Rising Up Together for a Livable Future

Youth-led climate strike, Boston, Sept. 20, 2019 Youth-led climate strike, Boston, Sept. 20, 2019

by Paula Gutlove and Gordon Thompson

This article appeared in the Fall 2019 issue of the Mass. Peace Action newsletter

Thousands of youth and their allies from across Massachusetts staged a dramatic “climate strike” in Boston on September 20th to demand action on the climate crisis. Mass. Peace Action joined more than 30 climate- and peace-related organizations to support and participate in the strike. This event was part of a week of climate strikes worldwide that engaged more than 7.6 million people in 185 countries – one of the largest coordinated global protests in history, according to 350.org.

On September 23rd the United Nations hosted a Climate Action Summit in New York. Speakers included Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old climate activist who has inspired youth and adults worldwide. In Massachusetts, September saw a variety of climate-related public actions, including forums where grassroots activists discussed climate-action plans with political leaders and candidates at state and municipal levels. 

MAPA sponsored a lively public forum—Rise Up for a Livable Future—in Central Square, Cambridge, on September 26th that brought together a range of peace and climate organizations and activists. It was organized by MAPA’s Climate and Peace Working Group and moderated by its co-chair, Rosalie Anders. Panelists were Sue Donaldson (350.org, Mass.), Adam Sacks (Biodiversity for a Livable Planet), Paul Shannon (American Friends Service Committee), John Burkhardt (Extinction Rebellion, Greater Boston), and Nick Rabb (Sunrise Movement and MAPA). Short presentations by panelists were followed by dialogue among all participants.

Forum attendees underscored the crucial connections between climate and peace. Some of these connections are comparatively direct. For example, military programs create massive greenhouse gas emissions while consuming a huge portion of the federal budget that could instead be used to support constructive programs such as a Green New Deal. Also, the impacts of climate change cause or exacerbate violent conflicts in many parts of the world.  Other connections are geopolitical. For example, the primary purpose of military expenditure and war is to support an obsolete global economic model that is destroying Earth’s life-support systems. 

Moreover, military confrontation undermines the international cooperation needed to address climate change. Attendees also discussed connections at a deeper, cultural level.  For example, our culture encourages an acceptance of competition and violence that find expression in military confrontation, environmental degradation, and other destructive behaviors. New leadership is needed, based on “power with” collaboration, rather than “power over” control.

Progress on climate stabilization and peace building requires coordinated actions on multiple fronts. This forum focused on opportunities for consciousness-raising and cultural transformation. In other settings, many of the those who attended the forum work on complementary matters, such as technical and policy options and legislative initiatives. Experience shows that consciousness-raising must be balanced with opportunities for empowerment and action, so that people do not become paralyzed by fear or depression. 

The forum yielded several positive outcomes. It clarified and underscored the many connections between climate and peace. It showed that diverse perspectives on these connections, and on pathways forward, can and must be integrated. Participants were  energized by exposure to each other’s programs, approaches, and achievements. These outcomes will help to build the massive, collaborative people’s movement needed to create a livable future. 

—Paula Gutlove and Gordon Thompson are members of MAPA’s Climate and Peace Working Group. They work at the Institute for Resource and Security Studies.