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We are living in a state of planetary emergency. To have a chance of averting the collapse of civilization and the destruction of the natural world, we must mobilize our society on the scale of World War II to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions [1] at wartime speed. The fact that we have already heated the world to such dangerous levels and show little sign of stopping, is evidence of widespread institutional failure. We cannot expect anyone else to save us. We must organize to save ourselves.

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The Mainstream Environmental Movement: Avoiding Climate Truth

The aforementioned truth—while daunting and overwhelming— has the potential to be utterly transformative, for individuals and for society as a whole. Yet it has been too often soft-pedaled by environmental organizations and communicators who advocate incrementalism over boldness, vagueness over specificity and personal behavior change over systemic change. These strategies, in an attempt to be palatable and politically “realistic,” are abdicating the climate movement’s greatest strategic asset: the truth. Embracing the truth was at the heart of Gandhi’s Satyagraha campaign, the Civil Rights Movement, the Velvet Revolution and the vast majority of triumphant social movements through history.

The Emergency Climate Movement: Embracing Climate Truth

In recent months, a new, increasingly powerful segment of the climate movement has been taking shape. A coalition of those who openly recognize the existential threat of the climate crisis and advocate for a solution that is scientifically realistic and morally tenable: emergency mobilization.

San Diego Rally for Mobilization, March, 15. Photo Credit: Jerry Phelps
San Diego Rally for Mobilization, March, 15. Photo Credit: Jerry Phelps

The Climate Mobilization (TCM), a one-year old group that I founded and direct, has been a central part of this hopeful shift away from carbon gradualism—slowly reducing emissions while effectively maintaining business as usual. Philip Sutton, a member of TCM’s advisory board, puts this shift in perspective in his excellent paper, Striking Targets:

“Over those last 27 years, while all the research, activism and negotiation has been going on, the climate has actually become dangerous. So, the key goal now must be to provide, at the 11th hour, real protection for the vulnerable people, species and ecosystems of the world. The principal struggle must shift, from the clash between no action and some action, to the crucial struggle between those who want to constrain reform to levels that are not too disruptive and those who want action that will provide highly effective and timely protection.”

In other words, isolated actions such as the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan, putting a price on carbon or even policies aiming for net zero emissions by 2050, are no longer sufficient. Perhaps if we had implemented these measures 30 years ago, they would have been adequate to maintain a safe climate. But that time has passed. Only emergency action—a mobilization of our entire economy and society—will protect us now. We must stop emissions in years, not decades. It is time to align our demands and language with the truth.

In June, Reverend Lennox Yearwood, Jr. and Tom Weis, leaders in the climate movement and members of TCM’s advisory board, echoed TCM’s call for zero emissions by 2025 by writing in “America’s Zero Emissions Imperative“:

“Some will no doubt call this bold national goal unrealistic, but they would underestimate the innovative genius and social conscience of the American people. America has a long and proud history of overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds (consider World War II, Apollo program and Abolitionist movement). What is unrealistic is thinking we can put off for decades action that is desperately needed now to ensure our survival as a species.”

Tom Weis followed up on that article by writing an open letter to President Obama, calling on him to set reducing U.S. emissions to net zero by 2025—through an “all hands on deck societal mobilization at wartime speed”—as the U.S.’s commitment in the upcoming UN climate talks in Paris.

This letter is the single strongest display of public support for emergency climate mobilization that has ever been made. Signers include Lester Brown, Terry Tempest Williams, Mark Ruffalo, Ed Begley, Jr.David Suzuki, Winona LaDuke, Tim DeChristopher, Yeb Sano, Josh Fox, IPCC Coordinating Lead Author Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, the former chair of the Australian Coal Association, the founder of the Woods Hole Research Center, the founder of the Global Catholic Climate Movement, the founder of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, the former secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency and the four co-founders of The Climate Mobilization.

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