Image by Kent Buckley
On Saturday, one important global process ended and another began. The process that ended manifested in the form of the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference. The process that began—or more correctly, accelerated—manifested in cities all over the world. Here in Boston, it took the form of Jobs, Justice and Climate—a rally and march to “defend New England’s future.”
Over 2,000 people attended the action last Saturday. A fine turnout by current standards, and the largest regional climate justice rally in recent memory. The organizers—representing a coalition of nearly 150 labor, social justice and environmental organizations —are to be commended. As are their 600,000-plus colleagues across the globe. Including the Paris climate activists who have been harassed and detained by the French security state in the aftermath of the tragic November 13 attacks by supporters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. As if people exercising their democratic rights to take to the street to stop capitalism from destroying the planet have anything in common with people who slaughtered dozens to push Western states into precisely that sort of undemocratic reaction.
The UN-brokered climate justice process launched at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro ended in failure. The so-called Paris Agreement that 195 participating countries negotiated this month at best still leaves the door open to the possibility of a real climate pact in the future, and at worst is just an empty PR move by powerful nations and multinational corporations intent on continuing their carbon-burning business as usual at any cost. Built, as it is, on non-binding voluntary commitments without real enforcement mechanisms.
If there is ever to be a real pact to stop global warming, it will only come about if the grassroots democratic process—which started years before the 1992 Earth Summit—makes it happen. That process must take center stage now, and should only finish when its activists come home “with their shields or on them”—to paraphrase an old saying attributed to ancient Spartan women by Plutarch.
That is a tall order to be sure.
Here in New England, in addition to the work by a growing number of climate justice organizations and institutions that goes on day-to-day—collecting solid climate research, conducting popular education, training new activists, reaching out through the media, pressuring climate criminals and lobbying the government at all levels—there must be a constant and ever-larger series of public political actions to demand the swift transition to a carbon-free economy before it’s too late.
It’s important to keep the scale of the task in mind. There were over 14,000,000 people in New England in 2010. There are more now. There will be more still every year until at least mid-century—assuming food supplies remain stable, which we cannot assume as the impact of global warming worsens. A significant percentage of those people need to be mobilized and kept mobilized for years if there is to be a climate justice movement strong enough to overcome the vast panoply of money and political power arrayed against it. Those growing numbers must then be deployed to push through binding local, state, and regional climate agreements that pave the way for binding national and global climate agreements.
So, a rally of 2,000 is great. But let’s put that in perspective. One can see 2,000 people at the average high school football game. Or at a large religious service. Or at a large nightclub. It’s just not a very large gathering by the standards of our era. Even if each of those 2,000 people directly influenced 10 people to become (or remain) activists—no mean feat—that’s only 20,000 people. Not an unreasonable figure considering the many organizations endorsing the Boston rally. But not enough to fill Fenway Park either. Let alone Gillette Stadium. It’s true that those 2,000 rally attendees influenced many more through the press coverage they got for the rally. And that 20,000 people can influence many many more with available digital media. But spreading ideas does not automatically impel people to act with the necessary speed, frequency and force to forestall the climate disaster that even now—in this hottest year on record—is starting to take hold as science predicted.
Political organizing is tough work … until it isn’t. Until a movement that dwarfs anything ever seen in human history rises and sweeps through the entire population. Getting to the point where organizing isn’t tough is very difficult indeed. And it’s impossible to predict the arrival of such a mass movement. It will either happen or it won’t. There’s no telling when. Making it all the more important that today’s environmental activists think really really big going forward.
New England is only one small region of the United States with less than 5 percent of its population. And the US has less than 5 percent of the world’s population. But much of its political and economic power. Therefore, the work that climate activists do in this region and nation today is potentially more effective than work their counterparts do outside such centers of power. That is cause for hope. And it should encourage activists in Boston and around our region to redouble their efforts towards a future where New England—and the world—will no longer have to be defended against global warming. Because global warming will have been stopped by human action. As it was started by human action.
Maybe then humanity will be able to survive to the next stage of our evolution … a global civilization built on principles of democracy, equality, social justice, peace, and ecology. Ad astra per aspera. Through hardship to the stars.
It is that vision that has kept me politically active since the 1980s. Perhaps it will inspire some of you, too. If fellow climate justice activists would like to talk in more depth about the issues I’m raising here, I can be reached—as ever—at [email protected]
Apparent Horizon is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s network director. He is a longtime climate justice activist.
Copyright 2015 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.