alliances borne of political expedience in an era of increasing public concern over climate issues; and support from major financial players like the IMF (International Monetary Fund) and the insurance industry (including insurance companies divesting from fossil fuel companies), as well as businesses in general (e.g., the recent Paris 2015 Climate Conference).

Ultimately, I believe, an issue with such profound implications as climate change is best viewed not through lenses of Left and Right, but through realizing ourselves as citizens of our communities, our countries, our planet. Most forums and political action venues do not support us coming together with such shared identities. That is why I promote the various forms of Citizen Deliberative Council – randomly selected microcosms of a whole community, country or world whose selection process ensures they reflect the diversity found there without any of the citizen panelists being self-consciously liberal or conservative or whatever. Their generic identity as citizens allows them to be and act as their own unique selves, with human nuance and potential flexibility in their encounters with each other. The fact that diverse groups of this kind have repeatedly come to substantial agreements on controversial issues shows immense promise for all our greatest challenges.

But right now “Left versus Right” is the name of the political game, so I welcome all efforts to bring “the two sides” together in ways that will help us address a challenge so large it may constitute a choice between extinction, totalitarian regression, or breakthrough to a far, far better way of living with each other and the larger Life around us.

Blessings on the Journey we’re all on together.


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Here’s a radical idea: Climate activists need to engage conservatives | Grist

by George Marshall, Climate Outreach

I consider myself to be a radical — and I now believe that the most radical thing I can do is break out of the safety zone of left/liberal environmentalism and actively engage with conservatives.

I have spent two decades in the radical environmental movement, and I believe strongly that the crisis of climate change requires systemic changes. I am utterly convinced, from my reading of history, that these changes will only emerge from strong and outspoken political movements.

But no movement will win unless it has strength of numbers and influence. We should not delude ourselves that a highly motivated minority — what Marxists used to call the vanguard — can ever win this. The issue of climate change is far too large to be addressed without a near total commitment across society.

Yet, throughout the Anglophone world, there is a dangerous political polarization around climate change. In one particularly disturbing U.S. poll, attitudes about climate change were found to be a better predictor of respondents’ political orientation than any other issue — including gun control, abortion, and capital punishment. Denial of climate change is not just an opinion; it has become a dominant mark of people’s political identity.

This is no small problem. People with conservative values (some of whom may also vote for center-left parties) constitute the majority in almost all countries. In U.S. surveys, people who identify strongly with conservative values outnumber those who identify with liberal/left values by a ratio of 2 to 1.

In my book Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change, I argue that climate change exists for us in the form of socially constructed narratives built upon our values and identity. It is these narratives — not the underlying science or even the evidence before our own eyes — that leads us to accept or reject climate change.

Unfortunately, one of the dominant values in the climate movement is a disregard, if not outright contempt, for the right-leaning mainstream and their concerns. Activists often talk with disgust of the “selfishness,” “greed,” and “stupidity” of conservatives. This is intolerant and unpleasant. This denigration conveniently ignores the diversity of opinion and life experience among conservatives. A struggling rural family, an elderly Christian living on a small pension, a community shopkeeper, and a Wall Street banker are combined into one faceless enemy.

More often, though, conservatives are just ignored by activists. Few people in the climate movement want to deal with them, talk to them, or find out more about them. They simply don’t exist.

Recently I led a communications workshop for one of the largest international environmental networks, one I respect and have worked with for many years. I asked them, “Do you think that the climate change movement has a problem with its diversity?” Absolutely, they replied, it’s too dominated by middle-aged men, too white, too middle class, not enough involvement from minorities or indigenous peoples, not many disabled people. But nobody mentioned the absence of conservatives, and certainly no one in the room admitted to being one.

Diversity is a powerful frame for progressives, but its components have been entirely defined by the struggles of marginalized groups for representation. It makes us blind to our own failure to involve the majority of our fellow citizens.

Last year I was thrilled to attend the People’s Climate March in New York. (I think I can justify the carbon — I was already in the area for a six-state book tour.) An estimated 350,000 people marched with placards declaring “To Change Everything We Need Everyone.” But everyone seemed to mean only the groups that conform to the progressive ideology, which excludes the majority of the population. There was a great deal of progressive diversity at the march: Indigenous peoples headed it up, followed by environmental justice groups of all colors and ethnicities and labor unions. As someone who has campaigned for more than 20 years for indigenous rights, and led large programs with unions, I was thrilled to see such broad representation.

But as I watched the banners and placards pass by, I imagined how this march would appear to mainstream America. The dominant messages were about banning, stopping, boycotting things. Among them were hard left-wing messages about overthrowing capitalism and destroying Wall Street. A woman with a placard that read “Never, Never, Never, Never, Never, Ever Vote Republican” was cheered and whistled at. To balance this, a posse of cigar-chomping Republican frat boys turned up on the sidelines with cutouts of Ronald Reagan to wind up the lefties. But there was nothing, not so much as a word, to hint that mainstream conservatives had a place alongside everyone in the climate struggle. A small pack of Nebraskan ranchers, converted to the cause by their fight against the Keystone XL pipeline, told me freely and proudly that they were lifelong Republicans. They were hidden within the mass of the march when they should have been at its very front as a symbol of an extraordinary unity of purpose and our shared destiny.

Yes, we know that many Republican politicians are disgracefully negligent on this issue and corrupted by corporate interests. We know that the debate, fueled by the poison of shock jocks and Fox News, is offensive and often violent in its language. And we know that climate change deniers and the opponents of environmental laws are invariably right-wing in their politics. But there are also huge swaths of decent, honorable, middle American conservatives who are committed to their communities and prepared to make sacrifices to defend their values and way of life. I fear that for far too long, by refusing to engage with them, we have handed them over to our opponents.

We know how to change this. We’ve got previous experience with building diversity, whether it be economic, gender, or race: Actively hire new people from the underrepresented group who can work through their networks, then enable them to develop communications that speak to others like themselves using their own values.

The process by which we respond to climate change will lay the groundwork for our future adaptation. If we build a narrative around our interconnectedness and shared humanity, then we stand a good chance of pulling through, just as divided communities can settle their differences to pull together after a hurricane. If we build our movement through distrust and division, we create the preconditions for future infighting, blame, and scapegoating. Minority vanguards have only ever won when they’ve gotten their hands on guns and then ruled by them.

So my challenge to all people concerned about climate change is this: Reach across partisan boundaries and build a broad social consensus for action. We do not even have to agree about the details of the solutions — indeed I hope we maintain a strong debate. But we must come together in the recognition that dealing with climate change is the greatest calling of our age.


George Marshall is the cofounder of Climate Outreach, a communications nonprofit based in Oxford, U.K. He is author of Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change and blogs intermittently at


Tom Atlee, The Co-Intelligence Institute, POB 493, Eugene, OR 97440
Calling forth the wisdom of the whole for the wellbeing of the whole

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