The environmental movement needs to get more influential through unconventional mechanisms. Kumi Naidoo, Executive Director of Greenpeace International states, “As environmental NGOs we are winning battles, but if I am brutally honest we are losing the war. Working together with religious leaders and educating young people around the globe might change the way people see the Earth and humanity. And these newly inspired people could contribute a lot to our cause.”
“Hopefully, people will see that environmentalism and development are not strict opposites. Both society and its leaders have to realize that both can be realized. In order to achieve that, thinking out of the box is not enough, we have to throw away the box and start a new paradigm. We need a complete new way of societal thinking.”
Inspiring not scaring people
According to Naidoo, who started his career as a civil rights activist in South Africa, that change is needed urgently. The environmental leader opened the meeting with students from around the globe with the following words: “We gather at a time when the situation of the world can be described as a perfect storm.”
Yet the environmental movement is well aware that the solution lies in inspiring people, not in scaring them. “I was once asked if I knew Martin Luther King and the title of his most famous speech. I thought that I was being tricked so I answered, rather confused, ‘yes of course, it is called I have a dream’. ‘Indeed,’ the other man said, ‘it is called ‘I have a dream’, not ‘I have a nightmare’!’”
Although the situation is critical and the environmental movement is “not winning the war”, Naidoo also agrees there is room for optimism. The technological era has unlocked numerous possibilities. The Greenpeace chief recalled some surprising breakthroughs. “It was great, a group of Kenyan girls ranging from 12 to 15 years, build their own refrigerator that could cool for 5 hours on one liter of human urine.”
“Technologically it is already possible to create cheap green energy, the only thing that is lacking is political will.” Another major role is played by the internet and online education. These technologies enable people in the far corners of the Earth to play a role in creating new technologies.
Optimist because of will
Technologies that can both help develop their region and help to build a more sustainable society. Naidoo once visited a town in Sweden that was in complete panic. “A man came running to me and said “It is a major problem, we have run out of shit!” Upon further investigation, all the busses connecting the village with the rest of the world ran on human feces.”
Kumi Naidoo underlines the importance of initiatives like these. It shows people that they can make a difference. “As Antonio Gramsci said ‘I’m a pessimist because of intelligence, but an optimist because of will’. Yet here is a threat that to many people will get realistic and see that it is hard to change anything at this late stage, and that they will think ‘it’s too late, why bother?’.
On the other hand, modern technologies like social media sparked people from the far corners of the Earth to participate in the environmental movement. Naidoo calls the environmental blog 350 a great example of the possibilities and how young people from different backgrounds can connect in a joined cause. Through the internet the best local initiatives can get a global podium overnight and change the future for the better.