Attending the People’s Climate March was exhilarating for many reasons. In the coming months, we must not let the feeling dissipate, as media attention languishes, and the memory of the march slips away. The question is how.
I was there with a small team from The Climate Mobilization—a grassroots organization or “social movement start-up”—and we were handing out fliers and talking to marchers about our strategy for initiating a robust American response to climate change, the Pledge to Mobilize. I had some definite trepidation, going in. A shy person by nature, I found the idea of approaching strangers and discussing the need for a WWII-scale intervention on climate change quite daunting. I feared rejection and territoriality—that people would feel bothered by us or angry if The Climate Mobilization’s advocacy was different from their own.
Liam was our most effective and enthusiastic flyer-distributer.
My fears were totally unfounded. Talking with strangers has never been easier or more enjoyable than it was at the March. People were kind, interested, and thoughtful. Several took the Pledge right then and there! Of course not everyone liked the idea, and people had questions and concerns. But many people reached for fliers, many people wanted to know more, and many people said, “thank you!” when I approached them with the idea.
This crowd, because of its sheer enormity, had to start and stop and start again frequently, leaving marchers toward the back motionless for hours. But the mood stayed buoyant for the duration.
How can we understand these high spirits and buoyant camaraderie? Why was it that this crowd was so unusually delightful? Together, we were all living in climate truth—coming together to acknowledge the terrible reality of our situation and to demand dramatic, heroic action on climate change.
To be in a group of people like this was a tremendous relief—a dramatic departure from the everyday experience of living in a culture where climate change goes largely undiscussed. Civilization is in imminent peril, but our culture is mired in denial, willful ignorance, and passivity. Feelings of fear, helplessness, and conformity generally silence discussions of climate change.
But at the People’s Climate March, we, together, overcame those barriers to facing the stark truth of climate change. People wore t-shirts saying “Save the Humans!” and held cardboard cut outs of life-preservers. The marchers got it: climate change is life versus death, collapse versus continuation of our civilization. Climate change is about me and you and my family and your family.
More of the TCM team, surrounded by a throng of allies living in climate truth!
Two events in the march highlight this emphasis on truth—the minute of silence followed by the minute of noise. These moments expressed both our grief about the devastation of climate change—the millions of people already killed, the damage we have wrought to the natural world—and also the need to move from silence to noise. We, the people, have been silent far too long. It is time to make noise, to raise our voices, together, to acknowledge the danger of our situation and demand dramatic political action.
The other moment happened when we marched past Fox News’s headquarters on 6th Avenue. The chant erupted, “Fox News, Tell the Truth!” This news channel and its affiliates have spread more lies and misinformation that any other single source. In doing this they have betrayed their fellow Americans, and put us all in danger.
It was painful, then, to leave the march and walk through Times Square. where tourists, shoppers, and playgoers buzzed with energy and huge advertisements telling people what to wear, drive, and eat towered above me. Business as usual was in full swing and its participants appeared either indifferent or oblivious to the danger all around us. A woman had changed her mind about seeing a show, and was was yelling, “Who needs Pippen tickets? I’ve got Pippen tickets!” It felt so odd, to be raising her voice for such a mundane purpose. I felt like responding, “The Climate is changing! We are in danger! Who cares about Pippen?” Instead, I quickly made my way back to the marchers, and let the shared understanding of climate change wash over me.
The Way Forward: Amplifying Climate Truth, Adding Bold Demands
If we are going to build a social movement to save civilization from collapse, we have to spread the climate truth that the march exemplified across the entire country and world. The march was the largest climate march of all time, but now we have to grow exponentially. We will have to reach out to everyone—including people who aren’t political, who don’t understand climate change, and who try to avoid uncomfortable information.
We will also need to be very clear about what we, as a movement, are demanding. It is clear that the March succeeded tremendously in its aims of movement building and message spreading, even without demands. Yet much has been made of the fact that the People’s Climate March lacked demands beyond the slogan “Climate Action” now. To elevate the movement to a position of overwhelming political power and strength, we need to unite behind concrete demands.
The Pledge to Mobilize
The Pledge to Mobilize is a political platform and social movement strategy. It can allow us to spread the truth of climate change that the March featured far and wide, while providing the clear-eyed demands that the March lacked. The Pledge is a tool to help people overcome denial and effectively fight for civilization. It is a one-page document that every American can sign. The Pledge is an unblinking declaration of reality — a chance to take a stand against the great evil of our time.
When you sign this Pledge, you commit your support to political candidates who have also signed it, on the local, state, and national level. The Pledge calls on the federal government to immediately:
1) Commence a social and economic mobilization to restore a climate that is safe, stable, and supportive of human civilization. This heroic campaign shall be carried out in the spirit of the American World War II home front mobilization. As in WWII, this mobilization will require hard work and shared sacrifice from all Americans.
2) Reduce our country’s net greenhouse gas emissions one hundred percent by 2025 and deploy a national system that removes greenhouse gases from the atmosphere at emergency speed.
3) Enlist tens of millions of Americans in efforts to rapidly expand our carbon-neutral energy and agricultural systems, conduct groundbreaking research, and implement large-scale adaptation measures.
4) Conduct this mobilization in accordance with the Constitution and ensure that the essential needs of the civilian economy are met during this time of transition.
5) Establish the following imperatives as our nation’s top foreign policy priorities: A one hundred percent reduction of global net greenhouse gas emissions at wartime speed, and the deployment of a comprehensive international system that removes greenhouse gases from the atmosphere until a safe climate is restored.
In signing the Pledge, you join forces with other mobilized Americans in an urgent campaign to save civilization. You agree to spread the Pledge to people you respect and care about — such as your friends, family, neighbors, and political candidates.
