Civil Rights and the Climate Crisis

All of our fates are intertwined.

If he were alive today, I can imagine Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. declaring that everyone deserves a habitable planet to live on and demanding action, now.

It was with trepidation that I approached writing a post that would be published on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Dr. King was an amazing human being. What could I write about that would be appropriate? There was no way I was going to write a post entitled 10 Ways to Green Your MLK Day Celebration or to put an environmental spin on Dr. King’s life.

So, I did what I often do when I do not know what I am writing about and conducted some research. I refreshed myself on Dr. King’s history, read several articles, and reread his “I Have a Dream…” speech that he delivered to a crowd of 250,000 people surrounding the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. on August 28, 1963.

The excerpt below is from that speech.

“We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy…Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.”

Dr. King embodied justice and a sense of urgency. Of course, I cannot say for certain but it seems to me that he believed all people are connected. I do, too.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Portrait - 1964

I decided to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. today by sharing my belief that we are all connected and why this is important. Perhaps you believe this, too, or will at least be willing to give it some thought.

Dr. King won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. This is his portrait taken by an unknown photographer. Click here for the Wikipedia image page.

We are All Connected

Now, at the beginning of 2020, you and I plus billions of other people and non-human beings are living on Earth an amazing and ailing sphere spinning in the middle of nowhere. This is our home, our only home. There is no planet B.

The climate crisis crosses every boundary—real or imagined. We are all connected. Our fates are intertwined.

Therefore, we need to drop everything we are doing and focus on climate solutions, right? I hope you are shaking your head and thinking “I completely disagree with that statement.” because I do, too.

It is ridiculous (in my view) to think we can solve the climate crisis first and then worry about addressing other crises such as racism, discrimination, homelessness, hunger, and income inequality. Only a society of people who respect, value, and care for each other will be able to accomplish what we need to do. Hate, anger, and fear will not get the job done.

We need to transform our society. Social healing and ecological healing are the same work. One cannot succeed without the other.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Fortunately, many, if not most, of the people leading the climate movement get it or at least they are starting to get it. Environmentalists are acknowledging that they need to meet people where they are, to listen to their ideas and concerns, and to support what other people feel is important, too. The smart organizations are asking themselves, “Who are we missing?” and are trying to find out.

After thinking about it for a couple of years, this past year I finally took action to expand my own horizons beyond environmental issues by doing things that I would not normally do.

This included activities like participating in the Women’s March to seek out and talk with people from organizations that have other concerns than the environment.

It involved doing things like standing up for the human rights of immigrants at a Lights for Liberty Rally and then contacting my elected officials to ask them what they are doing about the inhumane treatment of people at U.S. immigration detention centers.

Sometimes it meant going way outside of my comfort zone. For instance, I attended a workshop hosted by R.A.C.E. Matters SLO County where I was asked to confront my own white privilege and consider how I could use it to help build a more just and equitable community.

Are you interested in broadening your own horizons? If you are, where do you start? It does not matter just start. Surely there are issues or causes that interest you. Find something to do (no matter how small) and then do it.

What Can You Do Today?

For practice how about doing something today? Below are five of many possible ways to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the day we celebrate his birthday in the United States.

  • Read Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 1963 “I Have a Dream…” speech.
  • At dinner tonight, talk with whoever is sharing your meal about racism. If you are dining alone, then call someone this evening.
  • Watch the film 13th by director Ava DuVernay, 2016 (it’s available on Netflix).
  • Read the article The history white people need to learn by Mary-Alice Daniel, Salon, 02/07/14.
  • Today, sign up to participate in a meeting, event, or workshop about racism.

“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality…I believe the unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Featured Image at Top

Circle of hands resting on top of the sand – photo credit iStock/kycstudio.

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On Fire – Book Review

We can thrive not just survive.

If you or someone you love is planning to live on Earth anytime in the future, you should read Naomi Klein’s On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal.

Without ever having read a review about it or at least glancing at the front flap of the book jacket, have you ever grabbed a book off of a bookstore shelf and then walked immediately to the checkout counter and bought it? I will only do this for a very few authors which include Naomi Klein, Bill McKibben, and Yvon Chouinard.

That is how I obtained my copy of On Fire.

In just under 300 pages, you will receive a valuable history lesson about the climate crisis and a vision for what we can and need to do to keep Earth habitable for ourselves and those who come after us.

Book Review

Since I had read nothing about On Fire, I did not know what to expect other than it had to do with the climate crisis and the Green New Deal. Having read previous books by Klein I was prepared for a fast-paced, informative, and action provoking book. It is.

On Fire Book Cover

Readers before cracking open On Fire, I suggest you approach reading it with an open and inquisitive mindset. You may find some parts disturbing but you will likely feel uplifted by others.

On Fire consists of essays and public talks that Klein has written and presented over a ten year period from 2010 to 2019.

She covers a lot of ground from the Gulf of Mexico to the Vatican to the Great Barrier Reef. Wide-ranging topics include climate change, capitalism, science, culture, and the Green New Deal. Along the way, you will be exposed to terms like Anglosphere, othering, sacrifice zones, neoliberal economics, and geoengineering.

My copy of On Fire is sporting a bright pink and red ruffle along the page edges where sticky tabs are marking passages that I thought were important or worth reviewing again later. Here are a few examples.

For me, the paragraph below from the “Introduction” pretty much sums up our current situation.

“The past forty years of economic history have been a story of systematically weakening the power of the public sphere, unmaking regulatory bodies, lowering taxes for the wealthy, and selling off essential services to the private sector. All the while, union power has been dramatically eroded and the public has been trained in helplessness: no matter how big the problem, we have been told, it’s best to leave it to the market or billionaire philanthro-capitalists, to get out of the way, to stop trying to fix problems at their root.”

In the chapter entitled “The Leap Years,” Klein describes the Leap Manifesto, a sort of Canadian version of the Green New Deal that she helped write. Page 178 contains a very important message that every environmentalist should heed.

“One thing we were very conscious of when we drafted the Leap Manifesto is that emergencies are vulnerable to abuses of power, and progressives are not immune to this by any means. There is a long and painful history of environmentalists, whether implicitly or explicitly, sending the message that ‘Our cause is so big, and so urgent, and since it encompasses everyone and everything, it should take precedence over everything and everyone else.’ Between the lines: ‘First we’ll save the planet and then we will worry about poverty, police violence, gender discrimination, and racism.’

“The Art of the Green New Deal” chapter near the end of the book discusses the power of art and how it can help us envision the social and ecological transformation we can have if we have the courage to go for it.

The video below co-created by Klein beautifully embodies this idea.

The Bottom Line

When Naomi Klein published her first book about the climate crisis This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate in 2014, she was already an award-winning journalist and bestselling author. She is currently the Senior Correspondent for The Intercept and the Gloria Steinem Endowed Chair in Media, Culture, and Feminist Studies at Rutgers University. Klein is the co-founder of the climate justice organization The Leap.

Many wonderful writers do not have the grasp of language that Klein does. Her writing is clear, understandable, and evocative. She tells it like it is and seems to purposefully say things in a way intended to rile you up, like poking a stick in a hornet’s nest. This is one of the things that make her such a powerful writer. We need people who are willing to say what is really going on and to spur us to action. Klein does that.

I recommend you read On Fire first and then give or loan a copy of the book to someone you know that has not come to grips with the fact that the climate crisis is already here and that we can do something about it.

Featured Image at Top: Sunrise Movement youth activists demanding a Green New Deal during a sit-in outside the office of U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi on November 12, 2018 – Photo courtesy of Sunrise Movement.

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