COMMENTARY: Fight for climate justice is our fight for our future

The idea of loss has become a central theme in how global warming is presented: species lost, habitats lost, communities lost and lives lost. 

Although it is true that these disappearances are irreversible and deeply alarming, for me, the framing of loss presents an interesting kind of contradiction. We have lost so much, and we must acknowledge that. Perhaps the scariest part of climate change is not just the uncertainty of the future, it is the certainty that the present will never be the same.

But to say that these precious things we are watching disappear are simply “lost” produces a kind of passivity that assumes that, while we can blame everyone for climate change, at the same time, we can blame no one. We all failed, so we all equally share the responsibility.

Climate change is a global crisis and it will take a broad-based movement to push for meaningful solutions. But the logic of collective failure is constantly grinding up against the reality that the top 1% of humanity produces approximately 200 times as much carbon emissions as the bottom 10%. 

A study from the researchers at Climate Vulnerability Monitor showed that 98% of climate change-related deaths occurred in developing countries, most of which have the lowest carbon emissions in the world. The responses to disasters like Hurricane Dorian and Hurricane Maria have exposed a global elite who will stop at nothing to leverage climate catastrophes for their own profit, fortify themselves, and let the rest drown.

Clearly, we are not all equally responsible for this crisis, and this fact begs an important question: Why are we constantly blaming ourselves, assuming small, individual changes will lead to the solution, when we know who the culprits are? Global warming is not only the most existential crisis that humanity faces today. Climate change is the biggest theft in human history, a global grand larceny of planetary stability.

For generations, indigenous people have seen their lands handed over to fossil fuel and agribusiness industries, who are destroying and, in some cases, literally igniting entire ecosystems. Coastal communities have watched their homes and livelihoods drowned by rising seas or utterly devastated by natural disasters. 

On top of all of these crises, the young people who represent what most call “the next generation” are witnessing their right to imagine what is next vanish before their eyes.

Since we were little, we have been told that the future is ours, there are limitless possibilities and our lives will become what we make of them. But yet, at virtually every juncture in our lives, we have been confronted with the reality that we were massively lied to. 

Any kind of hope for a healthy and happy life for us is clouded, literally and metaphorically, by rising violence and far-Right governments actively encouraging ecological devastation, along with impending public health crises from soaring temperatures, natural disasters and public infrastructures that are wholly inadequate in bracing climate catastrophes and safely distributing resources like water. 

The ability to even consider our lives in the future tense has been ripped from our hands, stolen by a class of people who are hell-bent on putting short-term profits above anything else: human rights, democracy, equity, sustainability and a whole host of fundamental social concerns. 

But a growing movement is fighting to reclaim what has been taken from us. The global climate justice movement, historically siloed and extremely white-dominated, is making new connections with fights for racial, migrant, gender, labor, indigenous and economic justice. Fundamentally, they are demonstrating that our futures do not come second to a corporate bottom line, that each and every one of us has the right to imagine and hope in the future tense. 

It is what makes groups like the Central Jersey Climate Coalition (CJCC) critical at this moment. We are an alliance of Rutgers students, faculty and community members that are demanding the University to take action on climate. We are calling on Rutgers to achieve net-zero emissions by 2030, establish an Office of Sustainability by the end of 2020, develop a Climate Action Plan immediately and commit to ethical divestment by the end of 2024. 

We cannot tackle climate change without also tackling every other form of oppression that exists. The same systems that write off huge swaths of land and ecosystems as basically sacrifice zones also assume that certain communities are more valuable than others. Our response to the climate crisis needs to recognize these systems and dismantle them.

We will be striking on Friday at 2:30 p.m. in Voorhees Hall to put pressure on the University to fulfill these demands. Strike with us, because institutions like Rutgers will only make the required changes if they feel immense pressure from below. 

Strike with us, because the story that we have been told for the last 50 years, that we are simply a mere collection of atomized individuals, that “there is no society,” must crumble under the weight of a bold, new narrative, one grounded in the principles of sustainability and solidarity. A story that will only become a reality if the mass movement that has formed around this strike will make it so. 

Strike with us, because our house is on fire, and absolutely everything is at stake. Strike with us, because we are guided by the unapologetically radical vision that a better and brighter tomorrow is possible, that we can reclaim our futures and that this is our moment. 

Let us take it. Let us win.

James Boyle is a School of Communication and Information senior majoring in communications.

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*Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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