According to Bill McKibben, the internationally renowned climate activist, author and founder of 350.org, today’s record-breaking hurricanes should not be labeled with such innocuous names as “Dorian” or “Maria.” Rather, they should be named after Exxon Mobil, Chevron and BP—major fossil fuel corporations that have been the driving force behind global warming and the subsequent supercharged storms.
In an interview, the author of the new book, “Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?” explained to me that those corporations “have kept us for 30 years from dealing with the greatest crisis that we’ve ever faced.” Speaking just days before a climate strike set to take place around the world on Friday, the veteran environmentalist is correct to clearly identify just who the enemies of humanity are.
Climate activists have been laying the groundwork for Friday’s strike and the following week of actions for months now. The idea of a Friday strike was inspired by global youth-led “Fridays for Future,” in which young people skip school on Fridays to strike for climate action. The best-known leader of that movement, 16-year-old Greta Thunberg of Sweden, has traveled to the United States (by a climate-friendly boat) to lead Friday’s strike in New York City. But as McKibben notes, “She’s not alone. There are Gretas in every country, every city, every continent. There are young people around the world who are leading this fight, and often in the most vulnerable communities.”
Thunberg has made it clear that she cares little for laudatory coverage. She’d rather have action. Addressing a Senate panel on the climate crisis, she told U.S. lawmakers on Tuesday, “Please save your praise. We don’t want it. Don’t invite us here to just tell us how inspiring we are without actually doing anything about it, because it doesn’t lead to anything.”
It is fitting that the world’s young people are leading the fight on climate change, because it is their survival that is most at stake. “They take it very seriously, because, of course, they’re going to be living with it their whole lives,” McKibben said. “I’m going to be dead before the absolute worst peak of climate crisis hits.”
The climate crisis is not a partisan or ideological issue. It isn’t even an issue of science versus ignorance any more, as a strong majority of Americans are of the opinion that climate change is real. It is an issue of corporate greed and deliberate—even criminal—negligence.
Young people like Thunberg have been busy, even if the media or the public hasn’t noticed. Last spring, an estimated 1.4 million young people participated in a one-day classroom walkout all over the world, making it the biggest climate-related action in world history. McKibben said that Friday’s action is expected to be even bigger, because “people, after that last strike in the spring, said, ‘When this starts up again in the fall, we need adults in there too—not leading but helping, following, giving it as much weight as it needs.’ “
The climate crisis is not a partisan or ideological issue. It isn’t even an issue of science versus ignorance any more, as a strong majority of Americans are of the opinion that climate change is real. It is an issue of corporate greed and deliberate—even criminal—negligence. In that context, it makes perfect sense for New York City public schools to give students permission to skip school on Friday in order to attend a strike event. We don’t have the luxury of inaction anymore. Inaction means annihilation, and even the New York school system now understands that.
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At precisely the time we need to be pulling back on our fossil fuel consumption, we are ratcheting up the carbon load on our saturated atmosphere. At the very moment when the world’s nations need to be collectively transitioning away from oil consumption, the country responsible for the greatest cumulative greenhouse gas emissions in history removed itself from the Paris Accord. President Donald Trump has instead promoted the coal industry, rolled back regulations on energy-efficient light bulbs because he doesn’t like the way they make him look on camera (really) and is on the verge of upending California’s authority to set fuel-efficiency standards. The timing couldn’t be worse.
That is why the global climate strike was organized just before a major United Nations climate meeting. At the U.N. headquarters in New York City on Monday, country representatives will make their pledges to curb carbon emissions. To his credit, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has decided to exclude from presentations those nations building new coal plants, such as Japan, South Korea and South Africa. Additionally, the U.S. will be left out because of its undermining of the Paris Accord, Brazil because of President Jair Bolsonaro’s assault on the Amazon rainforest, and Saudi Arabia for its relentless promotion of petroleum.
Meanwhile, in the U.S., despite Trump’s insistence on promoting fossil fuels at the expense of human safety, there is a growing realization among other politicians that something needs to be done. Climate change is shaping up to be a major election issue, thanks largely to the tireless work of grassroots, youth-led activist groups like the Sunrise Movement. It has promoted the ambitious piece of legislation called the Green New Deal (GND) that would rebuild the U.S. economy through green jobs and help the nation rapidly transition to renewable energy sources. The platforms of major presidential candidates include serious action on the climate, such as Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ ambitious plan based on the GND.
Of course, media coverage of the solutions to climate change often echo pro-fossil fuel talking points, emphasizing the financial cost over the urgent need for action. Some media outlets are stepping up to the challenge of covering the climate crisis fairly. A collaboration of more than 250 news outlets worldwide, called “Covering Climate Now,” has pledged to increase the quantity and quality of their climate-related coverage. If we are to tackle this hugely important issue, we need an informed public. We especially need media coverage that closely scrutinizes climate denialists and those actively promoting greater greenhouse gas emissions.
Over and over, we hear naysayers complaining that the cost of taking action on the climate is far too high and would damage the economy. Trump has claimed that the Green New Deal resolution will cost $100 trillion and that it will “kill millions of jobs, it will crush the dreams of the poorest Americans and disproportionately harm minority communities” (as if Trump cares one bit about poor and minority Americans). “I think what people need to do is the full calculation,” McKibben said. “So on the one hand, you add up what it’s going to cost to get us to energy efficiency, and it costs us some money.”
Most important, McKibben said—and this is what most media outlets leave out—"You add up first the amount of money you save once you’ve got your solar panel up" and then “you have to start calculating how much we’re going to spend if we don’t do this.” Not only is the cost of inaction going to be astronomical, but so is the cost to the human race, in terms of livelihoods, homes, environments and lives.