The planet can’t wait

TOMORROW WILL mark Donald Trump’s first 100 days in office, an artificial milestone that the media and Trump himself denounce as meaningless–but that they can’t help themselves from spending endless time analyzing.

Meanwhile, a different clock is ticking on an infinitely more important deadline, and it’s getting a small fraction of the media coverage: The point at which the global temperature increase reaches the 2 degrees Celsius tipping point that most scientists agree will trigger an irreversible cycle pushing the world toward even more disastrous climate change.

As Marxist ecologist John Bellamy Foster explained in a recent article for Monthly Review, if temperatures in the Arctic continue to rise at their current rate, they will set off a chain of events beyond human control: polar ice that currently reflects the sun’s rays will turn into “dark ocean” that absorbs it, and the thawing tundra will release immense amounts of methane into the atmosphere.

In case you didn’t think that November 8, 2016–the day of Trump’s election–was bad enough, it was also the same day that the World Meteorological Association released a report declaring that the previous five years were the hottest ever recorded.

Even more ominously, the report stated that “2015 was also the first year in which global temperatures were more than 1 degree Celsius above the pre-industrial era.” It turns out that in the same year that the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement declared 1.5 degrees Celsius to be the upper limit of how far global warming could go, we were already more than halfway there.

As Naomi Klein makes clear in the subtitle of her best-selling book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate, we are experiencing a head-on collision between our present economic system and our future as a species.

“What our economy needs to function in a capitalist system is continuous growth and continuous depletion of resources, including finite resources,” Klein said in an interview with the Indypendent. “What our planet needs in order to avoid catastrophic warming and other dangerous tipping points is for humans to contract our use of material resources.”

That interview was from three years ago, when the problem we faced was that Barack Obama’s environmental reforms weren’t nearly enough to halt the advance of climate change. Now the problem has grown even worse: we have a climate change denialist president who’s out to reverse even those insufficient reforms, at a time when the planet can’t afford to go backward.

As environmental activist and author Ashley Dawson wrote in the days after the election, “It is no exaggeration to say that Donald Trump is set to become the most destructive force in humanity’s history.”

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THE SCALE of the problem of climate change can seem overwhelming, but it’s important to remember that there have been important victories for our side, most notably the blocking the completion of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipelines (DAPL).

Trump has reversed both of these rulings (although it remains unclear if the Keystone XL will ever be completed), but these struggles have given momentum and exposure to fights against pipeline construction across the country, from Texas to New Jersey.

They’ve also shown new ways of building solidarity and connecting the fight for the planet with the struggle for Native sovereignty. The “Cowboy-Indian alliance” that united Native communities, ranchers and farmers was a key part of the fight against Keystone XL, and the historic connections forged between the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the thousands of military veterans who came to help defend the water protectors inspired millions.

The fights against these pipelines and the rest of Trump’s agenda of increased fossil fuel extraction is too urgent to wait until the next presidential election–even if you believe that whatever opponent the Democrats put up against him could be counted on to reverse climate change, which we shouldn’t. Every year of not making progress–or going backward–takes us closer to the 2 degree Celsius countdown.

The Marches for Science last weekend and the People’s Climate March on April 29 are important steps in building the fight.

The urgency is not only to stop the construction of more pipelines and the extraction of more oil, coal and gas, but to win millions of people to the idea that we need a system change in order to end the threat of climate change.

Many people are open to that argument, but don’t see how we can get there. That’s an understandable question, but here’s one way to look at it: April 29 is the Climate March. Two days later on May 1, hundreds of thousands of will protest on May Day for the rights of workers and immigrants.

The demands of these two struggles and movements are intimately connected, and the prospects for success in each are enormously improved if we can build solidarity and unity around a struggle for system change with the power to shut down capitalism. We should look for every opportunity to take a step in that direction, starting this weekend.

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On Sept 19, 2023 ahead of the Climate Ambition Summit in New York City, climate activists gathered for a rally and civil disobedience outside Bank of America Tower in Midtown Manhattan as part of the March to End Fossil Fuels wave of actions resulting in multiple arrests. Activists demand Bank of America to “Defund Climate Chaos and Defend Human Rights” Photo: Erik McGregor (CC BY-NC 2.0 Deed)

Let’s Save Each Other

Let’s Save Each Other

Illustration by Stephanie McMillan. Used with permission