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The Fight to Stop the Climate Crisis is Local

Everywhere the global #ClimateStrike movement exists, the fight to protect ourselves from fossil fuel extraction and climate injustice is personal and lives at home in our communities.

(Photo: Shadia Fayne Wood / Survival Media Agency)

I participated in the historical week of Global Climate Strikes, where an estimated 7.6 million people took to the streets across the world to demand real action on climate. In New York City on September 20th, I was among 250,000 people, including youth, elders, parents, teachers, scientists, workers, unions, faith leaders and more. It was incredible. As I stood looking at sign after sign from diverse youth as young as ten years old unapologetically demanding an end to the era of fossil fuels, I truly felt that the change we’ve been demanding for decades would finally be possible. We’re at a turning point where a blossoming and growing multigenerational and multiracial climate movement is calling for social and economic transformation that is rooted in justice. 

And that call for justice is deeply personal for me. As an African American resident of Baltimore, I’ve watched my communities get brushed aside for development projects that promise “economic prosperity” with no long term vision, and always at the expense of black and brown communities living in the most impoverished and polluted neighborhoods. These fights for environmental justice, human rights and dignity, are everywhere—from Maryland to Minnesota, Washington to Massachusetts—and together they make up the rallying cry for climate action that puts people and planet over profit. 

"Time might not be on our side but momentum most definitely is."

Over the last few months, I’ve been travelling around the United States as the North America Director of 350.org to meet with volunteer organizers working together to stop the climate crisis. All of them worked to support youth in organizing climate strikes in their local communities. I was reminded that as we gather in the millions, demands for climate action come from the very local impacts of environmental and climate injustice in peoples’ daily lives. I live in Baltimore, Maryland, where I’ve helped lead fights to stop trash incinerators that are polluting low income communities of color. In my local community, we worked to stop the Cove Point LNG Terminal, an offshore liquid natural gas shipping terminal, that poses many environmental and health risks. When the Atlantic Coast Pipeline was proposed through Maryland, we stood up against that too, stopping it from being built and demanding a halt to all new fossil fuel infrastructure. In the aftermath of the largest climate mobilization in the world, my hope is that these local fights continue to gain traction in this historic moment to stop business as usual to address the climate crisis. 

The September 20th global climate strikes was the slingshot into a week of continued momentum across the U.S. in towns and cities everywhere. Last Monday, thousands of people #ShutDownDC in a continuation of calls to act swiftly on climate and put people over profit. On Tuesday, an indigenous-led group, Protectors of the Salish Sea, started a 46-mile walk from the Tacoma LNG plant to the Olympia State Capitol. The protestors are refusing to leave the legislative building until Governor Inlee meets their demands.

On Wednesday, climate protests blocked streets in San Francisco’s financial district demanding that financial institutions and government agencies divest from fossil fuels and invest in real climate action. 

It doesn’t end there. On Thursday, activists in Denver protested the Suncor Oil Refinery, the biggest polluter in Colorado and in Boston, local activists are rallying against environmental injustices faced by communities in East Boston by a proposed electrical substation. On Friday in Portland, activists demanded an end to the existing and enhanced pollution from the tar sands crude import and storage facility Zenith Energy.

And over the weekend in New Hampshire, communities are storming the last remaining coal powered plant in Bow, New Hampshire, while in Minnesota, hundreds from across the Midwest gathered with Indigenous Tribes on the shores of Gichi-gami (Lake Superior), to defy the status quo of the proposed Enbridge Line 3 tar sands pipeline that cuts through Indigenous lands. In a major win for Minnesota activists, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency last Friday denied a key permit required to build the proposed Line 3 pipeline.

These actions show that the work is everywhere, with clear targets from the fossil fuel industry to financial institutions to local government. Communities are applying national demands put together by youth ahead of the U.S. strikes to the local level, and they are applying pressure until we win. 

"Our leaders should look towards these local fights as examples of the world that people are striving to build, whether they go back to the negotiation rooms of the UN, reassess  presidential climate plans, or in the everyday offices of mayors and governors."

Time might not be on our side but momentum most definitely is. Presidential candidates are racing to create bold plans, spurred by the groundwork that activists in communities have laid for decades. CNN hosted a day long climate special to dig into those plans. The national and global conversation has moved away from whether “climate change is real” to recognizing the scale of response needed. The word is out--transformation is necessary to ensure our survival on the planet and time is up for the industries responsible for the crisis. Now is the time for tangible plans to phase our infrastructure off of fossil fuels and transition to 100% clean renewables with planned interventions that center economic and climate justice at the heart of what we build next. If we get it right, we can create millions of jobs in new and sustainable work. 

Our leaders should look towards these local fights as examples of the world that people are striving to build, whether they go back to the negotiation rooms of the UN, reassess  presidential climate plans, or in the everyday offices of mayors and governors. The fight to protect ourselves from fossil fuel extraction and climate injustice is personal and lives at home. The momentum we’ve achieved is a signal to sustain local fights against fossil fuel infrastructure, and for breathable air and clean water—all which make up the global movement for climate action. 

This is only a sliver of what multigenerational and multiracial action can yield: our human right to realize a good quality of life, and to live free of pollution and health compromising infrastructure. We demand the right to a future.

Tamara Toles O'Laughlin

Tamara Toles O'Laughlin

Tamara Toles O'Laughlin is the North America Director of 350.org.

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