Youth-Led Climate Actions

Progressive Christian Social Action

Youth-Led Climate Campaigns

I often walk along a canal in the woods near my home.  One day, while walking there with my teenage granddaughters and two of their friends, our talk turned from light-hearted banter to the state of the planet.  Sixteen-year-old Darren said, “When I think of the future, it’s hard to be optimistic…  The media feeds you a lot of negativity.” We all walked silently as his words sunk in. The other kids seemed to agree with him. I agreed with him. But hope is different than optimism, so I shared a few words of comfort and hope.

While we need to take the warnings of climate scientists seriously, being stuck in powerlessness and despair doesn’t help. There are actions we can take that not only make us feel more hopeful, but that improve prospects for the future and make the world a more hopeful place.  And in many cases, young people are leading the way, making clear the extremity of our situation and showing us that we need to treat climate change as the emergency that it is.

Two months after the walk I took with the young people along the canal, several of these teens, including Darren, attended a climate change agents’ camp organized by Full Circle Learning, a locally-based international nonprofit that has worked in thirty countries to equip children and youth to become agents of change. At the camp they learned about mitigating climate change by reducing their carbon footprints, adapting to climate change by becoming resilient and helping build resilient communities, educating others, and acting in solidarity with people who are suffering immediate harm caused by climate change in vulnerable countries.

I later asked Darren how the climate change agents’ camp had impacted him. He said it had helped him in several ways. He acknowledged that the media does show some positive stories of people working to bring about change, but that “it’s more believable to be among people who are actually working for change.” He also spoke of hope: “It helped to be with people living, eating, and sleeping together while working toward the common goal of conserving the world. Sharing the same passion gives me a sense of hope and obligation to act upon that hope.” He added, “It gives me a sense of security to know we have the support of our prior generations.  It helps to know we have someone older than us backing us up.”

This is a time of global turmoil and great challenge. Young people are taking action on climate change around the world, and in many cases leading the way, but we need to back them up. Tomorrow night I will be giving a presentation at the Madelyn Helling Library on the following youth-led campaigns:

Juliana vs. the United States is an ongoing high-stakes lawsuit in which 21 young people, supported by Our Children’s Trust, are suing the federal government for violating their rights to life, liberty, and property by knowingly enacting policies that cause climate change. The lawsuit was filed in 2015 by a group of young people who claim a constitutional right to “a climate system capable of sustaining human life” and charge that the US government is violating that right through policies that promote climate change. They are calling on the court to order the federal government to enact and implement a “National Climate Recovery Plan” that would restore atmospheric levels of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) to 350 parts per million, stabilize the climate, and de-acidify the oceans. Both the Obama and Trump administrations have tried to have this case dismissed, but judges have refused to do so. The court has already ruled that the plaintiffs have “the right to a climate system capable of supporting human life,” that “air, running water, sea, and the seashore” are public trust assets, and that the government “has failed to protect them.” The court has also ruled that this case will not be about whether climate change is real or human-caused because “the science is undisputed.” Some have called this “the trial of the century.”

Fossil Fuel Divestment: The campaign to get institutions to divest from fossil fuels emerged in 2010 on US college and university campuses, with students urging their administrations to turn their investments in the fossil fuel industry into investments in clean energy and communities most impacted by climate change. In 2012, 350.org launched their Go Fossil Free Campaign, which calls on colleges, universities, cities, religious institutions, and pension funds to withdraw their investments from fossil fuel companies. To date, $11 trillion has been divested from coal, oil, and gas 350.org makes clear that climate change is a moral issue and explains that “It’s wrong to profit from wrecking the planet.” Campaigns for institutional divestment are active and growing around the world.  Colleges and universities continue to lead the way.

The Sunrise Movement is a multi-race grassroots movement of young people (ages 13 to 35) who have been training leaders and organizing locally and globally since 2017. Sunrise has been a central force in developing and lobbying for a Green New Deal. In the 2018 national election, the Sunrise Movement endorsed 30 candidates. Nineteen of them were elected. The Sunrise Movement advocated for a Democratic debate on climate change; their actions resulted in a town hall with the leading candidates.  They recently endorsed their first congressional candidate for 2020, Audrey Denny, who is running against Representative Doug La Malfa in the First Congressional District.  The Sunrise Movement website says, “We are not looking to the right or left.  We look forward. Together we will change this country and this world, sure as the sun rises each morning.”

