De-mobilisation: Avoiding the post COP doldrums

Hello Climate Mobilisers,
With Copenh
agen drawing closer and most climate action groups campaigning for very specific target based demands through petition type campaigns, the risk of massive demobilisation following the Copenhagen summit is very real. The following article written by Anthony Kelly of The Change Agency outlines why strategic mobilisiation for effective long-haul climate action must go further than wafer thin lobbying if we are to avoid a significant loss of momentum post Copenhagen 2009.

The article references the Movement Action Plan mobilisation framework developed by Bill Moyer to illustrate its analysis

heres an excerpt;
The Australian grassroots climate movement, like its counterparts in other parts of the world, risks a period of serious and substantial de-mobilisation of energy, resources, momentum and
strategic direction following the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference in December 2009.

The full impact and strategic consequences of this period will be determined largely by how the key groups and leadership of the climate movement frame, communicate and act up until and during the Summit itself as well as in the immediate aftermath. This article seeks to raise awareness of the dynamics of de-mobilisation and present some options for climate movement groups to respond in the months leading up to Copenhagen and in the period following.

Download the Full Article; anticipating and avoiding demoblisation (June 2009)
The Australian grassroots climate movement, like its counterparts in other parts of the world, risks a period of serious and substantial de-mobilisation of energy, resources, momentum and strategic direction following the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference in December 2009.


Page 1 of 7
Avoiding the post COP doldrums
The Australian grassroots climate movement, like its counterparts in other parts of the world, risks a
period of serious and substantial de-mobilisation of energy, resources, momentum and strategic
direction following the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference in December 2009.
The full impact and strategic consequences of this period will be determined largely by how the key groups and
leadership of the climate movement frame, communicate and act up until and during the Summit itself as well as in
the immediate aftermath. This article seeks to raise awareness of the dynamics of de-mobilisation and present
some options for climate movement groups to respond in the months leading up to Copenhagen and in the period
2009 is undoubtedly a crucial year in the international effort to address climate change, culminating in the United
Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, from 7 to 18 De cember . COP 15 as it is known is the
culmination of an international framework of negotiations that began way back n 1990, and saw the signing of the
United Nations Framework Climate Change Convention (UNFCCC) in 1992, which aims to stabilize the amount of
greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at a level that prevents dangerous man-made climate changes.
Climate groups throughout the world have mobilised huge resources in order to influence their respective
government parties in the lead-up to this conference. Most of, if not all climate movement groups and networks in
Australia have made a scientifically sound outcome of the COP conference a core if not the primary strategic
campaign over 2009. Many plan to send delegations to continue their influence to the door of the conference.
Greenpeace International has stated that COP “represents the best chance we have of reversing current emissions
trends in time to prevent the climate chaos that we are hurtling towards.” According to Tony Mohr, the ACF’s
Climate Change Campaigner, “The Copenhagen meeting is probably our best, but possibly our last, chance to avoid
dangerous climate change.”1
The 2009 Climate Summit in Canberra identified the objective: To build community support for a goal of stabilization
at 300ppm CO2 and strong international agreement in line with what science and global justice demands. To
communicate this position to Copenhagen Conference of Parties, and advocate for the Australian government to
adopt that position., an large international network has called a global day of action on October 24 in order to place “pressure
upon conference delegates” in its call for a ‘a fair global climate treaty.’ According to’s Mission statement:
“If an international grassroots movement holds our leaders accountable to the latest climate science, we can start
the global transformation we so desperately need.”
The Australian Conservation Foundation is optimistic that a global agreement to stabilise CO2 levels at 450 parts
per million is a possible outcome from the conference. Greenpeace International is demanding legally binding
emission reduction obligations for industrialised countries, as a group, of at least 40% below 1990 levels by 2020.
In St Kilda, thousands of people mobilsed by the Climate Emergency Network formed a huge human sign calling
upon the Australian government to negotiate a “meaningful international carbon reduction targets” at Copenhagen.
Everywhere and in every way, the focus is on what happens at Copenhagen. Many movement activists report
that the framing and communication from key climate groups has been about COP being our “last, best hope”.
