If you do not already have plans to participate in the Global Climate Strike on Friday, September 20th, or believe that kind of activity is for other people, I hope that you will read to the end of this column with an open mind, and consider changing your plans.
What is the Global Climate Strike?
Young people around the world have been participating in school strikes, some of them once a week on Fridays, demanding that adults, including those in government take immediate actions, proportional to the size of the threat of the global climate emergency. In March, 1.4 million people, mostly students, took to the streets around the world. Now youth are asking all adults to join them – to leave our schools, workplaces, and homes on September 20 – and participate in public marches, rallies, or actions. One labor union in Germany is encouraging its 2 million members to participate. Similar preparations are underway in many countries. This will likely be the largest global action on climate in history.
Is the Climate Emergency that severe?
Most of us know that the world is in a climate crisis. Hurricane Dorian recently gave us a dramatic reminder of weather volatility – intensifying from a Category 1 storm to Category 5 in only a few days. The storm struck the Bahamas with the fiercest winds of any hurricane to ever hit land – causing $7 billion in damages and taking many human lives. The number of climate refugees around the world, whether from catastrophic storms or agricultural disruption, is increasing. As refugees try to move to safety, many governments are becoming more repressive, hateful, and unwelcoming.
Why isn’t there more of an uproar in the United States?
There are two answers to this question: lies and money. For decades the people of the U.S. have been bombarded by a campaign of deceit, denial and disinformation by the fossil fuel industry. The industry has spent more than $2 billion in a deceitful effort to convince the public that coal, oil and fracked gas are safe and that climate change is a hoax, while their own scientists knew that deadly climate change would be the result. This is the stuff of incredible conspiracy theories, but the information is now out in the open, and it’s true.
We’ve been lied to, and the fossil fuel industry has spent huge sums to spread those lies. At the same time the industry is funding the campaigns of a majority of our national politicians, who are voting accordingly. Coal, oil, and gas are still getting huge government subsides, even though we know we must stop burning them for civilization as we know it to continue on this planet. The uproar against fossil fuels is growing. The Democratic candidates for president just spent seven hours on CNN talking about their plans for addressing the climate crisis – remedies dramatic and costly enough that a year ago no serious politician would have dared suggest them. But even these proposals are inadequate.
Why do we need a movement, rather than just relying on electoral politics?
The corrupting effects of money and lies, combined with undemocratic gerrymandering and interference with voting rights, results in a political process that hides the truth and frustrates the will of the majority. Moreover, we have always needed people’s movements to make big changes. Abolition of slavery, women’s suffrage, the civil rights movement, and the anti-Vietnam War movement – all made a difference only when people took to the streets and participated in public actions. We must now follow this proud tradition and participate in the great moral struggle of our time.
What gets a response?
The story told by President Nixon’s domestic policy advisor is that on the first Earth Day, April 22, 1970 (when 20 million Americans participated) Nixon looked out the window at the crowd on the Mall in Washington, D.C., and then at a television, and saw the huge crowd on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue. He asked how he could take advantage of this momentum. Nixon, who was initially not an environmentalist, soon created the Environmental Protection Agency and before long signed the Clean Air Act and the Endangered Species Act.
I recently told this story to an older, liberal woman, and commented that if we could get millions of people in the streets on September 20 it would make a difference. She objected that our current president doesn’t seem to care what the people want. I agreed, but replied that whatever you think of our current Congress, most representatives and senators want to get re-elected. They will react, if millions are in the streets.
In fact, politicians are already reacting to the young people in the Sunrise Movement. Those young people didn’t just write their legislators and wait for the next election. They sat in U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office, proposed the Green New Deal, held scores of Town Halls, rallied in the streets for the global climate strike on March 15, and they are organizing everywhere for this one. Now it’s up to us to say that “business-as-usual” is destroying the planet. Let’s disrupt our own usual routines to meet in the streets on September 20.
Russ Vernon Jones blogs regularly on climate justice at www.RussVernonJones.org .