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Volume 5, Issue 1 Environment @Harvard H a r v a rd U n i ve r s i t y C e n t e r f o r t h e E nv i r o n m e n t Fighting for the Future Activists and scholars debate the role of social movements in climate change WIKIPEDIA COMMONS By Jonathan Mingle T he world is on track to experience an average increase in air temperature of four to six degrees Celsius over preindustrial levels, according to recent analysis by the International Energy Agency. Such warming would pose severe threats to human society: displacement by rising seas of millions of people who live along vulnerable coastlines; increasing frequency and intensity of storms; diminished agricultural harvests; declines in biodiversity; desertification; and more severe droughts and floods, among its effects. Carbon-capping legislation, which most climate experts and economists say will be necessary (if not sufficient) if we are to avert the most dire scenarios, and which stalled in Congress in 2010—is unlikely to be revived soon. But the political fight is just beginning. Harvard faculty, students, and alumni are actively considering how the climate change issue will move forward. Many do this through their scholarship and teaching, but some are getting more involved, from shaping climate policy inside the White House to engaging in civil disobedience outside its front gate. Their work confronts a wide range of questions. What is the role of social movements in addressing a challenge as complex and daunting as climate change? What kinds of specific actions will be effective in swaying decision-makers, polluters and the public? What mix of tactics, targets and articulated goals are most likely to break political gridlock on the issue, and make a real difference in everyone’s stated goal: dramatically reducing emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse pollutants? And most importantly, what should be the goal of activism? That question is at the center of an impending battle for the heart and soul of the environmental movement. Morality as Motivation On the climate issue, the problem is that “urgency is not felt by many people,” says Harvard University Center for the Environment 1


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