Much of this communication is internal to the movement in efforts to draw activist attention and energy to work
1 Quote from interview accessed 1/06/09
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around influencing the COP outcomes. Other communication strategies directed outward at media and politicians
also highlight the importance and the desperate need for a substantial target and agreement. These movement
communication approaches will be discussed further below.
Three possible outcomes at COP
Three broadly discernible outcomes of the COP event in December could be outlined as follows:
Outcome scenario 1: Strong targets and a binding international commitment to stabilise and reduce
CO2. The Obama administration provides strong and visionary leadership, China and India comes on board,
a strong international consensus is reached which creates impressive agreements that reach or approach
the sought after targets of the majority of climate movement groups. Global media largely hail the
agreement as historical shift away from disaster which is echoed by the more mainstream climate NGOs.
There is minimal criticism or analysis about the ability or actual willingness of states to actually meet
targets and begin the shift away from a high carbon economy. Industry representatives hail the
agreement whilst continuing to position themselves for trade based profiteering in the new global carbon
markets. Movement activists and engaged citizens are broadly positive about the outcome and perceive a
movement success.
Outcome scenario 2: A mediocre but reasonably expected agreement is achieved. The US proposes
strong targets and make impressive but non-binding commitments. China and India demonstrate tangible
concern and progress but a compromise agreement is reached. The outcome falls short of movement’s
hopes but meets many commentators’ expectations. The agreement is hailed by some commentators and
mainstream NGO’s and is highly criticized by many others, which leaves most movement activists and
concerned citizens confused as to how ‘successful’ the movement has been.
Outcome scenario 3: Obama fails to live up to hopes for strong leadership on the issue. China calls for
delays and other countries point to the financial crisis and a reason to delay. A very weak agreement is
reached with flexible targets which generates widespread and almost unanimous criticism from
commentators and climate NGO’s. Conservative media and industry representatives hail the outcome as
sensible and prudent whilst movement activists hold an almost universal view that the outcome represents
movement failure.
Whilst the relative potential of these scenarios remains difficult to assess, each of these potential scenarios form
serious challenges to the still emerging climate movement in Australia. Each scenario threatens to seriously demobilise
climate movement activists and those concerned citizens who are considering or starting to become
involved in movement activities. Whilst there is a great diversity amongst grassroots groups and large climate
NGOs, with so much invested in a positive outcome at Copenhagen, the climate movement across the spectrum
risks serious disenchantment and demobilisation.
Perception of Success
Whilst appearing a positive outcome, the first scenario posited above poses unique challenge to the climate
movement to prevent history repeating itself. According to peace researcher Johan Gultung2, and reiterated by
Australian nonviolence researcher and author Brian Martin, the high-profile signing of international arms reduction
treaties between the Cold war nuclear powers throughout the sixties, seventies and eighties had a tangible demobilising
impact upon the global anti-nuclear movement of the time.
Under domestic pressure to reduce nuclear arsenals, governments were able to develop arms reduction,
nonproliferation and test ban treaties and agreements which could be painted as genuine political outcomes. In
2 Gultung, R. Why Do Disarmament Negotiations fail? Gandhi Marg Vol 4 #2-3 (1982)
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reality, and with the benefit of historical analysis, the majority of Cold War treaties represented acts that could be
easily achieved by nuclear states whilst not serious impinging upon their strategic dominance or war fighting
capabilities. By the time the first Partial Atmospheric Nuclear Test Ban treaty was signed in 1963, the above
ground testing of nuclear weapons was essentially obsolete and could be signed away to meet a key movement
demand. In the long running Strategic Arms Limitation Treaties, (SALT I and II and then START) treaty partners
agreed over many years to reduce largely superseded, overly expensive or redundant weapon systems, which
could be replaced by newer, smaller and more tactically useful nuclear systems. These treaty negotiations
attracted intensive media coverage as one US, USSR and European administration after another engaged in the
continual negotiation rounds. They captured the peace and anti-nuclear movements’ predominate focus over
decades. Throughout this time, treaties served to demobilise movements by giving the appearance that the
problem was being dealt with by elites and thereby dampening public concern. Faced with large scale mobilisations,
which by today’s standards would equate to millions on the streets, calling for the reduction of the threat of nuclear
holocaust, each US and European government in turn were able to point to and eventuality sign with enormous
fanfare a particular treaty. Each treaty signed after movement ‘demands’ provided a ‘perception of success’ to
movement activists and a quandary for further mobilisation. Strategically very little had changed, most treaties
failed to stop the build-up and spread of weapons, the underlying structural threats of nuclear war remained
untouched and anti-nuclear networks left with the task of further mobilisation after yet another false ‘victory’. In
this way, treaties and high level agreements throughout the decades of the Cold War, whether deliberately or
unintentionally, often served to undermine, co-opt and de-mobilise domestic peace movements.
