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Call to Action: Activists and the Sustainable Development Goals

Global Goals & Global Society
Activists and the Sustainable Development Goals

At the 77th United Nations General Assembly on the 13th of September 2022, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres issued a stark warning about the current state of world in terms of war, poverty and climate change. He claims that, as a civilization, we are failing to meet some of the greatest challenges facing us in our global society today and urged leaders, activists and businesses alike to strive towards meeting the Sustainable Development Goals set out in the UN’s blueprint for peace and prosperity.

‘Trust is crumbling, inequalities are exploding, our planet is burning,’ Guterres said, yet he also finished with a message of optimism and confidence. ‘This is a definitive moment,’ he went on, ‘All of you here today and those tuning in from around the world give me immense hope that we can put our hands on the wheel of progress and steer a new course.’[1]

As millions across the globe face an unprecedented cost-of-living crisis, with food and energy bills soaring, many analysts believe that our summer of discontent will be followed by an even harsher winter of discontent, in which many in the northern hemisphere will have to suffer through freezing temperatures and the simultaneous inability to heat their homes.

Meanwhile, it has been widely reported across the media that a new Carbon Tracker has begun collecting ‘reserve, production and emissions data’ from more than 50,000 oil and gas fields from around 89 countries in an effort to assess where we are in relation to the carbon budget. According to Democracy Now[2], the ‘new public database has found the world’s fossil fuels reserves contain enough carbon to exceed limits set by the Paris Climate Accord seven times over.’

‘The global registry of fossil fuels warns burning the world’s remaining supplies of coal, gas and oil would add three and a half trillion tonnes of greenhouse gas into the atmosphere; more than all the emissions since the start of the industrial revolution.’ The Scientific American[3] likewise reports that, thus far, this Carbon Tracker demonstrates how, ‘the United States [alone] holds enough oil, gas and coal in reserves to burn through the world’s remaining carbon budget and topple existing international climate targets.’

These are some truly sombre revelations, which I believe also validate the worst of our fears. Every time we begin to suspect that scientists have been too alarmist in their assessment of the current state of the climate change crisis, we are shocked by new data that proves how very conservative their estimates have actually been. The situation is exacerbating and accelerating at a truly breath-taking speed, while urgent calls for action from those familiar with the dire nature of our circumstances go unacknowledged and unheard.

Activists of every age, colour and creed have, however, played an integral role in raising awareness around how deep and dangerous our energy and climate crisis has become. Not only are fuel prices skyrocketing, leaving many to endure the looming cutting-cold of winter and difficulties with affording transportation, but the fuel we burn itself is on the verge of toppling the planet into a level of warming we will not be able to come back from.

Faith for those in government and those who head the corporations driving this energy calamity has waned over many successive years of consistent failure and that is why the work of activists and volunteers is crucial in garnering mass engagement with these issues – problems which now affect us all. It is possible and, indeed, necessary that communities begin to collaborate to fight back against energy giants, while also educating and informing others of the dangers we currently find ourselves confronted with.

One cannot and should not underestimate the power of mass movements. In the past, activists have managed to establish a forty-hour working week, as opposed to eighty (or more). We have succeeded in sparing children from the labour market, enabling them years to develop through education. We have forced the tobacco industry to reveal the detrimental substances in their products. We have pushed for racial and gender equality. In Ireland, a traditionally conservative Catholic country, we succeeded in gaining women’s rights to abortion and marriage equality for the LGBQT community.

People all over the globe are now incrementally pushing back and taking action on climate. For example, as reported by The Guardian (2022), ‘Last October, Greenpeace and another 30 organisations launched a European citizens’ initiative calling for a new law banning fossil fuel advertising and sponsorship in the EU, similar to what happened with tobacco at the beginning of this century. If the petition collects a million signatures in a year, the European Commission is obliged to respond.’[4]Similarly cited in the same article is how ‘More than 450 scientists also signed a letter calling on PR and advertising agencies to stop working with fossil fuel firms and stop spreading climate disinformation. This is the first time so many scientists have called out the role of PR and advertising in fuelling the climate crisis.’[5]

Youth icons such as Greta Thunberg and Vanessa Nakate (Ugandan climate justice campaigner) have likewise been speaking out for teenagers, adolescents and children who, because of government and corporate inaction on the climate crisis, now face an uncertain, potentially terrifying future.

Miss Nakate founded the movement Youth for Future Africa, which speaks to climate issues close to her home and, in her usual audacious style, Miss Thunberg is currently compiling a book which ‘aims to help readers connect the dots between threats to the climate, environment, sustainability and indigenous populations — among others — and is intended as a guide to understanding and activism.’ Aptly named The Climate Book, it will contain ‘contributions from more than 100 academics, thinkers and campaigners, including novelists Margaret Atwood and Amitav Ghosh, climate scientist Saleemul Huq and World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.’[6] These young girls are not climate scientists or experts, they are simply activists who decided enough was enough, and that it was time to act.

There are now a plethora of individuals promoting and acting on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals within their communities and within their own fields of expertise, including (but not limited to) authors, journalists, scientists, explorers, film-makers, actors, lecturers, photographers, sailors, students of all ages, homemakers, builders, shopkeepers. There are no criteria whatsoever for activism and everyone can be a campaigner for environmental justice.

You do not have to be famous or work within a field related to climate science in order to take action within your own community. Even something as small as creating a neighbourhood group which comes together every week to discuss sustainable goals in your vicinity would be an admirable and positive endeavour.

Each of us, all of us, are activists and have the power to effect positive change in this time of unprecedented emergency. Throughout history, it has always been the activists who drive progress and collective evolution. As I always say, if it has been done before, it can be done again; and the time to start is now!


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