Changing Tactics in the Face of Climate Emergency

Dozens of people convened at the New York Society for Ethical Culture on Thursday night despite below-freezing temperatures to hear from an esteemed panel tackling climate change during an event co-sponsored by 350.org NYC and New York Society for Ethical Culture. As speakers prepared for the event, attendees visited tables to learn more about and get involved with 350.org, Sunrise Movement, Our Children’s Trust, Green Owls, and other organizations mobilizing to take action on climate change.

Once entering the auditorium, the sound of drum beats from an indigenous performer filled the room, setting the tone for the event. To begin, we participated in a prayer to Our Creator, honoring the land and all animals with a continued promise to protect the environment from the effects of climate change.

Indigenous people center the needs of the earth. We must honor them for starting this ecological fight.

Estrella Verenice Castillo, Green Owls

We were then presented with the 21 youth plaintiffs between 11 and 22 years of age taking on the federal government for their “constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property, as well as [protection of] essential public trust resources.” The energy in the room was that of passion and determination as we listened to each young person share personal anecdotes of how they have been personally affected by climate change.

The inspiring 21 youth plaintiffs taking the federal government to court for their constitutional rights to climate justice

Moved and energized by their statements, the event transitioned into the panel featuring Thanu Yakupitiyage (US Communications Manager of 350.org), Sara Blazevic (Co-founder and Managing Director of Sunrise Movement), Vic Barrett (one of the plaintiffs in Juliana v. United States), and Julia Olson (Founder of Our Children’s Trust and lawyer representing the plaintiffs in the case). So much great conversation took place during this panel and I’ve synthesized their thoughts and recommendations.

Climate and human rights are tied together.

An individual’s ability to live in a world free from climate change and global warming is a fundamental human right. According to the UNCHR, over 68 million people are displaced globally, a portion of them due to climate change.

We need to start talking about climate as a community, and build a multi-racial, intersectional movement.

Thanu Yakupitiyage, 350.org

Climate change is affecting every corner of the globe, from the ice melting in Antarctica, heat waves sweeping across Europe, wildfires claiming thousands of acres of trees in the western coast of the US, to tsunamis and earthquakes in Southeast Asia, and more. People of all racial backgrounds and generations are affected by climate change and we need to start talking about it in this light.

There needs to be a complete transformation of the US government and society.

The US is currently facing more frequent natural disasters from coast to coast. Currently our government is not taking the threat of climate change seriously as one of our most pressing issues today, and organizations such as Sunrise Movement are taking action to nudge elected officials to do the right thing. Climate action can be seen as successful on three factors:

  1. People power: we underestimate the power of the people, but when society is active and engaged, we are a force to be reckoned with! Our society needs to continue to make noise about climate change and force our elected officials to listen to us.
  2. Political power: the next ingredient to climate action success is the support and action from our elected officials. Many concerned people are urging members of Congress to form a House Select Committee on a Green New Deal, and some members of Congress have already shown their support.
  3. Political alignment: the last ingredient is for social and political forces to come together for the same goal, which is to mitigate the effects of climate change through transforming the economy and creating green jobs.

Support youth in their fight for climate justice.

Young people know exactly the kind of future they are being dealt because of climate change and past generations’ inaction on curbing the fossil fuel addiction that we see today. It is our job to meaningfully engage youth, continue to amplify their voices, and provide them platforms to speak on issues that matter to them. This includes getting them a seat at the table, even in the courtrooms, to make sure parties are held responsible to comply with the Constitution.

From left to right starting from the second panelist: Thanu, Sara, Vic, Julia

I think I am not the only one who left this event feeling hopeful for the case, hopeful for the future because of fellow young people who are standing up for the environment and earth, and hopeful because of the diverse, intergenerational audience that came together to hear these speakers. I look forward to the coming months to see which new youth environmental activists pop up as the movement for climate justice continues.

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