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Climate change brings profound challenges for social movements. The persistent failure to address climate challenges has driven a rapid “climatization” of politics. Spurred by the climate justice movement, social movements across a broad spectrum have become directly engaged with climate issues. Social movements are defined as groupings of people who act intentionally through an organization or via a network or even as a loose affiliation. They must have a collective identification and capacity for sustained action and participation. Their purpose often is to transform the conditions for social change as key agents in creating a “movement society” of mass political involvement. In doing so, social movements engage in a “metapolitics” of creating power and recreating society. Climate movements are increasingly being shown to have this effect. Recent research demonstrates that with climate change, there is a growing realignment in the social movement field to simultaneously address both climate concerns and social agendas. New forms of social agency are emerging under climate change, posing a new kind of climatized “movement society.” Arguably, as demonstrated by the limited efforts at developing international climate policy, mass mobilization on climate issues is a necessary element of any strategy to secure climate stability. Three broad fields of action are evident – politicising the impacts of climate change, contesting the causes, and advancing solutions. In each there is a widening field of agendas as climate concerns overwhelm existing social relations. Distinctive strategies emerge. First, there is growing collective identification among people affected by the impacts of climate change, now or anticipated, with a marked shift from climate advocacy to climate organizing, of acting “with,” not “for” those affected. Second, actions to challenge the legitimacy of the fossil fuel sector have escalated, materializing the causes of climate change in the fossil fuel cycle. With this, there is a move from abstract demands for emissions reduction to much more concrete demands for fossil fuel phase-out. Finally, in terms of solutions, there is a move from a focus on emission-reduction programs to wider policy agendas designed to transform social relations. Emissions reduction is no longer seen as a burden to be shared, but as part of wider social transformation, of benefit to all.

Article

Climate change is often said to herald the anthropocene, where humans become active participants in the remaking of global geology. The corollary of the wide acceptance of a geological anthropocene is the emergence of a new form of self-aware climate agency. With awareness comes blame, invoking responsibility for action. What kind of social action arises from climate agency has become the critical question of our era. In the context of climate deterioration, the prevalence of inaction is itself an exercise of agency, creating in its path new fields of social struggle. The opening sphere of climate agency has the effect of subsuming other fields, reconfiguring established categories of human justice and ethical well-being. In this respect we can think of climate agency as having a distinctive, even revolutionary logic, which remains emergent, enveloping multiple aspects of social action. From this perspective the question of climate change and social movement participation is centrally important. To what extent is something that we can characterize as “climate agency” emerging through social movement participation? What potential has this phenomenon to develop beyond ideological confinement and delimitation to make wider and transformative claims on society? A genuine social movement, we are taught from history, is indeed a transformative force capable of remaking social and political relations. It remains unclear, but what are the emergent dynamics of climate movement participation that depart from established systemic parameters, to offer such a challenge? How are such developments reconfiguring “climate change communication,” forcing an insurgent element into the polity? Though scholarship addressing these questions on social movement participation and climate change exists, the field undoubtedly remains relatively underdeveloped. This reflects the extent to which inquiry into climate change has been dominated by scientific and economic discourses. It also reflects the difficulty that social science, and specifically political sociology, the “home” of social movement studies, has had in apprehending the scope of the challenge. Climate change can disrupt deeply sedimented assumptions about the relationship between social movements and capitalist modernity, and force a reconsideration of the role of social movements across developmentalist hierarchies. Such rethinking can be theoretically challenging, and force new approaches into view. These possibilities reflect the broader challenges to political culture posed by climate change.