Green team is gearing up for a very important year. With the Paris UN climate talks, which will establish clear carbon emission reduction targets and ultimately determine many aspects of our future, rapidly approaching, it is clear that now is a pivotal time for climate activism. And did we mention that 2015 is set to be the hottest year in recorded history?
With all this in mind, Agnes, Isabel, and I attended an event at BAM last Thursday organized by 350.org called Off and On: The Climate Movement and the Road Through Paris. Hosted by Bill McKibben of 350.org, Naomi Klein (author of This Changes Everything), Cynthia Ong, founder of LEAP (Land Empowerment Animals People) in Borneo, and Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr., president of the Hip Hop Caucus, and featuring many other environmental activists from around the world, the multimedia presentation tackled tough issues of climate justice while encouraging increased grassroots activism leading up to the Paris talks.
The presentation emphasized the fact that we’re at the point where our crucial task is not easy, but simple. We must turn OFF the dirty fossil fuels that accelerate climate change and poison communities and turn ON energy derived from solar and wind power. Not only is this act infinitely beneficial to the environment, it is also rooted in justice (economic and social), while our current system of fossil fuel energy production sits firmly on a basis of inequality. Those who have done little to nothing to contribute to climate change are most often the ones who are affected first by its symptoms. Vanuatu, a small island in the South Pacific, was, in March of this year, hit by Cyclone Pam, a category 5 storm that damaged 90% of its housing and left the nation thoroughly bruised. We heard firsthand from 350’s Vanuatu coordinator Isso Nihmei as he described the terrible ferocity of the storm and his damaged country.
We heard from other worldwide representatives. Renuka Saroha of India, which recently surpassed China as the world’s most polluted country, stressed that Delhi, the city in which she has grown up and that she loves, is no longer a safe place to live; 1 in 6 Indians dies from the effect of air pollution. We learned about local issues of inequality from Eddie Bautista, executive director of the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance; 75% of NYC’s solid waste is handled in just 4 communities, and death rates in the Bronx from asthma are 3 times higher than the national average. But we also saw resilience in images and video of climate activist groups and rallies from around the world.
It is clear that a lot of work still needs to be done. But, on Thursday night, there was also a sense of hope, a sense that, given the incredible strength and support of hundreds of thousands so far who have taken a stand against dirty energy and injustice, and the many more who will take action in the coming months, we have a chance this year to make a lasting impact on our future.