The Last Chance Alliance is a California climate justice alliance that includes hundreds of organizations. Many of its leaders are young people whose communities are being negatively impacted by fossil fuel extraction, transport, and processing. They are calling on Governor Newsom to stop issuing oil and gas permits altogether and to institute 2500 foot-setbacks from oil and gas wells for schools and residential areas. In September 2018, “Brown’s Last Chance” demonstrations outside the Global Action Climate Summit in San Francisco focused on the same goals. These demonstrations included cooperation between indigenous people from as far away as the Amazon and young people from impacted communities, including those who live in Richmond near the Chevron refinery and in Kern County near fracking operations. They call on California’s governor and legislators to abandon false solutions and to work toward an immediate, just, and effective transition away from fossil fuels.

Extinction Rebellion Youth is a “network for everyone born after 1990.” It is aligned with the larger Extinction Rebellion Movement. “We are a generation that has never known a stable climate and that will be defined by how the world responds to the climate and ecological crisis.” They call for nonviolent direct action to amplify the voices of people calling for structural change in order to persuade governments to take strong action on climate change.

The Global Climate Strike, scheduled for September 20-27 2019, is an outgrowth of Fridays for Future, a global youth movement that was started by Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg.  Greta started going on strike from school every Friday to highlight the climate emergency.  She asks, “Why study for a future that may not be there?” Friday for Future strikes have caught on; varied actions have taken place in countries around the world. Now Greta and other climate strikers are calling for people of all ages to show support for them by participating in a Global Climate Strike. People have responded by organizing strikes, demonstrations, and other actions in 150 countries. It is expected to be the largest global climate action ever.

Young people around the world are rising to the challenges posed by climate change.  They are:

  • Educating themselves and others, acting to build resilient communities, and reaching out to those who are suffering first and worst from climate change
  • Filing court cases claiming their fundamental right to a stable climate
  • Calling on institutions to divest from fossil fuels
  • Advocating for a Green New Deal
  • Engaging in solidarity actions with young people in indigenous and other vulnerable communities
  • Calling on leaders to make systemic changes in order to create climate solutions that will really work.

Our action or our inaction will impact not only today’s children and youth, but generations into the distant future. What are we willing to do to offer our youth a hopeful future through our actions?  How well are we backing them up?

Websites Related to Youth Actions for the Climate:

Our Children’s Trust, with Juliana vs. The United States: https://www.ourchildrenstrust.org/. This website also includes the 60 Minutes program: The Climate Change Lawsuit that Could Stop the US Government from Supporting Fossil Fuels.

The Sunrise Movement:  https://www.sunrisemovement.org/

“Sunrise Movement, the Force Behind the Green New Deal, Ramps Up Plans for 2020,” in Rolling Stone:  https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-features/sunrise-movement-green-new-deal-2020-828766/

Go Fossil Free, an overview of colleges and universities that have ongoing campaigns or have divested:  https://campaigns.gofossilfree.org/efforts/fossil-fuel-divestment-colleges-universities.

Institutions divested from fossil fuels: https://gofossilfree.org/divestment/commitments/

College and University campaigns: campaigns.gofossilfree.org/efforts/fossil-fuel-divestment-colleges-universities.  Over $11 trillion divested: https://www.commondreams.org/news/2019/09/09/people-power-winning-fossil-fuel-divestment-movement-celebrates-11-trillion

Last Chance Alliance: https://lastchancealliance.org/

Read the stories of impacted communities:  https://lastchancealliance.org/stories/

Extinction Rebellion Youth: https://www.xryouth.org/about

Global Climate Strike: https://globalclimatestrike.net/

Fridays for Future: https://www.fridaysforfuture.org/

Naomi Klein interviews Greta Thunberg, with presentations by other youth, including plaintiffs in the lawsuit:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vw58ckJdDmI&fbclid=IwAR2f-9I9p7R2pNI477YnXXaocKI-Tn1WbIMnSYXYSeBCS0JD6Ea3zyDCv9s

“A Message from the Future” video, with Alexandria Octavio Cortez: https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=a+future%2c+AOC&&view=detail&mid=65A1D4302730C5C9935B65A1D4302730C5C9935B&&FORM=VDRVRV

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Other blog postings about climate change can be found here.  