In a similar and related area, the widespread and highly active anti-uranium movement in Australia from the late
seventies and early eighties saw large sections of the Australian population, every large environmental and peace
NGO, church groups and unions actively oppose the mining and export of uranium. Historically large rallies, national
direct action camps at mining sites, union bans and blockades were common movement tactics which succeeded
in mobilising thousands at any one time. With a network structure akin to Australia’s growing network of local
Climate Action Groups, local suburban and rural anti-uranium groups numbers in their hundreds at the peak of the
Movement Against Uranium Mining (MAUM) existence. The elite of the Australian Labor party deliberately and
systematically undermined union support for the movement and sought to co-opt the movement’s energy and
political demands. The adoption of the ‘Three Mines Policy’ (“no new mines”) provided a perfect political
compromise. In one swoop it was able to provide a ‘perception of partial victory’ for the movement which almost
instantaneously led to a rapid and disastrous demobilisation effect.
Deliberate movement co-option and demobilisation may not be the intention of the Copenhagen Conference of
Parties and the climate negotiations process in itself. But the dynamic is what the movement needs to be aware of
and respond to. Elites are practised in providing outwardly impressive policy statements with little substance or
which hide covert practises. Elite groups also have the advantage of influence over powerful communication
channels. Many, if not all, national delegations at Copenhagen will be seeking the most politically profitable
outcome at the conference and the appeasement of their domestic climate movements will be a part of their
considerations. Whilst it is likely that experienced climate activists and lobbyists, already well versed in climate
negotiation politics will be able to perceive duplicity in the COP outcomes, less engaged activists and the
concerned public will be more likely to adopt the predominate messaging received via mainstream media.
This potential ‘perception of success’ poses differing challenges to the current climate movement. In a similar way
to the movement’s downturn in the months following the election of the Rudd government and the symbolic signing
of the Kyoto Pact, people, lobbyists and NGO leadership groups, can be deceived by an apparent successful
political compromise. The belief that politicians hold the strings of capital and can make the structural shifts
actually necessary to halt runaway climate change is mainstream and ubiquitous. This feeds directly into the
commonly held belief that elites are essentially powerful and popular movements (and their activities) are not.
If COP results in something like Outcome 1 described above, even dedicated climate activists who already regularly
attend movement events may find themselves wondering if all the effort is worth it now that the US, alongside the
rest of the world have come on board and started to turn things around. Surely the thing now is to sit back and see
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how the international targets are met? Those people, who are looking for a reason not to come to the next rally,
may well find one after COP.
Perception of Failure
U.S. activist-educator Bill Moyer’s Movement Action Plan or MAP3 has provided valuable insights into key
trajectories, trigger events, factors and influences impacting upon grassroots social movements. It is based upon
the analysis of dozens of contemporary social movements and has been widely utilised as a training and analysis
tool by movements throughout the developed world.
If the second or third post COP ‘Outcome’ outlined above come to pass, the Australian climate movement’s may
find itself in what could be called a ‘Perception of Failure’ stage. This is often cited as a ‘Stage 5’ following a
movement ‘take-off’ period’ and often seen to be preceding a period of mainstream acceptance of movement
According to Moyer, the characteristics inherent in this stage include: the widely held belief amongst movement
activists that its goals remain un-achieved and power-holders remain unchallenged. Numbers are down at
demonstrations as people feel that repetitive and formulaic actions are ineffective. Despair, hopelessness, burnout,
dropout are common, membership, particularity active membership of groups declines. Numbers of ‘negative
rebels’, those activists willing to take high risk actions without movement support emerge and garner negative
public attention, which further alienates concerned people.
