The climate crisis is job one and we all need to sign up
By Linda Pentz Gunter
Jay Inslee staked his whole presidential campaign on one issue: climate change. His campaign began on March 1, 2019. By August 21, 2019, it was over.
Whatever the merits or not of Inslee as a candidate, the Democratic governor of the State of Washington was right about one thing. Climate change — or, more accurately, the climate crisis — is the single most important issue of our time. (Alongside the potential for instant annihilation under nuclear war.)
The presidential debates tussle endlessly and repetitively over health care, racial equality and immigration. Of course these issues are not unimportant, or at least they weren’t under normal conditions.
Nevertheless, we can argue until the cows come home about Medicare-For-All and gun control, but if we don’t address our climate emergency right away, none of that will matter. We will be in chaos, damage control and survival mode.
Widespread gun ownership will make climate chaos more dangerous. Lack of access to affordable health care means that the poor — who are already disproportionately impacted by climate change — won’t have the same access to the ensuing care needed as the climate emergency spawns its own health crisis.
Despite all this, there appears to be a collective failure to recognize that Things Have Fundamentally Changed. It’s as if we can all just carry on as normal, that there has been no paradigm shift; that the onrushing apocalypse of the climate crisis is just one more detail afforded 10 minutes of sound bites. It’s insane. This is not your grandfather’s planet.
It hasn’t been for quite some time. Yet we are still waking up too slowly. I remember at least 10 years ago chatting, as we parents are wont to do, about our children’s future, worrying about where, and even if, they will go to college.
By then, I was already questioning whether sitting in some academic ivory tower studying a worthy subject would mean anything at all eight or ten years hence.
“I fear it will be all hands on deck to save the planet by then,” I remember saying. Maybe going to university wouldn’t even be relevant let alone useful.
I got the sense then — and even a little still now — that this kind of doomsday view was not particularly welcome. Or even credible. And yet, here we are.
Now I have a 19-year old in college who wonders why she is planning and studying for a career. She questions whether she even has a future beyond the next ten years. I try to encourage her that all is not yet lost, that we must keep fighting and do even more. (And maybe to stay off my Facebook page where Extinction Rebellion and the Doomsday Clock hold sway.)
It’s hard not to exist in a perpetual state of purgatorial anxiety, hovering between desperation and despair. We are marching again. We are getting ourselves arrested. We are blogging and tweeting. And we are running out of ideas. And hope.
But at the same time, if we have children, we have to keep reassuring them that time isn’t quite up yet (despite our protest signs that say it is) and that if we all act now, change is still possible. And of course our children are marching, too. As E.P. Thompson once wrote, we must “protest and survive.”
However, the fact that a candidate like Inslee, who is hardly a nobody or a political outsider, could torpedo his own chances of the Democratic presidential nomination by endeavoring to focus our attention solely on the most urgent task before us — a literal matter of life and death — is both discouraging and disturbing. When are we going to wake up?
Our news shows continue to report stories about oil reserves and drilling prospects as if that’s perfectly normal, and without the essential caveat that actually, right now, we absolutely cannot even contemplate any new fossil fuel extraction.
We weep over photos of charred koalas yet most of us are either unable or unwilling to grasp the reality of our present demise. Maybe lemmings don’t really follow each other en masse over the cliff edge, but we humans are certainly doing it.
My friends say ‘well we must defeat Trump in November. That’s job one. We must vote those who will do nothing — or worse — out of office.’ And yet, I can’t help feeling that it’s too late even for that. Sometimes things feel so desperate I fantasize about our valiant young climate strikers taking over the White House and deciding our future. After all, it’s mainly theirs. But of course it’s just a silly dream. And in any case, the bad guys have all the guns.
“We’re in a lifelong struggle,” said political organizer extraordinaire, Heather Booth, when she visited my home town of Takoma Park, MD recently for a screening of a documentary about her life and her organizing work — Heather Booth: Changing The World. “We will carry on.” To Booth, a consummate optimist, we have mass movements and a level of activism never before seen in her lifetime. Despair just isn’t an option.
Booth has three questions she says you should ask when organizing — and getting organized is, in her long career, what has proven the most effective way to make significant changes. One: Does what you are doing improve people’s lives? Two: Does it give people a sense of their own power? Three: Does it change the relation of power?
And individually, she recommends: Try to do things that give you joy. Build community. Have a strategic plan. And, just as Elizabeth Warren has “a plan for that,” Booth has “a chart” for everything about strategic organizing.
Having — and enacting — that strategic plan is the key when it comes to tackling the climate crisis. We have to be able to get there from here and failure isn’t an option. The end goal is to minimize the climate crisis (it’s too late to “stop climate change” as our protest signs used to say). The timeline is short. Our actions along the way have to be immediate and effective.
In the US and across the world there are many different groups and movement deploying many different strategies to suit many different styles and comfort zones. These include 350.org’s Stop the Money Pipeline, the Sunrise Movement’s focus on elected officials, Extinction Rebellion’s take-it-to-the-street-theatre approach and Fridays for the Future mobilizing school-age children. And lots more.
The climate crisis needs all of us who are in a position to act. So, if you’re already out there, keep on keeping on. And if you haven’t started yet, what are you waiting for?
Cover photo: Youths shout slogans as they march for a climate strike to protest against governmental inaction towards climate breakdown and environmental pollution on Sep 20, 2019 at Lahore, Pakistan. By A.M. Sayed/Shutterstock.