Seeing the Forest for the Trees
On this Labor Day 2021, we need to think long and hard about our unprecedented planetary climate crisis and how it affects working people. While many of us are organizing on important discrete issues and movements, it's important also to look at the big picture, and "see the forest for the trees." Working people have most too lose and most to gain by coming together in these times.
On August 9, 2021, UN Secretary-General António Guterres has stated that a recent UN report is "a code red for humanity. The alarm bells are deafening, and the evidence is irrefutable.” See his full statement HERE.
Scientists are taking an urgent tone because serious action has not yet materialized.
The reality is that we are heading full-speed into a brick wall if we don’t act swiftly and boldly to prevent a climate catastrophe. Already, we see the consequences. There are hurricanes, tornadoes and massive flooding in the U.S and around the world, as we speak. In California, we are all too familiar with the unprecedented wildfires and of course ongoing droughts. People have lost their loved ones, their homes and their livelihoods. This at a time where we are still feeling the health and economic impacts of a global pandemic. And in many ways, the pandemic has deepened our understanding of a system that no longer serves us – a system that puts profit before human life. We must transfer this knowledge of an inept system that brought us COVID (which continues to haunt us) to the climate crisis which threatens our very survival on this planet.
How did this climate crisis happen? Who is most responsible?
I agree with Jeremy Corbyn (Britain’s Labour Party member of parliament) who stated: “The political and economic system we live in does not produce climate change by accident but by design, rewarding big polluters and resource extractors with superprofits.”
That is why I believe that this climate crisis is indeed a class issue. It is the richest among us who have created it, and it is poorest among us who are suffering the most and will continue to suffer deeply if we don’t stop those most responsible.
What are our choices?
While many talk about the need for stopping this run-away climate crisis, and various policy changes and models of organizing have been suggested and some actions taken, the fact of the matter is that we are not doing enough.
I think the future requires us all to play a role and that means class struggle. Class struggle in the climate crisis means forcing corporations to stop harming our planet.
The choice is up to us. Do we recoil in fear and hope that somehow things will work out? Do we think those profiting most from our society (big corporations, including the fossil fuel industry) will somehow make the right decisions and bring us out of the climate crisis before it’s too late? Or do we chart out a new path, one that is inclusive of all working class people fighting together for a livable planet and a future that puts life and dignity first?
The fact is that we live in a system that has allowed the top 1% of Americans to have about 16 times more wealth than the bottom 50% of us. See this recent article HERE.
But this should not cause us to feel overwhelmed or recoil in fear. There is much we can do. We can make transformative change!
While we are faced with enormous challenges, it is essential that we operate not from fear but from courage. We must not run from the truth. And the truth is that the profit-system will not save us. We can be our own saviors if we act from a place courage, love and solidarity rather than fear. We can push oil companies to start de-commissioning their refining capacity and to make whole cities in which these oil profiteers have made their billions over the past century with exploitation of communities and the environment.
Richmond – a city with a history of working class struggle
In Richmond, we have struggled for decades for health, justice, sustainability, opportunities, peace, and prosperity. We have made some great strides in past years, including in 2021 thus far (see HERE), but the gravity of the crises we face require much more from us all. These strides must continue and must be ramped up.
Soon we will have a consultant on board the City of Richmond that will be reaching out to the community to discuss a local Green-Blue New Deal and a Just Transition from a fossil fuel based economy.
Connecting the dots – how we move forward
While we need to draw on the experts and consultants in terms of how best to shift our policies, our economy and our lifestyles into a sustainable future, nothing will make a difference unless we organize. It is possible and we have no time to waste to bring together a mass base, a working class coalition. Climate change affects all the material conditions in which we, as working class people, live. It affects housing, energy, food, and transport. Traditional working class demands for a job guarantee, decent wages, good benefits, working conditions, and leisure time intersect fully with the struggle for a sustainable climate.
By focusing working-class power (which is the power of the vast majority of us) on winning the climate struggle, we can and will move forward.
The labor movement needs to connect with the climate movement and visa versa. Our lives and our future are indeed at stake.
On this Labor Day, as we celebrate our successes and we recommit to the ongoing struggle for workers’ rights, let’s hold our heads high as the champions who will ultimately win the battle for a sustainable planet for each and every one of us and our descendants to live healthy and productive lives.
Richmond City Councilmember, District 5