In These Times - April 3, 2020

As the COVID-19 pandemic has left most of the country sheltering in place and bracing for hundreds of thousands of deaths and economic fallout that could sideline as much as a third of the U.S. workforce, climate justice warriors took to the Internet this past week to build an online mass movement that they are constructing as they go.

Propelled by anger over the $500 billion “corporate slush fund” included in the $2 trillion bailout rushed through Congress and signed by President Donald Trump last month, hundreds of environmental and social justice organizations have joined forces to demand that the next economic stimulus package Congress is expected to pass prioritize regular people over corporations and invest in long-term fixes to poverty and climate change.

“Mother Nature is fighting back,” said Jennifer Falcon, communications coordinator for the Indigenous Environmental Network. “Our response to climate change should be similar to our response to Covid-19, because after the pandemic passes, we are still facing a climate crisis and chaos is hitting communities from the arctic to the global south.”

The Network is among the organizations—from environmental stalwarts like Greenpeace, the Sunrise Movement and 350.org to progressive groups like the Working Families Party—that have rallied around proposals for a social-justice-infused People’s Bailout that would address the climate crisis with a clean energy transition, rather than propping up the failing oil and gas industry and other polluting corporations. The groups also support a detailed Green Stimulus plan, penned by progressive economic and policy experts and guided by five people-centric principals, including one that calls on the pandemic response to build “a regenerative economy” fueled by wind and solar.

Since the pandemic has forced activists to cancel planned Earth Day street protests this spring, climate and social justice organizations nationwide are scrambling to move online the fight for a just and renewable future. While the focus of the protests planned for Earth Day had been on climate justice, COVID-19 has exposed the woeful inadequacy, activists say, of the country’s healthcare and economic infrastructure, making the pandemic another strong argument for a more holistic approach to dealing with the country’s thorniest problems, from crumbling infrastructure to atrophied social safety nets, with proposals like the Green New Deal championed by Sunrise and many of the other groups.

The last year or so had already seen unprecedented increases in public concern about climate change, and support is on the rise for a comprehensive solution, such as the Green New Deal. Since the pandemic took hold, even more moderate environmental groups like the Ceres Investor Network and the Natural Resources Defense Council, more closely aligned with corporations than social justice organizations, are also demanding a climate-friendly U.S. government pandemic response to jumpstart a lower pollution future. Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency, also made a plea last month for governments to use pandemic economic stimulus funding to prioritize the many shovel-ready clean and renewable energy projects that could set the world on a path to lower climate changing emissions.

The environmental movement has long been criticized for failing to fight for working people, particularly people of color. For decades those criticisms had made it too easy for corporations to pit labor unions and low-income communities against environmentalists. Those divisions have started dissolving in recent years, however, as labor unions and environmentalists find more common ground around battles for a “just climate transition.” This demand is aimed at addressing longstanding inequities in frontline communities and providing retraining and a jobs guarantee to shield workers as old economy industries such as oil and gas and coal fall by the waysides.

As traditional boundaries blur between activism on environmental and social justice, and the ranks of environmental justice activists grow, today’s youth-powered climate movement is giving this trend a turbo-boost. Much has been made of how these impassioned teenaged and young-adult activists are “digital natives,” savvy to the ways of online communicating. But they are “climate justice natives” too, who see the people’s and the planet’s troubles as inexorably linked—and reject the cliché that we must choose between protecting the economy or the environment. ...
Read full report at In These Times