by Keya Chatterjee
Millions of people around the world will strike from school and work this month to help increase the pressure on world leaders to take climate action. We head into the strikes with much to celebrate.
The climate movement has taken down oil and gas companies in court, brought new activists to our issue, passed local 100% renewable and just transition laws, forced the Green New Deal onto the agenda, and created the “no fossil fuel money” pledge.
But we also go into the strikes with much to fear. The last time the earth had greenhouse gas emissions as high as today was 2.5 million years ago, when modern humans did not exist. We are sitting on a different planet from the one our species homo sapiens evolved on, and every breath we take is an unprecedented one. The Bahamas will never be the same. Greenland is melting. Our forests are on fire and under attack. It is no exaggeration to say that everything we know and love is at stake from climate change.
But even with this dire climate forecast, climate change is not the only existential threat we face. Dangerous alliances are running the U.S. and vying for power everywhere in the world today. White nationalists and misogynists are in bed with billionaires. Corruption is no longer hidden, as oil, gas and coal lobbyists run the EPA and Department of Interior.
The press are attacked daily as being fake news. We have a criminal justice system that targets black people. Women and femmes are being robbed of their bodily autonomy. Jewish people, Muslim people, transgender people are among those being gunned down in acts of hate. Latinx children are dying in US Government custody. Disabled people are being surveilled and threatened with institutionalization. People are being put in what amounts to concentration camps.
None of these threats can be tackled in isolation. When it comes to climate change, the rise of our emissions is the proof in our face that it’s kind of hard to tackle climate change at scale when our country is ensnared by right wing populism and slipping towards authoritarianism. To tackle the climate crisis, we need a new alignment that helps bring movements together. It is long past time for this new alignment to emerge and for people fighting for a stable climate to realize that all these movements for justice have interconnections.
We know that our democracy still has two key elements we need to pull this off because we still have each other—a joyful and strong civil society—and we still have the second critical factor for democracy: a civil service that is holding on. Earlier this summer, we saw that US embassies around the world were told not to display rainbow flags for Pride Day and that in a brazen act of defiance, major US embassies in the world lifted a rainbow flag next to the US flag that day. More recently, in the middle of Hurricane Dorian the National Weather Service office in Birmingham, AL contradicted Trump to tell the truth about the Hurricane forecast to the public. Acts of non-compliance like this, especially within our civil service, tells me that we, the people of the United States, have the numbers, the boldness, and the creativity it takes to create the new governing alignment that we need.
Civil society is increasingly rediscovering the value of rebel tactics to build a wedge between our opposition and their supporters, just like Gandhi’s famous Salt March showed the world the barbarism of colonialism by exposing that the British were willing to beat Indians for making salt from the ocean. A second type of tactics, the change agent tactics go directly to neutrals and ask for their support, the same way leaders went door to door in the marriage equality movement and asked for personal support for their rights. Changing the system doesn’t require giving up on uncle/friend/neighbor Joe, but we need to lean into tactics that will show him another way is possible and embrace them in our lives, while calling on them to be their best selves.
I will strike on September 20th and disrupt on September 23 in the U.S. In doing so, I will also stand in solidarity with millions of people around the world who are not granted this right of peaceful assembly. Arshak Makichyan, a youth climate strike protester in Moscow, gives us an example of the courage that people in other countries are displaying under more authoritative governments. He explained to me that he had to stand alone because in Russia a permit is required for more than one person with a sign. The government is illegally refusing to allow mass strikes in Moscow, with eight applications submitted this summer, and only two approved.
Around the world we must not just take on climate change alone. We must not just take on Trump either, but also Bolsonaro, Netanyahu, Modi, Putin, Duterte, Orban, Le Pen and all their ilk. We do this to end the climate crisis. We do it because our issues are interconnected. And we do it because by organizing together, we can win.
Whether or not we prevail will depend on the choices we make as a society: fear and anxiety or courage; love and joy or hate; curiosity and compassion or disgust?
Keya Chatterjee is Executive Director of the U.S. Climate Action Network, and author of the book “The Zero Footprint Baby: How to Save the Planet While Raising a Healthy Baby.”