Climate change is perhaps the most dire threat facing humanity to date, which is why it is imperative that we take real, substantial action. Simply raising awareness is not enough — true political change is necessary.
Given the gravity of the threat of global warming, up to 40,000 protesters gathered in downtown San Francisco to protest political inaction on Friday, Sept. 20. Organizers from the group Youth vs Apocalypse, which was supported by the group 350 Bay Area, lead the action in San Francisco.
The Climate Strike was part of a worldwide action that included 130 countries and was hailed as a victory by organizers.
Yet it is important to recognize that this one Climate Strike is but the first step in a long but necessary process. To declare the strike a complete victory is to ignore the dire situation we are in now and the necessary action that must be taken.
This march was a precursor to a UN summit on climate change, encouraging governments to take action – action which is undoubtedly necessary. According to the 2018 UN International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, human activities have already caused a 1°C increase in global temperatures above pre-industrial levels and temperature rise is expected to reach 1.5°C by some point between 2032 and 2050.
While the IPCC report estimates reaching net zero CO2 emissions and declining emissions of non-CO2 greenhouse gasses would halt global warming on the scale we are seeing now, it is also important to recognize the dangers of allowing increases in global warming. Increasing intensity and frequency of extreme weather has already been observed in correlation with global warming and this is only the beginning. The report further estimates that as temperatures increase, so do the risks associated with them, stating that consequences for a 2°C increase in temperature would be greater than those of a 1.5°C increase, which is why it is imperative that we act now.
It is abundantly clear that action on climate change must therefore be taken. Protests such as the one on Sept. 20 are one method of such action, but they cannot exist alone.
Organizers of the strike realized this and thus had specific goals in mind. Corporations Amazon BlackRock and Bank of America were targeted for their connections with businesses that contribute to climate change (Amazon was also targeted for poor worker treatment and collaboration with ICE), while PG&E was targeted for using non-renewable energies. Federal legislators Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) were further targeted for their lack of support for the Green New Deal, proposed legislation for massive investment in green technology which organizers supported.
While these are reasonable targets — they all are in positions of power, whether those are political or financial, and all targets do have the ability to influence climate change with that power — it is important to realize that this march has not resulted in any of these changes coming to pass yet. While this march has perhaps brought climate change more into the public spotlight for a few days, it cannot be considered a true victory.
The fact of the matter is that, at this point, simply raising awareness about climate change is not enough. The magnitude of the climate crisis before us requires more immediate concrete action.
Does that mean we should not protest and exercise our First Amendment rights to freedom of assembly or petition government? Of course not — it simply means that we must do more than an occasional protest. Only through constant political pressure can we make the radical change necessary to combat the climate crisis.
In the context of protests this looks like not just one protest, but many, ensuring that the issue of climate change is in the center of discussions. Further protests against climate change must also be disruptive — they must exist in such a way that they cannot be ignored. While this was somewhat accomplished due to the scale of the march on Friday, it can also come from civil disobedience, a tried and tested strategy of political advocacy.
These political actions must result in fundamental changes to the global economy. The goal has clearly been defined by the aforementioned IPCC report: it is essential that we meet a net zero emissions goal.
This requires government investment in renewable energy and regulation of corporations. This means limiting greenhouse gas emissions, using sustainable farming methods that aid carbon sequestration efforts and also addressing the effects of the climate crisis.
Communities around the world are already feeling the effects of rising sea levels, increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather, and ecosystem loss. The world’s solutions to climate change cannot ignore these people — we must also mitigate the damages that our world has already and will undoubtedly suffer due to global warming.
Policy proposals such as the Green New Deal encompass the essence of these ideas. This resolution, proposed by Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), sets out a loose plan for addressing climate change by meeting the goal of net zero emissions while promoting high-wage jobs.
Beyond advocating for real changes in our governments, we can have a personal impact on climate change, although far less of one than a government. This can come from the power of people as consumers. If possible, buying sustainable products or simply buying or using less of non-sustainable goods can reduce personal impact and perhaps, on a large scale, convince corporations to be more mindful of the environment around them.
In any case, we must be willing to continue advocacy to address what is perhaps the greatest threat to humanity of our era. We cannot declare a false victory and move on with our lives without creating real, substantial, change.
Featured Image (at the top of this post): Protesters gather on Jackson Street near the end of the march route. PHOTO CREDIT: Ben Alexander