Hot and Dangerous – Climate Justice and You
By John Nathaniel Gertler
Article originally published in The Plant's October 2020 Issue
Liberation School. 2016
These days, turning on your phone and opening Facebook or Instagram can be scary. Over the past few months, many of us have gained awareness of a host of issues -- blatant racism, brutality, and corruption within police forces and governments, the loss of two thirds of the world’s wildlife in the past 50 years, the forcible construction of pipelines on stolen Indigenous land, wildfires engulfing the west coast of our continent, to name only a few such events -- all during a global pandemic.
We can look at these conflicts and allow them to paralyze us, or choose to see them as a catalyst for action. I’m hoping we choose the latter.
Despite the overwhelming current events, our education does not reflect the urgency of these realities at all. When I log into Zoom for class, it’s to learn about supply and demand curves, Nietzsche’s theory of consciousness, or what I should pack in my bag for a day hike. What’s the point of learning what to pack for a hike when the forests are burning? During a time when we want to create change, having our noses in textbooks feels disconnected and distant from what’s going on around the globe. It feels wrong.
For many of us, this is not the first time that we have had the desire to act, either. It’s been over a year now since half a million of us marched through Montreal, demanding that people in positions of power listen to science and act on the climate crisis. Since then, very little has changed. Decision makers heard the millions around the world, but systematically ignored us to continue deepening their pockets.
But those decision makers are the ones that need to hear us if we want a fighting chance. Did you know that one hundred of the biggest companies in the world account for more that 70% of global greenhouse gas emissions? It’s up to us to pressure these corporations and the governments that oversee their activities. The solutions are there, the money is there. What’s missing is the will.
The coronavirus pandemic has shown us what large-scale, rapid action can look like when will and urgency are present. We need that same large-scale action in addressing the climate crisis. Just because one big day of protest was ignored does not mean that we should surrender.
Historically, every great social victory resulted from years and years of struggle. Last September’s protest was one step in our fight for climate justice. We must build from that momentum, like past social movements did. Women didn’t gain the right to vote after one protest, and civil rights for African Americans didn’t just appear after one march led by MLK. Change isn’t easy or comfortable -- oftentimes not even very popular -- but it couldn’t be any more important.
It’s crystal clear that the climate crisis is not some just an issue for future generations. The climate crisis is very much here, and already impacting the hardest those who contributed to it the least. However, it will not do any good if we react to this emergency with helplessness and inaction.
So, what can you do about it? Well, if there was ever a time to use your privilege, your voice, and whatever skills you might have, it’s now. If you have ever considered getting more involved, now is the time to do it. Find a local group at school, at work, or in your community, and ask an activist friend where to start and how to, support, organize, and educate.
Our focus cannot be on less plastic straws, recycling, thrifting clothes, biking, or meat consumption. Yes, they are important, but what we need right now is to push for urgent climate action that addresses those issues on a systematic level -- not one that blames the individual. This means climate action that amplifies BIPOC voices, that fights for Indigenous sovereignty, and that acknowledges that it’s the marginalized communities being hit hardest.
There are simply too few of us pushing for change. We need every one of you. Now is the time to raise your voice and get your hands dirty.