MAP as a whole seeks to alert activists to the common dynamic which Moyer labels a ‘culture of failure’ within
social movements. In The Practical Strategist, Moyer writes:
Belie f in movement failure cre at e s a s el f – ful filling prophe cy
The three forms of belief in movement failure – logical reasons, culture of failure and aversion to success –
create a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure and produce the following unhealthy movement conditions:
Discouragement, despair and movement dissipation
Movement participants and leaders who believe their movement is failing become increasingly discouraged,
hopeless, despairing and burned out. This leads to a high drop out rate and lower levels of energy to carry out
Reduction in recruitment of new members
The depressed state of the movement discourages new people from joining. No one wants to join a group
which is negative and in a state of collective depression.
Getting stuck in “protest” mode
When activists believe they cannot achieve change, they can get stuck in the role of the protestor or dissident,
without balancing this role with strategies and programs for positive change and alternatives.
3 Moyer, Bill. The Practical Strategist: Movement Action Plan (MAP)strategic theories for Evaluating, Planning and Conducting Social
Movements. Social Movement Empowerment Project, San Francisco, (1990).
4 MAP stages are depicted as follows:
1. Normal times
2. Prove the failure of official institutions
3. Ripening conditions
4. Take-off
5. Perception of failure
6. Majority public opinion
7. Success
8. Continuing the struggle
Page 5 of 7
Attitudes of anger, hostility and frustration lead to activities that turn the public against the movement
When activists believe that their movement is having no effect, frustration and anger at injustice can spill over
into acts of desperation, without realising that such activities hurt the movement by alienating the public.
Inability to acknowledge and take credit for success
Failing to take credit for success deprives activists of a major resource for energy, enthusiasm and hope. It
also allows opponents to claim movement-created changes for themselves, furthering the perception that the
movement is powerless and that opponents control everything.
It appears likely, if not somewhat inevitable, that the Australian Climate movement will experience aspects of this
perception of failure in the months following the Copenhagen conference. Whether these dynamics appear
immediately or whether they exist for months or years depends somewhat upon how the movement prepares for
and responds to the dynamic.
The Australian grassroots climate movement may be perfectly able to minimise the negative consequences of a
post COP demobilisation, however it would be extremely difficult to avoid it altogether. Moyer’s MAP pays scant
attention to the pervasive role of the mainstream media in highlighting and shaping public opinion.
How the international and Australian media frame and portray COP and its eventual outcomes will largely determine
public perceptions of success or failure of the climate movement in Australia. The intense media interpretation and
framing of COP outcomes will also shape and influence the perceptions of new and even experienced movement
activists. The role then of movement leadership, communicators and activist educators is to provide alternative,
realistic and long-term movement views for engaged activists, new recruits and the interested public.
What can climate groups do to avoid the doldrums?
All the action groups, networks, organisations, and institutions that make up the ‘climate movement’ in Australia
are diverse and operate in different contexts. Each of the suggestions below may be more or less relevant
depending upon those differences. Groups should be able to analyze their own post-COP situation and develop
unique approaches to avoid de-mobilisation. Ideally, maintaining and building upon the past decade of movement
building would be a widely shared and mutually reinforcing goal.
Don’ t put all our eggs in one bas ke t : campaigners can be forgiven for trying to get everyone to focus on
their action or initiative but in this context placing all our resources and garnering the efforts of so many people on a
single event is potentially dangerous. Campaigners need to develop and communicate realistic outcomes of COP
and refuse to paint it as the ‘last, best hope’. It’s not, and to get people to think that is self-defeating. Despite the
urgency around the climate science, movement leadership has the responsibility to provide clear, realistic and
untainted information to its membership and constituents particularly of the long term nature of social change
struggles. Whilst providing an opportunity to mobilise people, immediate issues and one-of events such as
international conferences can divert and diffuse efforts towards longer term structural change aiming to transform
economies and institutions. Making sure other campaign strategies, projects or initiatives are kicking along is vital
in the lead-up to December.
Highlight genuine succe s s e s : It is vital that we celebrate what we have done, not what political elites have
told us we should be celebrating. In the context of the Australian climate movement trajectory over recent years,
the mainstreaming of climate science and media coverage of climate science events and news, the emergence of
Australia wide grassroots climate activist networks, the first nationally organised direct actions and events, the
coal industry’s own admittance that coal is a ‘now a much maligned product’, all point to tangible and strategically
relevant ‘successes’ for the movement. These represent real successes but not dependent upon political
statements, policy positions or as yet unfulfilled promises by elites.
