The SELFCITY project has focused on local communities who have got organised to response to the climate change debate in Europe. The concept of self-organising grouping emerges from the Developing South where governments are poorly resourced and basic needs are great (and unmet). Thus, local communities get their act together in the absence of local authorities in order to sort out housing, basic services and responses to environmental disaster (such as extreme weather events) that those communities need.
In the case of Europe (and indeed the US) there is much government and local government that even in the midst of austerity and recession regulates markets and provides many services. These services and resources are all implicated within a societal/economic response to the emerging climate emergency but there is still space for communal activism. Thus the concept of self-organising potentially focuses our minds upon the relationship that volunteers in environmental groups have with existing forms of government. If self-organising is important and an appropriate way to discuss volunteering for environmental (and climate change) groups we might expect to see volunteering for environmental groups associated with protesting and dissatisfaction with an existing political system. It is also possible that this relationship may be different in different countries/regions – as there is also variation is national/regional preferences for getting involved in communal activity.
The analysis of existing survey data suggests that environmental activists (our self-organisers) do have a strong affinity for protest in a way that civic organisers (eg people who run sports clubs or who are part of religious groups) do not. Unlike civic activists, our environmental volunteers can be dissatisfied with their democratic system (in the Netherlands or in Britain) but they still see themselves as interested in politics and say that they are not put off taking part in that system (through voting). So, environmental volunteers do appear to share some things in common with self-organisers.
In the Netherlands, Great Britain and Western Germany, those who would engage in a range of different types of protest were 2-3 times more likely to belong to a self-organised environmental group than respondents who had not protested (ranging from petitions to occupying buildings). Equally people with a history of being part of a trade union or professional group were also more likely to be in an environmental group that those who were not members of a trade union. Self-organising environmental activists were also more likely to have a clear partisan view on who they intend to vote for implying that they maintained an interest in politics. In the case of both Great Britain and the Netherlands environmental activists also reveal themselves to be dissatisfied with the existing democratic system. Combined this is a very different profile from the men and women who volunteer tirelessly for more general civic associations (such as sports clubs or religious groups) who seem disinterested in the political process and outright dissatisfied with the democratic process (on average).
So where are the self-organising climate change responders in Europe? Well they are likely to be petitioning and demonstrating against the current systems of government but they have not given up on politics. European self-organising on climate change acknowledges that government remains resourced and important. So it is but a short step from the demo (emergent self-organising) to the environmental association (institutional self-organising). Government still has a role in advanced countries even if it tries to shirk its responsibilities of seeing beyond the lifetime of its leader.
On this World Environment Day, we can self-organise a better future.
Ian Smith from the SELFCITY team will be at the Regional Studies Association conference in Dublin this week presenting this research this week (June 4-7).
presentation attachedVoting, volunteering and environmental activism in Europe dublin v3