Global Climate Strike

Progressive Christian Social Action

Global Climate Strike

In a recent article, climate leader Bill McKibben challenged adults to offer support to children and youth who face accelerating climate change by joining in upcoming Global Climate Strike actions. He asked, “On what kind of world do we expect 15-year-olds to tackle our biggest problems by themselves?”

Those of us who care, including people of faith, need to offer our support to young people who are calling for bold action on climate change. Around the world, young people are rising to this challenge with passion and dedication that elude most of us who are older and more immersed in what we consider realistic within the current social and political state of affairs. As climate-related disasters become more common, young people are exposed to the impacts and dangers of climate change. They also face other related social and environmental challenges. Few young people have the means to invest in electric cars or solar panels; many do not have the political power that comes with the vote. They know that they have not caused climate change, but that it will impact them and their descendants into the future. For these reasons, they call not only for lifestyle change but for climate justice, which will entail broad social and political change.

The Global Climate Strike, scheduled for the week of September 20 through 27, is an outgrowth of Fridays for Future, a global youth movement that was started by Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg. Greta started going on strike from school every Friday to highlight the climate crisis.   She asks, “Why study for a future that may not be there?” Friday for Future strikes have caught on; varied actions have taken place in countries around the world. Now Greta and other climate strikers are calling for people of all ages to show support by participating in a Global Climate Strike. People have responded by organizing strikes, demonstrations, and other actions in over 150 countries. It is expected to be the largest coordinated global climate action ever. Over 500 actions are scheduled in the United States alone. To find an action near you, go to https://strikewithus.org/ or https://globalclimatestrike.net/.

According to globalclimatestrike.net, “Our only hope of achieving the sweeping transformation we need to save our futures is with the power of a mass movement.” Fortunately, the climate justice movement continues to grow and gain momentum, illustrated by the words on a banner at a climate march, “The seas are rising and so are we.”

The Global Climate Strike is one example of young people acting to secure their future by highlighting the fact that we are in a climate emergency. But this can’t be their task alone. They are asking for us to join them in these actions.  They are asking for our help. “Elders need to act like elders,” said Bill McKibben.  “If a kid says help, you help.”

In a speech at the 2019 World Economic Forum, Greta Thunberg said, “Adults keep saying we owe it to the young people to give them hope. But I don’t want your hope… I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act, I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if the house was on fire, because it is.” In a TED talk, Greta later clarified: “Yes, we do need hope—of course, we do. But the one thing we need more than hope is action. Once we start to act, hope is everywhere. So instead of looking for hope, look for action. Then, and only then, hope will come.”

In this time of great suffering and danger, when many feel disheartened and powerlessness, Greta urges us to take action.  In the words of Joan Baez, “Action is the antidote for despair.”

 

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Sharon’s other blog postings about climate change can be found here.  

Climate Trial: #AllEyesOnJuliana

Progressive Christian Social Action

Climate Trial: #AllEyesOnJuliana

Tomorrow, June 4, in Portland Oregon, at 2 p.m. Pacific Time, three judges of the Ninth Circuit will hear Trump Administration lawyers who seek to stop the progress of a high-stakes trial related to climate change: Juliana vs. the United States.  The lawsuit is being brought by a group of young people who claim a constitutional right to “a climate system capable of sustaining human life” and who assert that the United States government is violating that right.  Some are calling it “the trial of the century.”

The “Juliana” in the case is Kelsey Cascadia Rose Juliana, age 23. She is the oldest of 21 young plaintiffs who are suing the federal government for violating their rights to life, liberty, and property by knowingly enacting policies that cause climate change.  Kelsey says, “I believe that climate change is the most pressing issue my generation will ever face, indeed, that the world will ever face.  This is an environmental issue and a human rights issue.”

The Trump Administration has tried to get this trial dismissed since it was initiated in 2015.  Each time, the judges have ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, who claim that the United States government is violating their constitutional rights to a stable climate and a habitable planet.  The lawsuit is being supported by Our Children’s Trust.

