SEPTEMBER 17, 2023 – CLIMATE RALLY SEATTLE
Thank you Renaissance, sisters, brothers, siblings, friends – thank you for being here today. Your being here and millions like you around the world over the past couple of days gives me hope.
I was beginning to feel too many folks had skipped over the WTF moment, going from climate is not a problem to despair or complacency. There is no time for complacency or despair If we are to save our communities and the planet. You are the leaders and organizers for climate justice in Seattle. Give yourselves a hand and then keep organizing.
My name is Jeff Johnson and I’ve been a labor activist most of my life. I currently serve as the Chair of the Board of the Labor Network for Sustainability, a national organization working at the juncture of labor and environmental justice.
I am very proud of LNS’s staff who has convened a labor hub, recruiting unions for the NYC climate march and rally. I am proud to say that my home union, United University Professions, Local 2190 of the AFT is marching today.
One of the highlights of my labor work was being part of the labor delegation to the 2015 Paris Climate Accords. This re-opened my eyes.
What became crystal clear is market greed and stunning corporate and political hubris brought us to this existential moment. And what’s worse is that for 50 plus years they knew about this existential threat and did nothing.
In 1971, a professor of mine in Washington, DC invited an analyst from the State Department/Pentagon to speak to our political science class. She spoke about climate predictions they had done about the planet’s warming and projected the possibility of climate upheaval causing food and water shortages and forced migration, which posed global geo-political and military risks.
As a 20 -year-old navigating the anti-war, civil rights, and women’s movements, I didn’t quite know what to make of this. As a 72 -year-old I know exactly what to make of this.
Corporate and political leaders have known about this existential crisis for more than 50 years and they have doubled and tripled down on fossil fuel use making life ever more fragile, creating and normalizing staggering inequality, and forcing communities of color, indigenous folks, and the working class to pay the price.
In Paris a number of things became clear: the ambitions (carbon reduction pledges) by nations were far too low. And there were no accountability measures built in to achieve the goal of temperatures rising no greater than 1.5 -2.0 C.
Eight years later and climate disasters have exponentially accelerated and human and species suffering has compounded dramatically.
So “Keeping fossil fuels in the ground” is not just an aspirational goal, it is a must, it is mandatory, if we are to forestall and reverse species extinction.
And by leaving it in the ground, I don’t mean capturing carbon and putting it in the ground. This is just more hubris and denialism.
Keeping fossil fuels in the ground is not going to be easy. Since 2015 governments have subsidized fossil fuel production by over $ 40 trillion and banks and private equity firms have doubled down on fossil fuels
At the Paris talks a French transit union leader named Clara said, “If the planet were a bank, we would have already saved it.”
Never were more profound words spoken: reversing climate change, building a clean renewable energy system, and eliminating massive inequality are not about inadequate finances. There is plenty of money, but saving the planet ironically just isn’t part of the corporate plan.
Also, not part of the corporate plan is allowing workers, communities of color, Indigenous people, students, environmentalists, and seniors having a say in how we should build a just, equitable, and sustainable world.
So, it is not a surprise that you won’t find the words “Just Transition” or “quality jobs” anywhere in the main text of the 2015 Paris Climate Accord.
But this is what the struggle is about – it’s about creating a “just, equitable, and sustainable economy and planet.”
Imagine for a moment what the world would look like if a broad coalition of climate justice advocates were in charge of creating this outcome. There would be:
Targeted investments in clean energy, starting where the need was greatest
Deep dive energy retrofits in all public buildings, followed by private buildings, creating lifetime jobs and lowering carbon footprints
Building truly affordable zero carbon housing
Massive investments in resiliency efforts for clean air, water, forest and farmland – A Civil Conservation Corps on steroids
Community wind and solar with local hire
clean electric transportation systems
and all of this, and more, built with union labor and with high labor standards
This would be a world of massive job creation, climate change reversal, and a significant narrowing of inequality.
To get there, to transition to a truly just, equitable, and sustainable world we will need an economic and social paradigm shift.
We will need to invest based on compassion and meeting fundamental human needs and less on profit margins and market indicators.
We will need to make room in our hearts and our communities for the ever- increasing millions of climate refugees that we will see over the decades to come. And we must fight the nativist and reactionary political response this immigration crisis has already created and is likely to grow.
Finally, we need to build power to make these economic and social shifts.
And it starts here:
With a united front of environmental justice, Communities of Color, labor, indigenous, youth, student environmental, and senior organizations demanding a plan to rapidly stop the use of fossil fuel production; end fossil fuel subsidies; and to democratize the creation and building of a “Just, Equitable and Sustainable planet.”
This is no time for small changes. Thank you.