by Lindsay Meiman
2016 marked the hottest year on record, surpassing the previous title-holder of 2015, and 2014 before that. Communities around the world are already confronting climate impacts—from one in a thousand year floods and devastating droughts, to food shortages and civil conflicts—all occurring at a pace and magnitude far exceeding predictions.
As low-income communities, workers, and communities of color bear the brunt of the climate crisis they did the least to contribute to, fossil fuel companies use their influence to deceive the public into thinking there is no alternative, exploiting people and planet all in the name of profit.
As far back as the 1970s, Exxon knew about climate change. Instead of warning the public and shifting to a clean energy economy, the corporation raised the height of its offshore drilling rigs and embarked on a decades-long, and ongoing, campaign to sow doubt and misinformation about climate change amongst the public. Big Oil’s doubt campaign seems to mirror what we saw from Big Tobacco, but investigative reports found they had been sharing strategies for decades—and that the tobacco industry actually learned from the oil industry.
The fossil fuel industry has long wielded an inappropriate influence over our democracy and economy. The only difference now, under the Trump administration, is that the fossil fuel industry actually is our government. With former Exxon-Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson our Secretary of State, and industry puppet Scott Pruitt heading the EPA, Big Oil’s capture of our democracy is clearer than ever.
At the 21st Conference of Parties in December 2015, over 190 nations negotiated the Paris climate agreement, representing the first time world governments agreed that climate change is a present danger and they should actually do something about it. The agreement officially entered into force on November 4, 2016, just four days before the election of Donald Trump.
The Trump administration is already rolling back hard-won protections of people and planet, demonstrating the US as isolated in ignoring our global climate commitments. And by propping up the fossil fuel industry instead of transitioning to renewable energy, the Trump administration is leaving the US lagging behind other nations.
But there’s good news:there are millions of people rising up in resistance to Trump’s climate denial and community attacks. Climate justice is at the center of the fights for racial and economic justice. Our fights are tied together, and only together we will succeed.
With young people at the forefront, the campaign to divest universities, pension funds, museums, banks, and more from fossil fuels is now a mainstream global movement. Fossil fuel divestment forces institutions to question where they put their resources, and make a choice of whose side they are on:that of the fossil fuel industry perpetuating the climate crisis, or that of the people for which they exist. To date, more than 700 institutions representing over $5.4 trillion in assets have committed to cut ties with the fossil fuel industry.
And fights to keep fossil fuels in the ground have taken hold across the globe:from tens of thousands of people engaging in the world’s largest climate civil disobedience to break free from fossil fuels and movements protecting air and water from the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, to Turkish activists halting four coal plants, and Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf protecting public lands by issuing a moratorium on drilling in state parks and forests.
As we fight to stop the bad, so do we rise to build a brighter future. Countless communities are already building their own solutions:from Native Americans with the Black Mesa Water Coalition working to install a large-scale community-owned solar project, to Cooperation Jackson in Mississippi serving as a vehicle for sustainable community development, economic democracy, and community ownership.
Today, renewable energy is more efficient, competitive and cheaper than fossil fuels. In 2016, the solar industry employed more people than the coal, oil and gas industries combined. The transition to a 100% clean energy economy is happening: it’s up to all of us to make sure it’s a just one.
We must not remain satisfied with the status quo. We must not allow Big Oil and its political allies to burn our planet for profit. We must channel our anger and rage into hope and resolve to build a world that works for all of us. We must push our institutions—especially at the state and local level—to take bold action to build the fair and sustainable economy.
To change everything, we need everyone. That’s why the movements that brought over 400,000 people to the streets of New York City for the 2014 People’s Climate March are bringing the fight for climate, jobs and justice to Washington, DC on April 29, 2017. We will resist the systems that attempt to divide us, build an economy that works for all of us, and rise united with justice for all.
by Lindsay Meiman
Lindsay received her degree in Economics and Environmental Studies from Lehigh University in 2014, and now works for climate justice as U.S. Communications Coordinator for 350.org, an international organization building a global climate movement.