Whether you are a seasoned divestment activist or a first-time organiser, here is a simple guide to get you started.
Not all these steps may apply to you, but these are some ideas to help you on your way to planning a creative, engaging, and powerful action to make fossil fuels history in your community or city!
1. Bring together a coordinating team
Kathmandu, Nepal. Photo: Sanot Adhikari
Bring together a core team of people with the necessary skills or expertise that you require for your action. Think about how you are trying to grow the local movement, and in which direction.Remember to involve partner organisations who can either be part of your core team or will be tactical allies with whom you share ideas and information.
2. Invite People to join you
Madison, USA. Photo: Joe Brusky/Overpass Light Brigade
Invite your friends, neighbours, and local organisations to assist in organising, mobilising their members and participating in the action. Reach out to any local church, mosque, synagogue, or other religious institution, labour/trade union, sports team, university, or arts cooperative that would be interested in getting involved in the issue.
3. Plan with your team
Port Vila, Vanuatu. Photo: Fenton Lutunatabua
Decide on your desired outcome, target, impacts focus, the action and your narrative.
Groups and campaigns are strongest when they regularly communicate about why they are invested in this work. Climate change communications often suffer from being about other people and events far away or too big: all these increase the likelihood that your audience will disconnect from the story.
As part of the Global Divestment Mobilisation, people around the world will be talking about how climate change has impacted something important to them, as a means to create connection to the bigger trends and impacts of climate change, and the need to divest from fossil fuels.
Organising around climate impacts
1) Invite your team to a meeting, ask them to prepare by thinking of 3 ways that climate change has impacted them or something/someone they care about.
“My aunty & uncle’s farm is running out of water due to the drought, and they can no longer feed their livestock or keep the gardens going”
“The lack of cold last winter altered the cycle of our fruit trees and we got only very little, very small fruits from it.”
“The repeated one in 100 year storms we’ve had has meant our water system is contaminated, and our town infrastructure is suffering. The local authority can’t afford to fix it.”
“The beautiful coral reef I visited when I was 11 is now bleached and is unlikely to recover.”
We’ve had a sharp increase in food prices due to a flood that was followed by a drought and then another flood. We have to import most of our food now. We can’t afford that.
2) At the beginning of the meeting, before discussing the impacts, identify as a group what your desired outcome from GDM is. Agree on what your goals for GDM are and who your target is.
3) Next, take turns to share the 3 ways that climate change has impacted you. Once you’ve done this, explain the following distinction about climate impacts:
“It is useful to think of climate impacts in terms of fitting within two categories: shock impacts and sliding impacts.
Shocks are acute moments of disruption. Extreme weather events (hurricanes, cyclones, typhoons, flooding) and wildfires are shock impacts. Shocks are usually high emotion events that get large amounts of media coverage, but they are usually tricky moments to campaign or talk about climate change around – as the needs of the impacted people take first priority.
Slides are incremental by nature. They can be catastrophic, but they are not experienced as acute impacts. Drought, sea level rise, death of coral reefs, loss of glaciers, snowfields and ice caps, ecosystem decline, season change, desertification and deforestation are sliding impacts. Slides are generally easier to organise around because they operate over a longer-time frame, and the emotional intensity is usually lower.
Some impacts are experienced as both a slide and a shock. For example, we are experiencing a long term decline of coral reefs due to the sliding increase of ocean temperatures and acidity, but this is punctuated by acute mass bleaching events that cause sudden bleaching and die off at a severe scale (such as in 2014 – 2016).
4) With this in mind, put a large piece of paper on the wall with all the impacts people named and invite people to put a dot next to each of the three impacts they believe the group should focus on. See which ones have the most dots, then decide which you will focus on for the Global Divestment Mobilisation (you may choose to focus on several impacts).
5) Once you have decided on your impact, now decide: What ways can you show how this impact is related to your target? How can you show the connection between these two pieces of the same story?
Can you bring the impact to your target? For example, if an unusual early frost meant apple trees didn’t produce fruit, can you bring empty apple crates to your target’s door? Or debris from a recent storm?
Can you bring your target to the site of impact? For example, if a flood destroyed a local bridge, can you put your target’s logo on it with a “Climate destruction sponsored by…” sign?
Can your action go from the site of impact to your target (or vice versa)? For example, could you organize a bicycle ride from a local reservoir to your target? Could you go from the coal plant to the bank that sponsors it?
How much are fossil fuel impacts costing your community? For example, if your community experienced abnormal flooding, how much did it cost to repair?
Do a group brainstorm and then vote on your favourite ideas.
6) Shape your narrative:
Now that you know what impact you will focus on, show how it is connected to your target in an overarching narrative. It is important that your group can confidently explain the connection between:
The local impact(s) that you are talking about and how it is affecting you and others
Climate change (the big picture that your impact is part of)
Fossil fuels (the cause of your local and the global problem)
How divesting from fossil fuels is a necessary response to the local impact and more widely, climate change.
Your narrative can be as simple as 1 or 2 paragraphs, that explains your action and the above points. Out of this narrative, identify your key messages.
7) Share your story:
If you feel comfortable and want to share your story online, here are a few options:
Blog: You can write out your reflections and experience in a blog. You could write it from a community perspective and discuss the narrative that your group decided on. You can also write one from a more personal experience.
You can use websites like Medium or other blogging sites. If your local divestment group as a Facebook group, you can also use a ‘note’ feature to create a post.
