Impact Investing | September 10, 2023

Climate protestors step up their game as climate action falters

Amy Cortese
ImpactAlpha Editor

Amy Cortese

ImpactAlpha, Sept. 11 – Tomato soup on Van Gogh’s sunflowers. A blockade of Burning Man. This weekend, climate protestors staged their latest stunt at the US Open tennis tournament in Queen, New York.

Four activists in “End Fossil Fuel” shirts, including one who glued his bare feet to the ground, delayed the start of the women’s final by nearly an hour, prompting chants of “Kick them out,” from the well-heeled crowd. (Coco Gauff, the 19-year American who won, was more forgiving). “The ‘haves’ are not happy,” wrote Climate and Capital’s Peter McKillop in a column about the protests. 

Activists feel they have little choice. “People have to understand…the disruption that I did is nothing compared to the disruption caused by the climate crisis,” Shayok Mukhopadhyay, the protestor who glued his feet to the ground, told Gothamist. The match took place in 95-degree humid weather – increasingly common for tennis tournaments – amid what meteorologists have determined is the hottest summer on record.

“One player is gonna die, and they’re gonna see,” Daniil Medvedev, who lost the men’s final to Novak Djokovic yesterday, said earlier in the tournament after a grueling match in the heat. 

A UN progress report on global climate action seven years since the signing of the Paris climate agreement concluded that the government and corporate actions to date have been woefully inadequate. “Climate breakdown has begun,” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres summing up the “global stocktake.” 

Effective but under resourced

Thousands are expected to turn out for a March to End Fossil Fuels planned for Sunday Sept. 17, as Climate Week NYC kicks off. “It’s never been more clear than now – a summer of record heat, deadly fires, and devastating floods – that we need to unite to put an end to fossil fuels,” said Allie Rosenbluth of Oil Change International, on of 500 climate groups supporting the march. “Every new fossil fuel project is incompatible with a livable future.”

Nonviolent protest movements have been effective at bringing about social change, from the civil rights movement to Black Lives Matter to Fridays for the Future. Protest movements have their own tipping points: Nonviolent protests that engaged at least 3.5% of the population have never failed to bring about change, according to one study

Grassroots climate action groups such as Extinction Rebellion in the UK and the Sunrise Movement in the US have been more effective in reducing emissions than policy advocate and carbon offset organizations, according to an analysis by Social Change Lab, which researches the impact of social movements. 

Still, such groups are underfunded. Just 3% of philanthropic human rights funding went to organizing efforts, and just 1% of European climate-focused charitable funds.