The People’s Climate March isn’t about transient electoral politics, decades of regulatory failure by Washington, or even the ‘war of words’ between Democrats and Republicans. It’s not about piecemeal reforms led by the EPA to curb domestic emissions or well-intentioned consumer movements to buy local or organic. The People’s Climate March is about a fundamental reorientation of a global movement to make human life on this planet more sustainable, more just, and more worth living.
As an organization, SustainUS: US Youth for Sustainable Development has worked in the global climate space for years, bringing cohorts of youth activists to UN decision-making spaces to hold authorities accountable to the needs of those directly affected by the climate crisis. By amplifying youth voices in the notoriously out of touch UN climate spaces, our members speak truth to power, challenge climate science deniers, and help give a human face to the abstract notion of a shifting global ecological landscape. At the center of our work is a dedication not only to our own communities – those natural and artificial environments in which we were raised – but to the larger international community, to our chaotic, 7 billion member strong human family.
We support the People’s Climate March as an organization and as individual change-agents because it represents, more than any mobilization in recent memory, an international effort to build a climate movement to last.
While supported by over 1,000 organizations from diverse social justice movements, the PCM has no set domestic agenda or policy platform. Its purpose is not to provide political cover for left-leaning politicians or ‘socially conscious’ corporations. Yet, its target is clear: UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s UN Climate Summit convening in New York next week. Organized along NYC’s Climate Week and in tandem with at least eight other international direct actions in metropolitan hubs like London and New Delhi, the People’s Climate March urges global action to build a 21st-century climate treaty that takes tangible steps to slash greenhouse gas emissions, encourage sustainable development, and mitigate the climate crisis.
For this reason, the People’s Climate March is anything but routine. It constitutes a dramatic shift in the way climate activists across the world think of their movement. By building community and power across lines constructs of nations, borders, or group membership, this March pits ‘the people’ against an increasingly small ruling class unwilling or unable to take the steps needed to ensure humankind’s survival into the next centuries.
For far too long the United States and other UN member-states have acted in our name when blocking action towards robust climate treaties to succeed the Kyoto Protocol. In place of visionary leadership, entrepreneurial innovation, and proactive solutions our global leaders have offered us a bridge to nowhere – toothless conventions and unimaginative pledges to consider more sustainable development options.
By lending our voices to those of climate activists from across the world, we turn a new page and open ourselves up to envisioning new social, political, and economic arrangements that will sustain our communities – and better yet, our species – in the years to come.
This weekend SustainUS marches for our international counterparts – those youth who, year after year, hold legislators accountable to the needs of the people; we march alongside our domestic allies from the climate, labor, economic justice, and faith movements; we march for our futures and for yours; we march to survive.
Erik Lampmann is a COP20 delegate with SustainUS
Solving the hardest homework in the world: Universities need a climate change cheat sheet
“Is Earth fu**ed?” So asked a provocatively titled talk at the 2012 American Geophysical Union, one of the largest gatherings of climate scientists in the world. Frankly, I think the question was rather polite. This summer alone, we’ve learned that giant craters in the thawing Siberian tundra are leaking vast quantities of powerful heat-trapping methane gas into our atmosphere; that the West Antarctic ice sheet is now irrevocably collapsing, committing the world to at least 4 feet of sea level rise – enough to drown Bangladesh; that California is suffering its worst drought in recorded history, with 82% of the state in “extreme drought” and a declared State of Emergency; and that four years of unprecedented dryness helped catalyze the violence in Syria that exemplifies why the Pentagon ranks climate change as an issue of national security. Rather polite indeed.
We have just a few years to put the brakes on this impending climate catastrophe: a mere decade or two for global greenhouse gas emissions to peak and then plummet faster than they have risen for the past 160 years; and just a year or two to stop building all fossil fuel infrastructure, according to the International Energy Agency.
Yet 2012-13 saw $674 billion spent on fossil fuel extraction and the largest annual increase in carbon dioxide levels in 30 years. This summer, the Canadian government muzzled its scientists from speaking publicly about climate change, Australia became the first country in the world to repeal its carbon tax, and the U.S. Senate failed to pass a resolution simply stating that climate change is indeed real. Perhaps Earth, or at least its inhabitants, really are fu**ed.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Einstein said, “Those who have the privilege to know have the duty to act,” so consider this theory of change:
No one can deny the importance of technology in helping us stave off the climate crisis, and nowhere is the power of technology better understood than at universities. Yet, in the words of an influential 2004 Science article, we must be careful “not to become beguiled by the possibility of revolutionary technology.” We already have most of the technologies necessary to remake our energy economy. We must embrace today’s solutions rather than wait for tomorrow’s silver-bullet techno-fix to emerge from an MIT or Stanford research laboratory.
