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As we observe climate-related catastrophes across the country and around the world, many of us feel powerless at a time when 11,000 scientists from 150 countries have warned us that “untold suffering is unavoidable without deep and lasting shifts in human activities that contribute to greenhouse gas emissions,” according to a statement the scientists published last month in the journal BioScience.
Scientists and world leaders tell us we have just 11 years to make the needed major changes before experiencing irreparable devastating consequences. Despite these urgent warnings, our president is withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement as most of the rest of the world’s countries prepare to gather in Madrid from Dec. 1-13 to work on implementation of that agreement.
The task of transformation needed can seem daunting. What can those of us who trust the scientists and understand the urgency for systemic change do?
Since the climate crisis is accelerating so widely and so rapidly, individual and local efforts alone can seem futile. In addition to needed individual and local efforts, a Green New Deal would focus our common resources and energies on large-scale industrial and infrastructure changes and address inequities that are unsustainable.
It is hard to comprehend such a major shift in priorities. Author and activist Naomi Klein says there has been an atrophy of imagination in the past decades of focusing on piecemeal change. “The interplay between dreams and earthly victories has always been at the heart of deep progressive transformation,” she says in the foreword to “A Planet to Win.” Those who profit from the status quo, scoff at the possibility or necessity for such a massive shift in priorities. A Green New Deal may seem just like a Green New Ideal to some, but we can build on the thousands of ways that people have been working for decades to address climate change and social justice locally.
In our region, the dream of working together to care for the earth and each other was celebrated for many years at the HOPE Festival. Help Organize Peace Earthwide (HOPE) can certainly seem to be one of those unrealistic utopian ideals of the imagination. However, for more than 20 years around Earth Day, volunteers set up tables featuring information about health care, the environment, sustainability, domestic violence, peace, labor, local food and more. Representatives of organizations and individuals who usually worked in isolated offices or caring for families at home, experienced the power, joy and energy of hoping and working together in so many ways for a better world. Many thousands of Mainers enjoyed the festival and were inspired by the ideal that a better and more peaceful and sustainable world was possible.
Today, there are many young people who know they face a frightening future and are building a multifaceted movement for fundamental change. Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, the catalyst for huge climate demonstrations by millions of young people around the world, challenged leaders, saying “I want you to act as if the house is on fire, because it is.”
The youth-led Sunrise Movement members, who sat in at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office, demanded support for a Green New Deal. They created a “Green New Deal Pledge for Elected Officials and Candidates.” Let’s join them when they raise their voices in nationwide actions on Dec. 6 (perhaps elders among us can be a supportive Sunset Movement) and urge our officials and candidates to prioritize a Green New Deal in order to preserve the future of the planet and a good life for generations to come.
Ilze Petersons of Orono was program coordinator at the Peace & Justice Center of Eastern Maine in Bangor from 1995 to 2015.