Striking for Global Climate Justice

September 18, 2019 | 3:40 pm
Photo: Omari Spears/UCS
Rachel Cleetus
Policy Director

The global climate strike on September 20th is likely to be the biggest global climate action to date. My kids and I will be joining the strike in New York City and we’ve been talking a lot about what this moment means. It’s incredibly powerful to see the young people leading these strikes recognize the global nature of the challenge and the need to center justice in how we address it. 

Why strike?

Strikes demonstrate the collective power of ordinary people. The labor movement, the civil rights movement, the freedom struggles of countries seeking independence from colonial powers—they have all channeled the power of strikes. People can challenge the status quo, the powers-that-be, by bringing daily life to a standstill for a short time and forcing public attention on the critical political or social issues of the day.

That’s why young people are asking adults to leave work and join them on Sept 20th. Millions of people all over the world will be joining together with one message: climate change is one of most pressing problems we face, and we demand policymakers take action to address it now.

When I look at the global climate strike map listing the thousands of strikes already planned around the world—from Accra, Ghana to Kiribati, all over the US (nearly 1000 as of this morning!), Europe, South America, Asia, Africa, Australia, Pacific island nations—it fills me with hope and courage. Yes, together, we can do this.

Young climate leaders leading these strikes recognize some important truths:

  • The impacts of climate change are already apparent everywhere—in the form of record heat, floods, droughts, storms, and wildfires. And there’s no doubt that they are having a disproportionate impact on those who live in poverty, here in the United States and around the world. These impacts will only worsen if we fail to take bold action now.
  • The transition away from fossil fuels to low-carbon energy is vital to meeting our climate goals and brings with it the promise of economic opportunities and public health benefits. But it also poses a huge challenge to workers and communities currently dependent on fossil fuel jobs.
  • It’s also abundantly clear that fossil fuel companies and their political allies are fighting climate action tooth and nail. They are a huge obstacle to the political change we need.

So, when we’re in the streets, we’ve also got to demand that our climate solutions address the needs of those who have the least and have contributed the least to creating the problem. We must demand investments in a just transition for fossil-fuel dependent communities. And we have to call out our policymakers who are beholden to fossil fuel interests and demand that they act on our behalf instead.

Strikes may not be for everyone

Going on strike can be risky and those risks are different for different people depending on their circumstances. History shows that peaceful strikes and marches have sometimes been met with violence. It required a particular kind of bravery and moral courage to march from Selma to Montgomery with Dr. Martin Luther King. Or to join the salt satyagraha to Dandi led by Gandhiji.

The climate strikes on September 20th aim to be a peaceful and I hope and fully expect everyone who joins will be safe wherever in the world they are. Understandably, some people, especially those with small children or those who have been unfairly targeted by law enforcement or political entities, may not feel comfortable with the very small chance that something could go wrong.

Going on strike can be a luxury. Not everyone can take a day off work without risking losing their job or pay. Not everyone has the resources to travel to the nearest big city where a strike may be happening. Some people are in the midst of daily life struggles that might make it impossible to even think about striking.

It’s easier to strike if you have some privilege or power. So if you do, use it! (Yes, that’s most of you reading this blogpost).

Join the global climate justice movement

Climate justice is not about just one day. Whether you join a climate strike on the 20th or not, you can be part of the movement for change. There are lots of ways to contribute your time, your expertise—and, for those who can afford to, your money. And remember, your vote counts too.

The good news is low-carbon energy has never been cheaper or more abundant. Just within my (11 and 13-year-old) kids’ lifetimes, the cost of wind energy has dropped by over 60 percent and solar photovoltaics by nearly 90 percent, and we have seen coal go from about half of our electricity mix in the US to about a quarter. Those are incredible changes in a short time! It’s no wonder that young people are pushing for bold action—because they know that carbon emissions are still rising and we can do much more to accelerate the shift to low-carbon energy if our policymakers enact ambitious policies.

Of course, the fight for a just climate-safe future is about more than cutting heat-trapping emissions. How can we do right by workers and communities currently dependent on fossil fuels? How can we ensure that our efforts to cut CO2 emissions bring direct health benefits to communities disproportionately burdened by pollution from our dependence on fossil fuels? What will we do to help protect and prepare all communities from the ravages of climate change? What will the US do to contribute its fair share to global climate efforts to help developing countries cut their emissions and cope with climate impacts? These are all vital issues that we have to engage with as citizens of the world and voters (and future voters).

We’re not going to solve the climate crisis if we don’t solve it in a just and equitable way. Our fate is connected to the fate of millions of people around the world.

Young people have put forth a strong set of demands for this climate strike. The Equitable and Just National Climate Platform and Solidarity for Climate Action are additional resources (full disclosure: UCS is a signatory to both these documents).

There is much work ahead in turning these ambitious visions into reality, and young people are calling us to do that work with them and for them. Please join—on September 20th if you can, and in the weeks, months and years of the good fight ahead.