Extinction Rebellion's October protests have emotions running high – and political and media commentary running hot. Ordinary people are stopping inner-city traffic, barricading bridges and chaining themselves to train lines. They're polarising opinion and discussion on the climate crisis seems to be at an all-time high.
The furore gives me hope. It's the same hope I felt when I joined hundreds of people in our tiny town for the September 20 Global Climate Strike, while 300,000 Australians and millions across the world did the same. For its Spring Rebellion, Extinction Rebellion (XR) protested in more than 60 cities globally. Unlikely activists of all ages called for stronger government action on the climate crisis. Twelve months ago, we could not have imagined these scenes – they've proven we can unite in a way we didn't think possible. In the same way the climate strikes filled us with hope, the XR protests should give us courage.
The rollercoaster of climate crisis politics continues. Following the recent UN Climate Action Summit in New York the UN issued dire new warnings while the Australian government claimed its dismal climate efforts are misrepresented by the media and offered no new emission targets. Anxiety about the fate of our planet, so bravely conveyed by Greta Thunberg at the UN Climate Action Summit this year, was dismissed as 'needless'. But Greta's #howdareyou speech went viral, influencers are speaking out and leaders are now in damage control. In response to the latest XR protests, the Queensland State Government is fast-tracking anti-protest laws.
We're in uncharted territory and it's clear this has to be the beginning of all-in action, not the end. So where do we go from here? And what may be holding us back?
Find your superpower
I'm not a scientist, lifelong activist or public figure. I'm a writer and small-town stay-at-home mum, a follower who's trusted the system. But like any parent, I'm a staunch advocate for my daughters' safe and secure future. And when our leaders refuse to step up as is plainly necessary, advocate becomes activist.
The thing is, every activist looks different. To find out where we fit, why not examine our superpowers? We all need to play a part, but it doesn't have to be the same part. Let's draw on the actions of XR for our own climate courage. The courage to face the crisis, change for the better and spur others to change too. The courage to use our own unique superpowers.
Building the front lines
Our leaders and commentators are now taking notice. To keep the pressure on, frontline activism must continue to grow. If you're in, join a group that's right for you. I've become a local organiser for Australian Parents for Climate Action. Extinction Rebellion says the majority of its actions are non-arrestable – you can join a 'ride in', a breastfeeding 'nurse in' or a family-friendly event. There are many roles to play and if you're not comfortable pounding the pavement, you can support behind the scenes. You can champion the cause by speaking to friends, family and colleagues, or by writing letters of support to your local representatives and the media.
Climate courage and creativity
Getting involved in a meaningful way takes courage. We're asking our leaders to drive uncomfortable system change and that takes guts and creativity. So, we must be courageous and creative too. It takes courage to accept the reality of the climate crisis and the role we have all played in its making. And we need to slow down, reprioritise our daily tasks and work towards stronger connections. Connections to our inner selves, to each other and to the planet.
A relentless show of people power is not just about frontline activism, it's about our everyday lives. How we eat, where we spend, how we travel and importantly, how we join with family, friends, colleagues and community. How can you best contribute? What's your special gift?
You might love words and storytelling, as I do – write those words to tell those stories. You might love to cook, sew or garden – teach others about your passions. You might be a musician, artist or poet – spread the message through your art. A teacher or P&C member – how can you help your school do better? You might have influence within an organisation, or you might own a company. How can your business be a changemaker? It's time for us to be all in. Let's ask ourselves: are we really doing all that we can?
I've constantly summoned courage this year – to inform myself on the science, to join climate action training, to interact with media, to plan community activities, to have difficult conversations with family members and to approach my daughter's school principal on environmental efforts. To tackle those 'too hard' household ambitions – reducing waste, rethinking food choices, shopping locally and sustainably and reducing car use. Absurdly, it took strength to surrender my right to retail therapy and commit to a year without buying clothes. Because in breaking habits, we're forced to examine why we they were there.
The good news is, the support of like-minded people helps. Tapping into their superpowers can open up a world of wisdom. Those of us beginning now are not early adopters. Activist networks are well established and accessible; zero-waste enthusiasts, low-tox lifers and movements such as 1 Million Women have forged the way on living lighter. Speaking up on climate action when you own life needs work is scary, but joining these networks helped me find my voice.
It's transition time
Forward-thinking communities have embraced sustainable agriculture, food sharing, renewable energy and active transport, and they're on a mission to share their learnings. Let your superpower lead you to a passion project. I'm learning about gardening and composting, getting to know local farmers and understanding food supply chains. I'm a permaculture birdbrain, but I can use my storytelling superpower to share my journey with others who may want to try.
Climate movement FOMO
The most powerful message we can share is by letting others see us bloom. If we make household changes, become active in our community, listen, learn and raise our voices, we can inspire others.
Let's leave our fear behind to make this a must-join movement. Because sitting out will mean missing friendship, support, self-discovery and hope. Our low-carbon communities will be healthier, more creative, stronger and more connected. Let's show up for our kids, not just by joining protests, but by backing each other and embracing a better way of living. Let's do it in our own unique way.
We can all use our superpowers to help save the world. Because our world – and our kids – need everyday superheroes like never before.
By Kat McCarthy
New climate activist, writer + mum
Head image of Kat McCarthy with her daughters (Zara, 6 and Juliet, 4) at the September 20 Climate Strike, in Moruya, on the NSW South Coast. Photographed by Elise Searson