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Our Climate, Our Economy and Our Democracy

Michael BruneLarry Cohen

This most recent Labor Day has given us an opportunity to come together and recognize the working Americans who are on the front lines, responding to and solving the climate crisis.

We want to honor the first responders who stayed on the job for days and nights through and after Superstorm Sandy, even while their own homes and families were devastated: The health care workers who evacuated patients down darkened flights of stairs in hospitals that lost power; the transit workers who restored flooded subway and bus systems in record time; the utility workers who risked their lives to restore power; the public workers who helped families and communities hit hard by the storm.

We want to honor the 19 firefighters who lost their lives last summer battling a savage and unpredictable wildfire near Prescott, Arizona.

And we want to honor the workers who are building the burgeoning clean economy that is leading us toward healthier communities and a stable climate: The electricians and pipefitters who are building the solar, wind, and geothermal power that is meeting more and more of our energy needs; the laborers, insulators, and building service workers who are making our buildings more energy efficient; the transit workers who are moving us forward on public transport; the utility workers, pipefitters, and sheet metal workers who are repairing our aging power grid and water and urban gas distribution networks.

We want to honor the coal miners and other workers in carbon-intensive industries who have powered our country for over a century and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.

Working peoples' experiences confirm what scientists have been warning for years -- rising temperatures caused largely by fossil fuel emissions that humans are pouring into the atmosphere are causing unprecedented climate disruption. The world's scientists are also telling us in one voice that if we don't stop what we're doing to cause this disruption, there will be no way to stop it from becoming catastrophic for everybody -- especially for the most vulnerable: children, the elderly, low-income people, and communities of color.

But all is not all gloom and doom -- far from it. Those same scientists agree that we can stop the climate crisis from reaching the point of catastrophe if we dramatically increase renewable energy and energy efficiency and revamp our infrastructure now. So responding to the climate crisis presents a historic opportunity to create millions of good jobs that will help us avert catastrophic climate disruption. Median salaries for clean energy jobs are nearly $8,000 higher than wages across the broader economy. And the clean energy sector is growing at nearly double the rate of the overall economy.

The market alone won't assure a fair and just transition, or that new clean-energy jobs pay a living wage and respect the dignity and rights of working people. In fact, the same powerful forces fighting efforts to decrease emissions are attacking unions and workers across the country. We'll need to organize and fight back against deep-pocketed defenders of the status quo like the Koch Brothers and WalMart's Walton family, who help fund organizations such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and Americans for Prosperity (AFP) that are attacking unions and workers' rights. They are also pushing laws that suppress the votes of working people, communities of color, the elderly, young people, and immigrants -- the same people who are the most economically insecure, exposed to the most pollution, and hit hardest by climate disruption.

But we know we can win if together we build a broad, diverse, and powerful movement for economic justice, democracy, and environmental sustainability. We know that organized people can beat organized money, because we've done it before.

This is an important leadership moment. Our nation demands action on climate disruption, and young people care tremendously about the climate crisis. When our grandchildren look back on this time and ask, "Which side were you on?" we believe the answer will be that together we were leading the fight for our climate, our democracy, and for a fair and just economy that works for us all.

Michael Brune and Larry Cohen lead the Sierra Club and the Communications Workers of America, respectively, two of the hundreds of organizations and tens of thousands of people who will be part of the People's Climate March in New York City on September 21, demanding that world leaders gathered for the UN Climate Summit commit to sign a fair, ambitious and binding global agreement to stop catastrophic climate disruption.

This post is part of a month-long series produced by The Huffington Post in conjunction with a variety of events being held in September recognizing the threats posed by climate change. Those events include the UN's Climate Summit 2014 (to be held Sept. 23, 2014, at UN headquarters in New York) and Climate Week NYC (Sept. 22-28, 2014, throughout New York City). To see all the posts in the series, read here.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Michael Brune

Michael Brune

Michael Brune is the executive director of The Sierra Club. His book "Coming Clean: Breaking America's Addiction to Oil and Coal "was published by Sierra Club Books in September 2008.

Larry Cohen

Larry Cohen

Larry Cohen was the president of the Communications Workers of America, a 700,000 member labor union representing workers in Canada and the United States. Cohen was first elected by acclamation, in 2005, and left office in 2015. In 2015, Cohen joined presidential candidate Bernie Sander’s campaign as a liaison to organized labor.

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