By Shea Riester, Team Vermont
At one point this may have been a facetious or cliched question, but it’s now deadly serious. What is the future of human and animal life on earth–not some sort of utopian paradise, but simply a habitable planet, complete with all its modern complexities and imperfections–worth to you?
I believe this is the most important question of our moment in history, the 11th hour of climate change. And right now, although you may not be aware of it, it’s being answered in action by courageous souls across our country and across our world. The past 3 months have been the first ever “Climate Summer of Solidarity” (#ClimateSOS), perhaps the largest wave of American climate related actions ever. Brave people from the ports to the plains have been putting their bodies on the line, chiming together in a chorus of “Enough! We will no longer stand by and watch as big oil, coal and gas destroys our futures and our children’s futures!”
For my college friend Dorian Williams, a member of the group of activists who blockaded a coal mountaintop removal site in West Virginia, the future of our planet was worth her freedom. On July 28th, those folks put their bodies on the line to stop the coal mining that brings cancer to locals, ruins the habitat and continues to roll the earth towards a deep precipice. Dorian was one of the most level-headed, compassionate people I knew at Brandeis University. Her moral compass is dead on. She knows the stakes of burning more carbon. For Dorian, the future of the earth and her beloved communities was worth risking arrest and even violence.
So I ask again, what is the future of our planet worth to you? Perhaps it is worth nothing. Maybe you don’t care about future generations and are happy to stand by as our civilization burns carbon until our earth is uninhabitable. At least you’re being honest.
But just maybe the earth’s future is worth something to you. Maybe it’s worth taking that extra moment to recycle, or speak to your neighbor about global warming and living more sustainably. For me it was worth traveling exclusively by bike all summer, promoting clean energy and connecting the strands of this movement. But if we truly want to prevent world-wide calamity we’re going to have to stop coal, tar sands, gas and oil in their tracks. That means more of us are going to need to make the bigger sacrifices. It’s not hard to understand, and I don’t believe it’s “radical.” Unless “radical” means trying to prevent the unnecessary devastation of our planet.
We know the game left unattended: if the energy is cheap–if our government refuses to force big oil, coal and gas to factor in the true cost of their deadly product–the corporations will extract the oil till the ground is dry, and most consumers, having no feasible, affordable alternative, will burn fossil fuels until New York has Florida’s climate and our coastal cities are under water.
As an excellent article on the new surge of climate actions notes, nonviolent direct action is slowly but surely working to be an effective way for the people to take back the power from mindless, short-sighted corporations and corrupt politicians. Nonviolent direct action means intervening, usually with our bodies in the form of an occupation or a blockade, to stop something we view as immoral from happening, such as coal extraction or the building of an oil pipeline. Like the nonviolent countertop sit-ins or freedom rides of the civil rights movement, we are called upon to put our bodies on the line day after day, until we are finally heard, or until it simply becomes too much of a burden, too insane to keep arresting all these people standing up for their futures.
At the 2011 climate action conference PowerShift, imprisoned activist Tim DeChristopher said:
“With only the people in this room, we could send 30 people onto a mountaintop removal site, shut it down temporarily, start to clog up the West Virginia court system. And we could send 30 people the day after that and the day after that and the day after that every day for a year. I believe we would never get to the end of that year because mountaintop removal would end before we reached that point.”
So, I ask once more: what is the future of life on earth worth to you?
I pray it is worth joining this movement for our collective futures. The time to play nice with politicians and corporations who care more about money than our planet’s future is long over. We must realize that the personal lifestyle changes or even occasional street protests are not enough. We must also realize there are enough of us out there to turn the tide.
Right now, as I write this, there are folks peacefully occupying the Montana state capitol in opposition to coal mining (@CoalXportAction), New Yorkers moving to stop expanding “fracked” natural gas pipelines, and Texans mobilizing to block the Keystone XL Pipeline (@KXLBlockade).
They understand what needs to be done to have any chance in this fight for our future, and I hope you do too: we must use nonviolent direct action to ensure that the carbon is left in the ground before our time runs out. Maybe then, at the very least, we can look at our children without regret and tell them we tried our best.