Earth Day, 2019
I’m not sure how most people think about Earth Day this year. The recent climate catastrophes, including the massive, intense fires in California, the series of severe storms across the country, melting of huge amounts of ice from the north and south poles, and the massive flooding in the Midwest have surely gotten the attention of most of this country. But many continue to refuse to see these things are all part of our emerging climate catastrophe. News reports of these events often say nothing about the underlying causes being climate change, but that seems to be changing, slowly.
In many ways it is discouraging to look back over the past decades to see how little progress has been made to make people aware, and see the need to address greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental issues.
Today we again face the question of what will make change happen, as opposed to protesting in the streets. Years ago my friend Alvin Sangsuwangul at the Kheprw Institute taught me how important it is to ask, “what actually changed (as a result of a social justice action)?”
I think there are good results that we aren’t aware of sometimes. Like the times we hold vigils about peace or pipelines, etc. Sometimes we hear from someone years later about how they were influenced by observing such things. I was going through the library, on my way to a peace vigil, when a librarian beckoned me over to ask if I was going to that vigil. She said she always likes to see us there as she drives home, and supports our efforts.
Another time I was in the Chase Bank lobby to close my account because of their funding of fossil fuel projects. Just before going there I was on the street outside with a sign saying “Chase funds Dakota Pipeline”. I brought the sign with me into the bank, because I had walked there and didn’t have any place to leave it. The security officer met me with a smile, and showed me where to wait. People would look at me out of the corner of their eye. When I was shown into a banker’s office, she smiled when she saw the sign and said, “I shouldn’t tell you this, but I support your efforts”. I returned to see her several days later, to leave a copy of the blog post I had written about our visit. When she saw me in the lobby she came out to get me. In her office, she said she and her husband had talked about our previous visit. https://jeffkisling.com/2017/02/03/return-to-chase-bank/
At another time I was at our weekly vigil, this time holding a sign that said, “Quakers Know Black Lives Matter”. A young black man parked his car and came up to me and asked, “Why are you doing this?” His manner was both curious and serious. I said something along the lines that I felt it was important that white people publicly acknowledge they believe this. Especially in a time when multiple police killings seemed to be saying that was not so. After all, who is this message directed at? I assume black people know their lives matter. That seemed to satisfy him. He smiled and shook my hand. But he also said, “this is a brave thing to do.” I only mention that to show how others perceive what we do, and to acknowledge to those of you who are considering doing the same that there is the potential for an aggressive response, although I have never experienced that myself. More about this at: https://jeffkisling.com/2017/10/30/what-actually-changed/
Today there are three movements that are mobilizing many, many people to draw attention to climate change: the Sunrise Movement, School Strikes, and Extinction Rebellion.
Thousand of students in Europe, and now in the United States, are striking on Fridays. Their message is very clear, about how nothing has been done about climate change, and they are and will continue to be living with multiple and increasingly severe climate disasters. They say they will not longer wait for others to take action.
Recent days have seen massive numbers of people in the streets of London, shutting down traffic. It is interesting that Greta Thunberg, the 16 year old Swede who started the School Climate Strikes, came to London to speak to the Extinction Rebellion demonstrators.
The Extinction Rebellion was one of the topics on Ed Fallon’s radio program last week.
As Britain’s Extinction Rebellion ramps up its colorful campaign of creative nonviolence, moving from the streets of London to cities across the US, that’s the conversation attorney Channing Dutton and I kick around on this week’s Fallon Forum. Are shutting down roads and bridges, disrobing in front of politicians, blockading media conglomerates the kind of actions the climate movement needs? Does posing that question even matter any more? Is it time for an all-out assault on climate apathy?Fallon Forum, 4/15/2019
I called into the program to say I wasn’t sure what the goal of the Extinction Rebellion (XR) was, and spoke about my own experiences with social change during the anti-war movement in the 1960’s and more recently with anti-pipeline efforts. I wondered about the contrast between XR and the Sunrise Movement. Ed’s guest, Channing Dutton talked about the anti-war movement not having well defined goals when it erupted, but over time changes occurred leading, finally, to the end of the Vietnam War. You can hear a recording of that discussion here: http://fallonforum.com/listen/
Stopping climate change means completely updating our energy, transit and food systems. This will require aggressive action at every level of government, sustained for many years in a row. History shows that two ingredients are needed to make this type of sweeping change:
1. People Power: a large, vocal, and active base of public support
2. Political Power: a critical mass of supportive elective officials
Recent experience demonstrates clearly that one without the other is not enough:
● In 2008, climate advocates enthusiastically supported President Obama’s campaign, only to be disappointed when he failed to live up to his promise of strong climate action. Without enough people power, there was no way to hold our supposed allies in Washington accountable. Political power without people power was not enough.
● In 2016, the climate and environmental justice movement was stronger than ever before, having built tremendous people power through efforts like NoDAPL, Keystone, divestment, and the People’s Climate March. But all this people power was helpless to stop Trump from rolling back our major victories as soon as he took office. People power without political power was not enough.
We need both. Here’s how we’ll get them:
I’m looking forward to attending the Sunrise Movement Tour, which is going to be in Des Moines tonight, 4/22/2019 at 7:00 pm. Sheslow Auditorium, 2507 University Ave, Des Moines, IA 50311, USA