The Ninth Circuit will livestream the hearing. The Juliana plaintiffs have created a website to sign up for livestream info and to spread the word.  They hope with this hearing to “make history and have this be the most watched Ninth Circuit oral argument ever.” Find out more here: www.youthvgov.org/alleyesonjuliana.

The plaintiffs in Juliana vs. The United States know they face a hard future.  Levi Dranheim is eleven years old.  He is the youngest of the plaintiffs.  He lives on a barrier reef off the coast of Florida that is thirteen feet above sea level.  He knows that if sea levels continue to rise his island home will disappear.

Xiuhtezcatl (Shu TEZ caht), age eighteen, is another plaintiff. He was raised in the Aztec tradition.  He’s a hip hop artist and youth director of Youth Guardians, another organization that is supporting the case.  He says, “Climate change is the defining issue of our time.”

What do the plaintiffs hope to accomplish through this lawsuit and what are they demanding?  They are calling on the court to order the federal government to enact and implement a “National Climate Recovery Plan” that would restore atmospheric levels of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) to 350 parts per million, stabilize the climate, and de-acidify the oceans.

Could this court case actually have a positive impact, like Brown vs. the Board of Education did in the area of race relations?  This case is showing promising signs. The court has already ruled that the plaintiffs have “the right to a climate system capable of supporting human life,” that “air, running water, sea, and the seashore” are public trust assets, and that the government has failed to protect them.” The court has made clear that this case will not be about whether climate change is real or human-caused because “the science is undisputed.”

Friends, this is an opportunity for us to take a stand for intergenerational justice as we face the threat of climate chaos. This case may be a vehicle not only for raising public awareness but for creating a systemic change in how the Powers that be respond to the dangers of climate change. By supporting these young plaintiffs, we contribute to the struggle for climate justice and increase the possibility of positive change.  It may be that this is one of those times in human history when what seems to be impossible becomes possible.

To find out more about how to watch the hearing and support the youth in this case, go to:  https://www.youthvgov.org/alleyesonjuliana.  Young people are invited to sign an amicus brief to be filed with the court in future hearings at https://joinjuliana.org/.

To read more about the case itself and the various rulings, see https://www.youthvgov.org/new-folder.  To watch a a 60 Minutes program about the case, click on The Climate Change Lawsuit that Could Stop the U.S. Government from Supporting Fossil Fuels.

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Other blog postings about climate change can be found here.  

Love the Immigrant as Yourself

Progressive Christian Social Action

Parkside Church in Sacramento

Love the Immigrant as Yourself

“you shall love the immigrant as yourself…” Leviticus 19: 34

As tears flow around the country and world for immigrant children who have been separated and incarcerated by the Trump Administration, support for the president’s harsh policies among white Evangelicals continues. Even politicians and TV news anchors are visibly moved by the plight of these children and their parents, while Attorney General Jeff Sessions quotes scripture to justify these cruel immigration policies.

As a follower of Jesus, I am appalled by the deliberate distortion of scripture to justify policies that are antithetical to the love of God and neighbor.  The Bible is consistent in calling for mercy and justice for the most vulnerable people, characterized in biblical times as widows, orphans, and immigrants.  Yet the United States is enacting cruel immigration policies that violate international law.  By separating children from their parents, incarcerating them, and deporting their parents, our country has essentially left these children orphaned, many of whom may never be reunited with their families.

Consider this:  According to the infancy narrative in Matthew, the Holy Family fled into Egypt as migrants seeking safety from King Herod (Matthew 2:13-15).  How would that story have turned out if the baby Jesus had been separated from Mary and Joseph at the border?

Jesus was descended from immigrants, including Ruth (Matthew 1:5), a widow who immigrated to Israel with her (also widowed) mother-in-law Naomi.  They survived by gleaning before Ruth and Boaz married.  They were able to survive because the laws of Israel required that after the harvest landowners had to leave some the grain in the fields and grapes on the vine for immigrants and the poor (Leviticus 19:9-10).  How would the story have turned out if Ruth and Naomi had been imprisoned or deported instead?

