To Stop Climate Change, We Need Climate Justice

Remarks delivered by David Klafter at the People over Pipelines rally, State House steps, July 17th, 2016

David KlafterWe all know we are here to address the climate issue, and to stop this unnecessary and dangerous pipeline, and the tax that would pass along the cost of building it to the ratepayers of Massachusetts.

So why in our slogans do we not just talk about preventing climate change, or stopping its negative effects? Why do we talk about “Climate Justice”? I want to say a few words that try to answer this question.

Climate change is happening now! Any honest observer knows this. It is too late to stop it, or even to prevent many of its negative consequences. There is already too much carbon in the atmosphere, and much too much that will be burned in the next few years. As Bill McKibbon likes to say, “You can’t negotiate with physics”. We can’t avoid the crisis – the question we face is how society will respond to it.

We know the powers that be, and the politicians they buy, will look for solutions that protects their interests. Ones that leave the suffering to those with the least power, to minority communities and less developed countries. Or, if they need to, to the entire 99%. And we know they will delay too long for any effective action. They will ultimately be forced to build armed enclaves for their own protection, as they try to “geo-engineer” their way out of the crisis. How does sulfur dioxide in the stratosphere sound to you? What could possibly go wrong!!

But we will not allow the responses to be determined by the elites alone! The people will have their say in the matter. The strength of the movement we build will be decisive to the nature of the solutions adopted. It is not too much to say the the future of humanity depends on our actions. Let me repeat that -the future of humanity depends on our actions. We all should take ourselves and our actions very seriously.

There are two great issues we face – locally and globally. We know about the climate crisis, but the other is the struggle for equality. These two struggles should be united by our common enemy – those who benefit from the continued burning of fossil fuels are the same ones that control the economic system that enriches the 1%, give just enough to the middle class to keep some kind of social peace, and pass the harshest costs of the crisis on to people of color and to the entire working class. They are the same ones who are happy to keep half of the world’s people in abject poverty, as long as the profits roll in.

So when we say “The people united will never be defeated!” that may be true, but our job is to see that the people are united! They certainly are not now. If we want to force responses to the climate crisis that protect the people and the planet, we need to develop a plan of action that addresses the needs of all. Our movement has not been very good at this. Our commitment to racial justice must be more than doing what we always do, then adding “and Black lives matter” at the end. Similarly our commitment to gender equality and to class justice needs to be more than rhetorical.

We need to develop a perspective that leads all of our organizing towards building the unity in practice that we know we need. It means demanding reforms that not only address carbon use, but economic inequality as well. It means not just demanding no new fossil fuel infrastructure, but also that society’s toxic load not be dumped on minority communities, or exported to poorer countries. It means that we will not allow the continued destruction of indigenous peoples’ land for the extraction of ever more fossil fuels. It means that we make “a just transition” integral to our activism, not just a slogan. This is how we will transform “Climate Justice” from a nice sounding phrase to a guiding principal.

This will not be easy. Our ruling elites have always been very adept at giving some sectors of the society – mostly white and male – just enough to disrupt any attempts at broad class unity. They have allowed some of us a little piece of the pie while others have lived on crumbs, or under the lash. But the moment demands of us that we build our unity and that we not lose sight of the fact that our enemies are the most powerful economic forces that the world has ever seen. If we are to develop the strength to defeat them, If we are to prove up to the task that history has given us, we must take this to heart. It’s comfortable to stay in our own silos, but that will only lead to disaster.

Naomi Klein tells us “It takes everyone to change everything.” So let’s build the kind of movement that speaks to everyone, and invites them in. At 350 Mass we don’t have all the answers for how to do this, but we are committed to trying to figure it out. We know that the 43 miles of this march are only a few steps in a very long journey. We invite you all to join us on that road.