By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 28 2017 (IPS)
People around the world will be banding together to fight one of the world’s most pressing problems: climate change.
Thousands are set to gather at the People’s Climate March in Washington, D.C. on 29 April to mark the 100th day of President Donald Trump’s administration and push for solutions to the climate crisis.
“The climate crisis has gotten so bad globally that we need much bolder and faster policy changes to really try and address that,” the coordinator of the People’s Climate Movement New York Leslie Cagan told IPS.
A group have scientists recently found that CO2 is being released into the atmosphere at much faster rates and in a shorter period, and that even a two degree Celsius rise of the average temperature will have disastrous effects on the climate.
“We’re really against a ticking clock,” Cagan said.
Cagan was one of the co-coordinators of the 2014 People’s Climate March. However, new challenges have arisen since then.
“This march has the added challenge of having an administration that doesn’t believe in climate change,” Executive Director of UPROSE and member of the Climate Justice Alliance steering committee Elizabeth Yeampierre told IPS.
Among those in the U.S. government that are skeptical of climate change is former Exxon Mobil CEO and now Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Scott Pruitt, and Attorney-General Jeff Sessions.
This has led not only to threats to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement and cut funds to the EPA, but the U.S. government has already taken steps to dismantle environmental protections including slashing the Clean Power Plan and approving fossil fuel-related projects such as the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.
Though dubbed the “People’s Climate March,” the march is in fact for climate, jobs, and justice, intersections that are crucial in order to create a sustainable future.
“We don’t want to and can’t isolate the climate issue from the other pressing issues…part of the reason why the globe is experiencing this extreme climate crisis has to do with the kind of economic structures and dynamics that have been played out for many years,” Cagan told IPS.
Indigenous Environmental Network’s (IEN) Extreme Energy and Just Transition Campaign Organiser Kandi Mossett echoed similar sentiments to IPS, stating the argument against climate action often used is that it takes away jobs.
“The point is that we are not against jobs at all, we are against the type of jobs that are poisoning and killing the planet and the people in those jobs,” she said.
In order to move away from fossil fuels to a green economy, activists are advocating for a “just transition,” a framework which helps transition workers currently employed by the fossil fuel industry to jobs created by renewable energy sources.
The Department of Energy (DOE) estimates approximately 3 million Americans are directly employed by the fossil fuel industry while the American Petroleum Institute estimated 9.8 million full-time and part-time jobs in the country’s oil and natural gas industry.
Fracking wells are often located in poor, rural communities including Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale region, which are are reliant on the jobs they provide. Workers in such communities therefore need resources such as access to training in order to transition into green jobs.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People also found that all 378 coal plants are located near poor and minority communities, exposing residents to high levels of toxins.
“[Communities of color] shouldn’t have to say, ‘well the only job I can take is a job that is going to affect my health and the health of my family. The option of having a job that is renewable and that honors mother earth and our health should exist, and the technology exists to do it,” said Yeampierre told IPS.
According to the Sierra Club, the number of clean energy jobs already outnumbers all fossil fuel jobs in the U.S. by more than 2.5 to 1, and coal and gas jobs by 5 to 1. This shift to renewable energy is only expected to grow.
However, the fossil fuel industry has been resisting the transition with just five fossil fuel companies spending over 115 million dollars per year to oppose climate action.
“[Fossil fuel companies] control the destiny of literally billions on the planet,” said Cagan.
These issues are not unique to the U.S. From Nigerian residents suffering from oil pollution of the Niger River Delta to coal miners in the second largest coal producing country India, the fossil fuel industry and its impacts are felt in virtually every corner of the world.
Mossett noted that even U.S. pollution is not static and that we are all being impacted regardless of where it occurs.
“Our future is connected, their struggle is our struggle,” said Yeampierre, noting that the climate movement is aligned with the Global South.
However, since the U.S. is among the top contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, efforts to combat global climate change may be undermined.
Cagan noted that the movement will only succeed if the links between climate, justice, and jobs are made.
“Now is the time for those movements to work together into one more unified movement. We need to find ways to work with each other and at times to literally march together,” she told IPS.
Yeampierre similarly stressed the importance of this new vision, stating that a different kind of leadership and unity that is built on just relationships is essential. Mossett told IPS that the march allows people to show such solidarity and strength to President Trump.
However, though such mass movements are important, it does not solve the problem, the organisers said.
“We hope very much is that the march will be inspiring and powerful enough that people are reenergized to keep doing the work when they go back home. It’s the long term struggle that makes the difference,” said Cagan.
Beyond the necessity to move away from fossil fuels, she highlighted the need to encourage and strengthen work at the local level which, once added up, could create a different national picture.
Yeampierre noted that solutions must be designed based on context and in order to do so, local communities must be meaningfully engaged.
“If we don’t all collectively learn that we need to fight together, then we are all collectively going to die together. There is no escaping that,” Mossett said.
Over 300 sister marches on climate, justice, and jobs have been planned across the world.