When Jeff Sessions quotes Romans 13:1 (“Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities”) to call for us all to submit to the Trump Administration’s cruel immigration policies, he is ignoring the overall “scope and tenor” of scripture, which is mercy, justice, and love. Sessions has left out the clarifying passage in Romans 13:10 that “love is the fulfillment of the law.”

More than 600 United Methodists recently brought charges in the church against Mr. Sessions (a United Methodist) for violating church principles on child abuse, immorality, racial discrimination, and “dissemination of doctrines” contrary to those of the United Methodist Church. I am happy to support their action, regardless of how it turns out.

Many people are familiar with Jesus’ teaching to “Love your neighbor as yourself,” but not everyone realizes that Jesus was quoting those words in Leviticus 19:18, and that what follows in Leviticus 19:33-34 is a command to “love the immigrant as yourself.” Here is the full passage:

“When an immigrant resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the immigrant.  The immigrant who resides with you shall be as the citizen among you; you shall love the immigrant as yourself, for you were immigrants in the land of Egypt:  I am the Lord your God.”

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”  “Love the immigrant as yourself.” “Love is the fulfillment of the law.

 

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Never Again: Protest is Our Prayer

Progressive Christian Social Action

Never Again!  Protest is Our Prayer

United Methodist Building, Washington, DC

On this Monday of Holy Week, reflections on the events that led to the death of Jesus merge with events that are taking place today.  As in Jesus’ day, today’s ruling Powers are entrenched in control by domination and violence.  People who seek to change the dominant system and make it more compassionate are maligned and persecuted, as Jesus was.  He was put to death after he drove out the money changers from the Temple, challenging the economic system upon which the Roman occupation of Jerusalem was maintained.

Today it is our youth.  Some are congratulating them for their activism, but they are also being insulted and called names for marching for their lives, standing up to the ruling Powers, and demanding reasonable gun laws and safe schools.  When these demonstrations of active democracy are maligned or called naïve, while our political process is dominated by corporate front groups like the NRA, we are in dark times indeed.  Meanwhile, gun manufacturers and their political advocates accept very minor gun-control policies that they know will increase gun sales. (See the March 2nd Time Magazine report:  Gun Maker Says Sales are Plunging.)

Nevertheless, young people are stepping into leadership, raising their voices, and calling for an end to gun violence, including shooting deaths (often of young black men) by police.  They demand that adults act and that lawmakers establish policies to protect them from being shot and killed in their own schools.

In my own community, many students joined in the nationwide school walkout, some with support of teachers and administrators and some on their own.  I’ve talked with several of them.  One student told me that their school let them make signs, but they couldn’t have words or images related to guns.  Another told me that the teacher said that since it was raining, they could march around the halls, but later relented and they did go outside.  One girl told me how she overcame her personal self-doubt when the marchers she was with turned around and she found herself in the lead.  She didn’t feel like she should be leading the march. She felt like fading back and letting someone else take the lead, but she stayed the course, letting her values guide her instead of her fear.

Many people, including me, believe that there would be less gun violence if there were stricter gun control laws, background checks, mental health services, and (not often mentioned) greater economic and social equity.  Some people are feeling more hope for the future because of this uprising of student activism. I, too, applaud the spirit of these young people and rejoice that they are awakening to what is at stake and coming into their own power.  Every so often there is an uprising that catches fire and kindles a spirit of hope and activism for the sake of a better world.  Every so often a time comes around when “the politically impossible suddenly becomes possible” (Naomi Klein).  This is such a time.

But adults, now it’s on us.  Youth can take the lead, and they may well be the ones who will change the world.  But we can’t just cheer them on.  We must act as their allies, acting in solidarity with them.  We, too, must show courage.  We, too, must speak out, in our homes, at work, in our places of worship, no matter how entrenched these institutions are in the status quo.  We, too must demand action in our communities, in public spaces, and to our legislators. The kids shouldn’t be the only ones to say “Never Again.” They shouldn’t be the only ones to say “We call B.S.” to the conventional wisdom that weapons of war should be easily acquired or to challenge the paralysis of lawmakers because they are in the pockets of the NRA.

Adults, too, need to extend their support, experience, expertise, and resources to this movement.  We need to join with our young in taking action that will make true the call, “Never again.”

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