But despite the rapid growth of the renewable energy sector, its share of the energy market remains paltry, and economic inequities – not technological inadequacies – are to blame. Hydrocarbons appear artificially cheap and profitable because the fossil fuel industry is the only industry in the world permitted to pollute for free. This is a market failure. To correct it, we must put a price on carbon emissions, so that polluters pay the full costs that carbon pollution incurs on society now and in the future. Scientists, environmentalists, economists, and business leaders alike – not to mention President Obama – agree that a price on carbon is the most effective method of incentivizing emissions cuts. Research published last year in Nature found that the chance of holding global warming below “dangerous” (2 degrees Celsius) levels without a price on carbon was zero.
“So why not just put a price on carbon?” a fellow student asked the other day. It makes perfect sense. But no matter how many experts call for a price on carbon, the real question is how to get one. How can we tax carbon emissions, when ultra-conservative political ideologues and ultra-rich fossil fuel interests actively stymie any meaningful legislation? 97% of scientists agree that climate change is real and caused by humans, yet 56% of current Republicans in the House and 65% in the Senate deny the science, and that proportion is even higher (73-100%) in the Republican leadership and in committees on national energy policy and air pollution. It’s no coincidence that the average Congressional climate denier takes almost four times more in donations from the fossil fuel industry than the average non-denier. Even more despicable than the legal bribery of our politicians are the well-documented anti-science disinformation campaigns funded and orchestrated by the fossil fuel industry, deliberately designed to undermine the American public’s understanding of global warming and support of climate legislation.
The only thing that can match the power of this money is the power of a social movement. As a 2011 study in Energy Policy concluded, “barriers to a 100% conversion to wind, water and solar power worldwide are primarily social and political, not technological or even economic.” Universities must decide if it makes sense to restrict themselves to the pursuit of an “energy miracle” in a rapidly warming world in which technology is no longer the bottleneck to progress. Only by demanding bold political leadership – a price on carbon, an end to fossil fuel subsidies, and the greatest energy overhaul since the Industrial Revolution – will our technologies ever make a meaningful difference.
Making this demand will take collective action at the individual, institutional and international levels. At the individual level, we can learn more about the scientific and political issues, educate our families, classmates and teachers, and seek systems-level as well as lab-level climate solutions. Campus sustainability, green living, and renewable energy research are important, yes; but alone, they are entirely insufficient.
At the institutional level, we should work together to create climate-conscious campuses that measure up to the challenge at hand. An action we can all take is to urge our universities to bolster the world’s largest climate change movement by divesting their endowments from fossil fuel companies.
At the international level, consider helping shift the policy debate by becoming a SustainUS youth delegate to the United Nations’ climate change conferences. And consider buying a bus ticket. This Sunday, tens of thousands of students and hundreds of thousands of others – of every color and creed, every age and ethnicity, every social standing and education – will descend on New York City for the People’s Climate March, the biggest climate change mobilization in history. We will bear witness to this singular crisis of our time and demand that our leaders, who will be meeting at the United Nations, live up to their promise of a meaningful international climate change treaty. En route as I write, I invite you to join us.
Abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass once said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” From civil rights to gay rights to women’s rights, from abolition to apartheid to clear air and clean water, social movements have proven their theory of change, and students have always played a vital role. Now it is our turn, and our responsibility, to rise to our historical moment. To incoming freshman everywhere: Welcome to p-sets and partying; to best friends and first loves; to triumph and disaster; and to perhaps the best four years of your life. Welcome to a chance to bend the course of history.
Geoffrey Supran is a graduate student at MIT, a member of Fossil Free MIT, and a SustainUS delegate to the U.N.’s COP-20 Climate Change Conference in Lima, Peru.
SustainUS is seeking a smart, ambitious and creative Climate Campaign Organizer to lead our new domestic effort to pressure President Obama to lead ambitiously on climate. This is a full-time position through March 31, 2015.
The deadline to apply this position is Tuesday, September 28. For the full job description and application instructions, please go to bit.ly/SustainUS-organizer. We look forward to reviewing your applications!
The SustainUS Agents of Change program has selected the SustainUS delegation for the UN climate change negotiations this November. Known officially as the 20th session of the Conference of Parties to the Climate Change Convention and the 10th Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (COP20 and CMP10), the negotiations will be held in Lima, Peru from December 1 to 12, 2014. Delegates will work together and with international youth in advance of the conference to educate themselves and their communities, develop policy priorities, develop skills in effective lobbying, and engage the broader youth population in action related to international climate policy.
Meet the delegates after the jump!
This is a different type of post than anything we've posted before. But we think it's a critical one in our work to build a better world.
Two weeks ago, unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. Since then, a movement has grown calling for #JusticeForMikeBrown and an end to police violence inflicted upon communities of color.
We ask SustainUS members to stand in solidarity with the #Ferguson movement and call for racial justice in the United States. We believe truly sustainable development is impossible if communities of color in the United States continue to face police violence and systemic oppression.
Sustainable development is about more than stabilizing the climate or preserving biological diversity. At its core, sustainable development is a vision of a just world where all people, present and future, can meet their needs. The shooting of Michael Brown shows how far we are from achieving this vision.