Opinion: If the Earth burning isnt enough, what will spark climate protests? The Denver Post

What does it take to launch a successful social movement – one that brings pressure on world leaders to bring about actual policy changes?

Of course, there needs to be a sense of profound injustice, something that makes a segment of the population break out of their day-to-day focus on meeting immediate needs – food, shelter, earning a living, caring for loved ones –  and take to the streets and demand change.

There must also be a sense of urgency, the perception that action is needed soon, if not immediately. Either the consequences of inaction will quickly become intolerable or frustration over long enduring social injustice builds to the boiling point.

Examples of social movements that have brought about meaningful political, economic, and societal changes include the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s, the women’s suffrage movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the anti-war movement in reaction to American intervention in Vietnam, and the outpouring of grief, anger, and frustration triggered by the murder of George Floyd in the spring of 2020.

All of these examples demonstrate that a convergence of social awareness, outrage, and organized political action can change the course of history. Will now become such a time for global climate change?

The Summer of 2023 has brought home to us all — as never before — the unavoidable and undeniable truth: our planet is burning. This is not a single episode in a fluctuating cycle over time; the record-shattering temperatures throughout the northern hemisphere are here to stay and will only worsen in years. Unprecedented monsoon rains and flooding, massive wildfires, arctic ice sheets melting, sea levels rising, heated-related deaths on the rise, etc.

So why, then, are we not all rising to our feet (literally, not merely figuratively) and taking to the streets to demand change from our governments and carbon-spewing industries?

Some have suggested that climate change is not a sudden event but a trend that gradually worsens over time (like the slow boiling frog metaphor). It lacks the immediacy and urgency of an episodic calamity like the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster or a mass shooting (at least one of which occurs daily in the U.S.).  But, to a large extent, those human-caused “news events” are of local or, at most regional impact, whereas all inhabitants of the northern hemisphere are now experiencing the devastating effects of climate change simultaneously.

The climate crisis is not a lacking sense of injustice or immediacy, or even a charismatic and inspiring leader/spokesperson — Greta Thunberg could be today’s Martin Luther King Jr. There is already a robust group of advocacy organizations worldwide devoted to change corporate and political policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Nevertheless, President Joe Biden has authorized expansive oil exploration in the Arctic Nature Preserve, England has authorized another massive round of fossil fuel extraction, and the world’s projected demand for coal to fire carbon-emitting power plants remains unchanged in the coming years.

Scientists and social activists agree: we cannot simply continue “business as usual” without risking the potential extinction of our species. As one author cogently put it: “The transformation away from fossil fuel capitalism means a major social and political transformation.” Glenn T. Martin has proposed the adoption of an entirely new international government structure – The Earth Constitution –  which presumably can guide our transition from competing nation-states and powerful multi-national corporations to a collaborative global approach to address a global problem. But so far, such efforts have not gained traction.

So what is the missing ingredient that might unify and coordinate the vast array of overlapping organizational efforts to mobilize the world population and address this existential crisis?

My answer: a catchy, pithy slogan or rallying cry. Here’s my suggestion: “#EarthIsBurning” (or #EIB for short).

Many will dismiss this idea as overly simplistic. But think for a moment: would the massive public outcry in response to George Floyd’s murder have been so powerful without the unifying slogan “Black Lives Matter”? Would the global backlash against centuries of misogyny and sexual abuse triggered by exposure of the crimes of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, and other despicable male predators have occurred if the “#metoo” handle had not empowered it?

I offer up #EarthIsBurning as a common label to unify the myriad efforts necessary to pressure our institutions to save the ecosystem that sustains us all. Shout it from your rooftops: the Earth Is Burning! Emblazon it on T-shirts, banners, posters, and bumper stickers (for EVs), and donate the proceeds, beyond actual costs, to organizations already engaged in this global mobilization effort.

The time has come for all of us to take to the streets, literally, and demand change. Our lives, and those of our offspring, depend upon it.

Steve Zansberg is a First Amendment and media lawyer in Denver, Colorado. He advises and represents The Denver Post’s newsroom.

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