By Bobby Righi
One day last week, a friend visiting from out of the state asked me, “I know that lots of people are concerned about the environment and climate change, but what about concern for people? “ This is a person who works on issues of food and is very concerned with social justice. That she would see the fight against climate change as a side issue was a shock.
For many of us, the pain of climate change seems far into the future, and we here in the Northwest are enjoying the sunny summer, though such a summer should be a kind of warning. Of course, if you are living near a coal plant or in the Duwamish Valley and you often have to race your children to the hospital as they struggle for a breath because of dirty air, you are not so removed from climate change’s threat.
A recent article by Rebecca Solnit called “Climate Change Is Violence” derides some scientists and the U. S. security apparatus as they predict that climate change will cause more social unrest and war. The authorities are just worried about the poor “behaving badly,” she says. But people should rebel when faced with unbearable and oppressive conditions. Rebecca Solnit points out that the real violence is climate change itself.
There are widespread and massive droughts and loss of food crops causing famine. Distribution systems that normally starve the poor are even worse when food gets scarce. We have all watched the films of massive hurricanes and storms that flood, and wipe out communities, killing hundreds.
This summer effective temperatures in some areas of Iran and Iraq reached highs of 150 degrees! In Karachi, Pakistan, over 1,000 impoverished workers died in the streets. Every day in China over 4,000 people die as a result of breathing polluted air from coal-fired power plants.
In the Northwest, there are now 160 forest fires burning, and three fire fighters just died in one of these fires near Twisp. In low-lying coastal areas like Louisiana, Florida, and Bangladesh, and in fact, the whole eastern seaboard of the U.S., farm land is being inundated by higher and higher tides, driving people away and into deeper poverty. Oceans are acidifying and species are disappearing.
Deaths, desperation, and disappearances. And it is all happening NOW, not sometime in the future. These are not “acts of God.” Climate change is anthropogenic — caused by human beings — and by some humans much more than others.
The top perpetrators are those who profit from the use of fossil fuel and who wage powerful fights to keep any regulation off the books. The oil, gas, and coal companies have huge reserves that they are determined to dig up and burn — to hell with the rest of us. They will not suffer; they will have their islands of comfort protected by their own military.
But we can stop this. The fossils must stay in the ground where they have been for millions of years. We cannot afford to keep burning them. Scientists say that we could now transition to renewable energy. We just need to do it.
We have to work together to force our governments to quit subsidizing the energy companies and start subsidizing job training programs for a new fossil-free economy. The first to benefit should be the people who lose their jobs as fossil fuels are phased out and the front line communities who, as we can see, bear the brunt of pollution and climate change devastation.
All of this has to be done at once – demand jobs and a safety net and also an end to support for fossil fuels. Hard to do, but we are the working class and that is what we do – hard work. Things are only going to get more and more violent if we don’t.
On Wednesday, October 14 there will be events around the world and across Washington State to demand results from leaders in Paris at the U N Climate Change Conference in December. Here in Seattle, a coalition of unions, community groups, schools, and environmental organizations are planning a day of creative events and demonstrations culminating in one large gathering in the evening.
Save the date. Details will be published in the next Advocate.
Bobby Righi serves on PSARA’s Executive Board and is a member of the PSARA Environmental Committee.