(The following is an article written by our friend and ally from Philadelphia. She recently attended the “Forward on Climate” in Washington D.C., and offers some insightful and challenging analysis to the climate movement. Enjoy!)
Climate Exceptionalism and the Forward on Climate Rally
As I’m helping organize buses to the 350.org “Forward on Climate” rally in D.C., I can’t but feel deep reservations about it. A recent article by 350’s President, Bill McKibben, has hung in my mind because it encapsulates the hope and power of 350’s campaign, as well and the ignorance of movement history and endemic elitism that pervades some parts of mainstream climate organizing. McKibben treats climate work as a completely exceptional case, as more urgent than other work for justice, and in the process sabotages the possibility of fostering a real movement.
Rather than seeing climate activism as part of broader struggles against domination of the many by the few (i.e. the Left), McKibben frames it as a completely separate thing. It’s “the greatest problem we’ve ever faced. It’s not a fight, like education reform or abortion or gay marriage, between conflicting groups with conflicting opinions.” Everyone should work on nothing except climate change because, essentially, everything else can wait. This is climate exceptionalism, the idea that climate work is separate from and above other work for justice. Such a claim to some trophy for “most urgent issue” is dismissive toward movements all over the globe fighting for basic survival and dignity, and for other desperately needed structural change. But the question to be asking is not whether climate change is actually worse than genocide or wars or prisons or the systematic exploitation of most of the world’s people for profit, but why do we even need to compare and rank the problems? Would climate change be less of a problem if we decided genocide was actually worse? Would we be closer to overcoming either of them? What does it accomplish other than give people working on climate change a sense of unjustified superiority over other movements?
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