Fred Branfman: Remembering an Ally

Fred Branfman, a lifelong activist and dedicated Climate Mobilizer, died two weeks ago of ALS. May he rest in peace.

During the Vietnam War Fred exposed the US bombing campaign in Laos, making every attempt to stop the assault on civilians. His book, “Voices From the Plain of Jars: Life Under an Air War,” contained interviews with Laotians describing their lives within the bombing campaign.

Fred stayed deeply engaged in activism and political writing his entire life, becoming increasingly focused on climate change in the nineties. He saw climate change as species-suicide and dedicated his energy to reading, writing, and action on climate. In 1996 Fred authored the “Moral Call on Climate Change” which was signed by American religious leaders, Jimmy Carter, Eli Wiesel, and many others.

Fred came upon the Climate Psychologist about a year ago and wrote that it resonated with him immensely and the need for a “Human climate movement” rather than a movement for “nature” or “science.” Fred became fast friends with me, and the co-founders of The Climate Mobilization Ezra Silk, Ryan Brill. The distance between us in geography (Fred was living in Budapest), age, and experience was eclipsed by our shared commitment to fight for humanity, and our shared understanding that climate change poses a fearsome threat to civilization.

He wrote to Ezra and I–

You have no idea what this connection means to me. I began not only thinking about but throwing myself full-time into trying to create a “human movement” to combat climate change 15 years ago, and have mostly met with frustration ever since. So connecting with the two of you, I feel like a person who has been walking through the desert for 15 years and finally finds an oasis.

Fred offered us a unique perspective on shaping a social movement. He counseled us, for example, on the tendency of activists to fight amongst each other, and the necessity of remaining respectful of our allies’ work, even if they have a different approach or intellectual framework. Our common cause is so much more important. It also helped our confidence that someone impressive and accomplished as Fred wanted to work with us!

I introduced Fred to the readers of The Climate Psychologist in December and republished his powerful article, “Do our Children Deserve to Live.” In the article, Fred argues that we must realize that loving our children inherently includes leaving them a stable climate. I wish very much that Fred could have had more healthy years and been able to help grow The Climate Mobilization. He would have been loved contributing ideas and writing and being part of our community.

Fred believed that contemplating one’s own death was critical to a full and rich life. He wrote the website, Truly Alive to offer people his guidance in approaching this daunting topic.

Fred would be very pleased if we used the occasion of his death as a time to reflect on our own coming demise, and to use that knowledge to endow our climate action with courage and meaning. Life is precious, fragile, and finite. We happen to be alive during a time of planetary crisis. How will we use our time?