Included photos is a good way to also help deliver your message
Sharing your blog onto social media with your friends, family and community is a good way to build conversations and help people understand why divestment matters.
Video: With the increase of mobile phones, more people are able to document and share their experiences with the world. You can share your reflections using mobile video. Sometimes the most powerful videos are the ones that aren’t very technical, but the ones that just speak truths from the heart.
You can upload your video on your group’s Facebook page, on Instagram, or other social media platforms. Make sure when you share you use the hashtag #FossilFree
Photo: Sometimes it’s hard to put into words your feelings. Your group could instead create some community art piece that reflects your thoughts and experiences. Or share a photo that shows how your community is dealing with the impacts of climate change.
You can share your photo on Facebook, Instagram or other social media networks. Use the hashtag #FossilFree so others can see it.
It’s important that you share your stories with your city and your community, but if you create something we would also love to know! Please email us at socialmedia [at] 350.org
Getting the science right:
Climate science can be complex and bewildering. Here are some recommended ways to talk about how your impact is connected to climate change:
Connect drought, water scarcity, wildfires and heatwaves to increased heat in the atmosphere: One of the clearest findings of climate science is that global warming amplifies the intensity, duration and frequency of extreme heat events. More CO2 in the atmosphere means dangerous heat extremes.
Connect coral bleaching, sea level rise & melting of the polar regions to warming of the oceans: Most of the extra heat energy being trapped in our atmosphere is being stored deep into our oceans. Sea levels are rising because water expands as it heats up. The warming of the oceans is driving mass global coral bleaching events, and contributing to the rapid melting of the polar regions.
Connect flooding and extreme weather events to a warmer, moister climate: Storms and extreme rainfall events have always happened, but with the added heat in the atmosphere and oceans due to greenhouse gas emissions, storms now occur with increasing accumulated energy and higher moisture loading. For every extra degree (Cº) of warming, the atmosphere holds about 7% more water vapour. Over the past 25 years alone, satellites have measured a 4% rise in atmospheric water vapor, matching the rapid warming of the atmosphere.
Connect retreating glaciers, sea level rise and the loss of arctic ecosystems to the trend of melting ice:Due to warming of the oceans and atmosphere, the Earth’s bodies of ice are in decline – from glaciers to the Arctic & Antarctic. This is driving sea level rise, reducing the earth’s ability to reflect heat energy back out to space, and endangering unique ecosystems.
Connect the increased spread of disease, irregular growing seasons, changing boundaries of ecosystems, to shifting seasons & climatic zones: The warming of the atmosphere is changing the timing of seasons, the distribution of habitats and moving warmer climate zones toward the poles.
If you want more information, read more on the 350.org/science page, and check out Climate Signals
Take care of all logistical details as soon as you can, including the timing of the action, directions, transportation, bathrooms, sound system, permits for use of public spaces, and any legal briefings or trainings (eg. in direct action) if you need them. You can contact your regional Fossil Free team for support and advice.
5. Spread the Word
Johannesburg, South Africa. Photo: Shayne Robinson
Make a plan to reach out. Set a goal for how many people you’d like to see at the event and try to create a plan for reaching far more than that number. Ensure that you register your event. Invite and link up with partner organisations interested in your action.Talking to schools, religious groups, community meetings, putting up posters around town, sending emails through listservs, getting a public service announcement on the local radio, share on social media, send out emails, write editorials for local newspapers, get on community calendars, ask organisations to include the action information in newsletters and bulletins and put up posters all over town.
6. Create your visuals
An image can be worth a thousand words. Think about how you can clearly show your narrative in a single image or phrase. This will make sure that everyone who sees your action, including the media, hear exactly what you are trying to say.
How can you represent the impact you are trying to highlight? Think about showing what is not there (such as snow, water, or crops) as well as what is there. Use these climate impact stencils to make t-shirts, placards or banners.
How can you represent your target? Can you change their corporate logo or slogan to show the impacts they are having on your community? Think dinosaurs to represent the dirty, old fossil fuels of the past.
How can you show who is being affected? How can you visualise who are the most affected sectors of your community? Sometimes a single person’s story can speak for a whole community’s experience – whose story are you trying to tell?
How can you articulate the world you wish to see? Show the alternatives to centralized fossil fuel-infrastructure by focusing on community-owned wind turbines and solar panels.
Banners and signs with the local equivalent of ‘Divest from Climate Impacts!’ (add the name of the institution you’re calling on to divest) can help to unify the Global Divestment Mobilisation’s actions and show we are unified global movement. Lastly, include the colour ORANGE – the unifying colour of the Fossil Free movement.
The months of planning culminate in this moment! Share your photos on Facebook and other social media such as Twitter and Instagram with the #divest and #fossilfree hashtags. Also send it to your friends and press contacts. Have a fun and meaningful day, knowing that you’re part of a rapidly growing global effort creating the pressure and momentum needed to solve the climate crisis. Aim to use earth-friendly products and materials, and to leave a positive footprint.
Remember to celebrate with your group, and to plan a next meeting to debrief the action and discuss next steps.
9. Report Back
Berlin, Germany. Photo: Ruben Neugebauer
This part is very important: As soon as your action is over, be sure to select your best photo, video footage and written stories from your action and submit them here. This will enable the communications team to deliver the strongest possible message to the media and to the world’s decision makers.