Steven Elias: Climate change and the climate movement
A question that often comes up when people start talking about not simply adapting to the changing climate but actually fighting for a livable future is a question just like this: “But what about the rest of the world?
What about the fact that even if we here in the U.S. manage to overcome our enormous political division and we introduce radical measures aimed at reducing green house gas pollution as quickly as humanly possible without causing massive disruption to the economy, the fact remains that we have no way of getting Russia, China, India, eastern Europe and everywhere else to get on board in the same way?
And yes we know that a rapidly heating planet, rising sea levels and ocean acidification along with all the other alarming day-to-day scenarios (mega wildfires supersized hurricanes, etc) that are part of what people are calling the “new normal,” we know that all of this is a global phenomenon that requires a global response but the question still remains, what about that daunting political reality — the fact that we have no control over other countries and how they choose to act?”
The answer that I feel best responds to this important question is to point to the fact that all over the world young people are organizing in rapidly growing numbers and making increasingly impatient demands that the governments of the world act now to address the climate crisis in a meaningful way. Moreover, when you look at the youth movement messaging around climate issues it’s clear that young people understand what movements are all about. They realize that overwhelming numbers of people will be needed for their movement to overcome the entrenched resistance of the fossil fuel industry and that industry’s worldwide network of political and financial supporters and also to overcome the inertia of people who just don’t want, or are unable, to recognize the urgency of the situation.
So in my mind the growing and determined youth movement is the only real answer to the question posed at the beginning of this discussion. And history shows us that when a critical mass of people demand change and don’t take no for an answer then regardless of what kind of government is in power change can happen very quickly (think about what happened in the 1970s when the environmental movement — and at that time it was still a movement — took on Nixon and managed to get him to sign off on all the landmark environmental legislation that still constitutes the core policy achievements that we rely on today when it comes to environmental protection measures). I could cite many other examples but there is not enough space to do so.
Here in the U.S. we are witnessing the rapid growth of the Sunrise movement which got its start in 2015 and is made up of mostly people in their 20s and younger. The Sunrise movement is focused on climate issues and unlike other environmental groups it is really a one issue organization.
Whether Sunrise is successful in bringing about the kind of change that its supporters are demanding — a carbon neutral energy sector, and an end to fossil fuels consumption across the board in time to avoid the worst case scenarios that we are currently facing — whether this can actually happen will depend, I believe, not only on how hard its members work and their organizing skills, but also on how much support Sunrise receives from people in their 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s and beyond.
We live in a time and in a country where it is tougher and tougher for young people to make a start at even beginning to live independently let alone hold down a job and engage in the political arena. Hopefully those of us who can will rise to the occasion and offer support to Sunrise in any way we can.
Anyone reading this is welcome to contact me about ways to help Sunrise or the climate movement in general at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Steve Elias lives in Grass Valley.
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