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Clear strategy and planning helps groups to indentify these objectives and recognise them when they are achieved.
In this way the movement maintains control of successes and refutes elite attempts to paint successes as theirs
and the movement as less or not responsible for it. Each movement success identified can be highlighted in a
variety of ways. Although articles, news stories, positive reports and other pro-active communication strategies are
important, in particular, large public and participatory celebrations are most effective for challenging negative
attitudes of movement failure. Celebrating anniversaries, (“Ten years since the first climate action arrest in
Australia”, “12 months since Australia’s first Climate Camp”) are a one such way of marking progress and
Locate the movement : Movement leadership and spokespeople need to encourage and assist people to
locate themselves along a movement trajectory that is longer than 2009 and goes far beyond Copenhagen in
December, At conferences, rallies and within all internal communication systems, movement spokespeople need to
highlight the years of struggle behind and in the years ahead. Spokespeople should deliberately highlight the fact
that the climate will not be ‘saved’ by an international agreement and it is only a large and viable social movement
that wields enormous political power that will. Key movement figures should place more realistic timelines on
movement activities.‘10 years to continue the campaign’; ‘This organisation has a 15 year goal’.
Pl an and ac t be yond COP: Already, movement groups should be speaking about, planning and highlighting
actions, events and initiatives in 2010, sending a clear message that the movement continues after COP. Although
it appears important to mobilise all available resources to target COP delegations and influence the outcome, having
people actively planning and preparing for 2010 activities is equally important at this stage. It is strategically vital
that planning and resources goes into viable and effective initiatives in 2010 and beyond that will inspire and
maintain momentum in the post COP period. Activists who are engaged about future post COP events will provide
much needed enthusiasm for other activists.
De velop tac tics and s t rat egi e s that don’ t rel y on elite s : Numerous activists have highlighted how the
climate movement in Australia has been heavily dependant upon lobbying strategies aimed at influencing policy and
government action. Postcards, online petitions, office occupations or vigils, hunger strikes, marches, rallies, human
signs, bike rides and other tactics adopted by the movement have all largely sought to generate public concern in
order to influence decision-makers. Even the majority of coal infrastructure direct actions have focused upon
influencing government policy. The development of tactics and a strategic framework that does not rely upon elite
endorsement of the movements’ policy objectives is a vital process, particularly in the context of a widespread
perception of failure in a post COP period. As Brian Martin and others have often pointed out, the limiting impact of
relying purely on lobbying tactics can lead to movement entropy by itself.
This does not mean that movement’s actions do not influence government policy. In fact the tactics deployed
within a framework of strategic nonviolence should aim to undermine the both the power and will of an opponent in
order to make it impossible to actually carry out a negative policy objective and force the adoption of favourable
policies and behaviour.5 Lobbying and associated protest actions are a form of political action that seeks the
‘conversion’ of officials and decision-makers with logical or moral arguments without any tangible threat, beyond
those of the ballot box. Strategic nonviolence, however, recognizes that opponents often do not change their
policies unless ‘coerced’ to do so economically or politically. Nonviolent tactics are designed to provide that
The historically demonstrated insights of strategic nonviolence can play an increasingly influential role in movement
strategy over the coming years.7 Large scale tactics of non-cooperation and intervention can gradually replace pure
protest and lobbying action as movement activists become more experienced and the engaged and concerned
5 Burrowes, R.J. (1996). The Strategy of Nonviolent Defense: A Gandhian Approach. Albany: State University of New York Press.
6 Sharp. G (1973) 198 Methods of Nonviolent Action, at
Page 7 of 7
citizens become more willing to take higher levels of risk.
History has demonstrated that mass-based movements rise most powerfully when there is a widespread
recognition that elites and mainstream institutional processes have failed to bring about the necessary changes8. It
may be that the widespread perception of the failure of international institutions after COP could generate a
renewed urgency and more effective political action. Hopefully we may see the Australian Climate movement
develop effective tactics such as boycotts, strikes, mass occupations and interventions that will mobilise and
engage the renewed activist energy in the years and decades after COP 15.
Anthony Kelly, June 2009
8 Sharp, G. (1973).The Politics of Nonviolent Action Vols 1-3. Boston: Porter Sargent.

Posted on 10 June, 2009, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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