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The Emergency Climate Movement

We are living in a state of planetary emergency. To have a chance of averting the collapse of civilization and the destruction of the natural world, we must mobilize our society on the scale of World War II to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions [1] at wartime speed. The fact that we have already heated the world to such dangerous levels and show little sign of stopping, is evidence of widespread institutional failure. We cannot expect anyone else to save us. We must organize to save ourselves.

The Mainstream Environmental Movement: Avoiding Climate Truth

The aforementioned truth—while daunting and overwhelming— has the potential to be utterly transformative, for individuals and for society as a whole. Yet it has been too often soft-pedaled by environmental organizations and communicators who advocate incrementalism over boldness, vagueness over specificity and personal behavior change over systemic change. These strategies, in an attempt to be palatable and politically “realistic,” are abdicating the climate movement’s greatest strategic asset: the truth. Embracing the truth was at the heart of Gandhi’s Satyagraha campaign, the Civil Rights Movement, the Velvet Revolution and the vast majority of triumphant social movements through history.

The Emergency Climate Movement: Embracing Climate Truth

In recent months, a new, increasingly powerful segment of the climate movement has been taking shape. A coalition of those who openly recognize the existential threat of the climate crisis and advocate for a solution that is scientifically realistic and morally tenable: emergency mobilization.

San Diego Rally for Mobilization, March, 15. Photo Credit: Jerry Phelps

The Climate Mobilization (TCM), a one-year old group that I founded and direct, has been a central part of this hopeful shift away from carbon gradualism—slowly reducing emissions while effectively maintaining business as usual. Philip Sutton, a member of TCM’s advisory board, puts this shift in perspective in his excellent paper, Striking Targets:

“Over those last 27 years, while all the research, activism and negotiation has been going on, the climate has actually become dangerous. So, the key goal now must be to provide, at the 11th hour, real protection for the vulnerable people, species and ecosystems of the world. The principal struggle must shift, from the clash between no action and some action, to the crucial struggle between those who want to constrain reform to levels that are not too disruptive and those who want action that will provide highly effective and timely protection.”

In other words, isolated actions such as the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan, putting a price on carbon or even policies aiming for net zero emissions by 2050, are no longer sufficient. Perhaps if we had implemented these measures 30 years ago, they would have been adequate to maintain a safe climate. But that time has passed. Only emergency action—a mobilization of our entire economy and society—will protect us now. We must stop emissions in years, not decades. It is time to align our demands and language with the truth.

In June, Reverend Lennox Yearwood, Jr. and Tom Weis, leaders in the climate movement and members of TCM’s advisory board, echoed TCM’s call for zero emissions by 2025 by writing in "America’s Zero Emissions Imperative":

“Some will no doubt call this bold national goal unrealistic, but they would underestimate the innovative genius and social conscience of the American people. America has a long and proud history of overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds (consider World War II, Apollo program and Abolitionist movement). What is unrealistic is thinking we can put off for decades action that is desperately needed now to ensure our survival as a species.”

Tom Weis followed up on that article by writing an open letter to President Obama, calling on him to set reducing U.S. emissions to net zero by 2025—through an “all hands on deck societal mobilization at wartime speed”—as the U.S.’s commitment in the upcoming UN climate talks in Paris.

This letter is the single strongest display of public support for emergency climate mobilization that has ever been made. Signers include Lester Brown, Terry Tempest Williams, Mark Ruffalo, Ed Begley, Jr.David Suzuki, Winona LaDuke, Tim DeChristopher, Yeb Sano, Josh Fox, IPCC Coordinating Lead Author Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, the former chair of the Australian Coal Association, the founder of the Woods Hole Research Center, the founder of the Global Catholic Climate Movement, the founder of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, the former secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency and the four co-founders of The Climate Mobilization.

Read page 1

The Climate Mobilization: Catalyzing the Emergency Climate Movement

I developed the idea for the Pledge to Mobilize—a denial-fighting, power-building tool—while earning my PhD in clinical psychology and working as a psychotherapist. Working with a team of co-founders, allies and consultants all over the world, we turned an idea into a reality and formed The Climate Mobilization. The pledge is a one-page document that any American—and, since we have expanded internationally, anyone on earth—can sign, it is a tool designed to help people fully face climate truth and channel the deep emotions that arise into effective political engagement.

New York City Mobilizers, Aug. 15 after a Teach-In in Battery Park City

The pledge is a public acknowledgment that the climate crisis threatens the collapse of civilization, as well as call for the U.S. to initiate a WWII-scale climate mobilization to eliminate our national net greenhouse gas emissions by 2025 and enlist in an international effort to mobilize off fossil fuels and restore a safe global climate. The pledge also contains a set of political and personal commitments. Signers agree to support elected officials and political candidates who have pledged to mobilize with their vote, as well as time or money and to spread the truth of climate change and the Pledge to Mobilize, to others.

The pledge encourages active hope and political empowerment. Using the WWII metaphor, we illustrate a time in which the U.S. successfully mobilized against an existential crisis. The pledge challenges people to grow their awareness, cope with the reality and become active agents for effective change by spreading climate truth and sharing the Pledge to Mobilize with others.

The Pledge to Mobilize has been signed by more than 2,400 Americans and international allies including Winona LaDuke, Marshall Saunders, the Founder of Citizens Climate Lobby; Catharine Thomasson, Director of Physicians for Social Responsibility; Randy Hayes, the Founder of Rainforest Action Network; Paul Gilding, former head of Greenpeace and author of The Great Disruption.

The pledge has also been gaining momentum with political candidates and elected officials. Recent signers include: Des Moines Mayor Frank Cowie, Iowa Legislator Dan Kelley, San Jose City Councilor Ash Kalra, Des Moines City Councilor Skip Moore, San Fransicso Mayoral candidate Amy Farah Weiss and Florida congressional candidate Alina Valdes. Councilman Ash Kalra and Mayoral candidate Amy Farah Weis can be seen taking the Pledge to Mobilize on video.

We have recently started a Mobilize Iowa campaign in which we take the Pledge to Mobilize directly to the 2016 presidential candidates. Our current nation-wide initiative is the Moral Mobilization, which will run from now—coinciding with the Pope’s visit—through the Paris talks. The Moral Mobilization seeks to amplify and concretize Pope Francis’ message of “ecological conversion.” During Moral Mobilization events, community leaders will read from the Encyclical and publicly Pledge to Mobilize as they call on Congress, the White House and all levels of government, to do the same.

The Emergency Climate Movement is just getting started. We understand that everything we love is on the line and that inaction or insufficient action will lead to unfathomable catastrophe. In response, we are redefining “realistic” to what is necessary and true. We hope you join us.

For a more in-depth version of these arguments, in a beautifully illustrated PDF, see The Climate Mobilization’s Manifesto: The Transformative Power of Climate Truth.

For the scientific case for Emergency Mobilization see RECOUNT by David Spratt and the Case for Mobilization by Ezra Silk and Margaret Klein Salamon.

[1] When I say "Net zero emissions,” I mean that, it may not be possible to eliminate all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in the short timeline that The Climate Mobilization calls for. If so, the emissions that remain will be balanced out through carbon-negative techniques such as reforestation, permaculture and biochar. This vision of "net zero emissions" does not include corporate land grabs or schemes in which the U.S. discounts its own emissions through foreign carbon sequestration. Further, it is a stepping stone to the U.S. eliminating all remaining GHG emissions and becoming carbon negative. For more information, see the Pledge to Mobilize or the Case for Mobilization.

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