This Pledge has a unique structure. It is not another example of alienating Internet “clicktivism.” It is designed to be a significant event in the lives of signers. One cannot just “take” the Pledge. This Pledge must be given by someone who has already taken it. This person vouches for you, affirming that you will spread the pledge with respect, focus, truth, and courage. They also agree to support you in your efforts to mobilize yourself.
Because of this person-to-person structure, the Pledge has the ability to focus dinner table discussions, and the national conversation at large, on the near-term threat of a civilization collapse as well as the massive, concerted effort needed to prevent it. Variations of the Pledge are set to launch in other countries, providing a bridge between the hyper-local, the national and the international. The Pledge to Mobilize empowers each of us to reject denial and passivity in favor of effective political and social action. It allows us to rise to the challenge of our time, together.
The Pledge and the Climate Movement
The Pledge to Mobilize allows us to stand firm on what is non-negotiable while engaging a wide variety of people and perspectives. What is non-negotiable is written into the text of the Pledge: We must commence an all-out effort to eliminate net GHG emissions as quickly as possible, and continue to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. If we are to restore a climate that is safe for humanity, this is what science and ethics demands. It is our only moral option.
While the demands of the Pledge are unshakeable commitments, there is much room for discussion and debate. Issues that have historically divided the environmental movement such as nuclear power, capitalism, and reformism vs. radicalism—cannot divide and hobble us any longer. If we agree that a climate mobilization is necessary to save civilization, then we must work together towards that goal, as we discuss and debate how precisely the mobilization will unfold. Mobilizers also have the flexibility to spread the Pledge their way. People are experts in their own communities and social networks, and can appeal to them in whatever way they think will be most effective– as long as it is respectful, truthful, focused, and courageous.
Mobilized nuns, Ayya Santussikka and Ayya Santacitta , will spread the Pledge using Buddhist traditions and emphasizing Buddhist values.
The scale of the Pledge’s demands is commonly recognized as necessary among the leading lights of the environmental movement, as well as prominent economists. A WWII-scale mobilization against climate change is not a new concept—it has been and continues to be advocated by Joe Romm, Paul Gilding and James K. Galbraith, among others.
In 2011, a host of leading environmentalists signed an open letter to Barack Obama and Hu Jintao, calling for the United States and China to reduce their emissions 80% by 2020 through a “wartime-like mobilization.” Signatories included: Bill McKibben of 350.org, Lester Brown, Ross Gelbspan, as well as the executive directors of the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, the Rainforest Action Network, and Friends of the Earth—all groups that were out in force at the People’s Climate March.
But the Pledge’s demands, as well as its tone, have broad appeal far outside of the environmental movement. Most Americans, even many of those acutely aware of the threat of global warming, remain unaware that such a comprehensive plan exists. We have witnessed a wide variety of Americans react positively to the Pledge, including people who are politically disengaged, deeply religious, and politically conservative. This crossover appeal is vital in achieving the kind of supermajority necessary to call forth a WWII-scale climate mobilization. We expect that, as the brutal reality of global warming becomes increasingly impossible for Americans across the political spectrum to avoid, a critical mass in our nation will react with great relief to the existence of a political platform that reframes the problem as the emergency that it is.
We understand that this platform will be perceived as unrealistic in our current political climate of paralysis and despair. That’s why the Pledge to Mobilize is also a social movement strategy, designed to quickly overcome our culture’s widespread denial and passivity and leverage massive public support for these scientifically necessary demands.
The Pledge is a psychological tool that allows individuals, and our culture at large, to overcome the denial, dissociation, and passivity that keep most Americans from truly taking in the scope of the climate threat. The basic psychological premise is that the experience of helplessness is a key factor in denial and inaction. If we are to get millions of people to grasp the horror of the threat, and to demand an emergency climate response, we need to truthfully tell individuals that 1) a comprehensive response exists, and 2) they are an essential part of that response. In order to get people to face the truth of the crisis, we need to quickly empower them to participate in the solution.
Signing the Pledge does not preclude the use of many other tactics that have been used to great effect, including demonstrations, lawsuits, internet memes and local transitional measures. On the contrary, signing the Pledge can synergistically enhance the use of other tactics.
Imagine, for example, if media reports of direct action at the UN or White House contained a paragraph reading: “The protesters demanded that the United States government immediately initiate a WWII-scale mobilization to halt climate change. This 21st-century economic mobilization, organizers said, would enlist tens of millions of Americans in efforts to overhaul the nation’s energy infrastructure, and would reduce net greenhouse gas emissions 100 percent in ten years.”
The Pledge strategy is not dependent on election cycles, because sitting politicians are also invited— and can be pressured— to sign. Mobilizers will call their Representatives to say, “I have supported you for 10 years with my vote, time, and money. But I recently signed the Pledge to Mobilize and I will no longer do so unless you sign it also.”
More of the team posing in front of the WWII aircraft carrier, the Intrepid.
However, elections are the most basic and forceful instrument of democracy. We must focus our strategy on the huge national election 2 years away. If we elect a Mobilization Government in 2016, then our next President will have eight years to lead the mobilization and bring the United States to carbon neutrality. This gives us two years to build a momentous social movement, to spread the Pledge far and wide, and to place relentless pressure on political candidates to step up. This will take a tremendous amount of effort, to be sure. Armed with the truth, the Pledge, and the spur of dire necessity, we can transform our culture and reclaim our democracy.
The Peoples Climate March was a day full of togetherness, dedication, and hope. It powerfully demonstrated that those of us who grasp the awful truth of climate change are not alone. Now, let us take that energy and passion and channel it into a comprehensive social and political strategy. Let us mobilize, and rise to the challenge of our time, together.