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Occupy Climate Change

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The Occupy Spring: Jeremy Brecher
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Occupy Wall Street’s original Declaration of the City of New York, in September, listed a litany of issues, from foreclosures and bailouts to outsourcing and cruelty to animals, but it barely mentioned the environment and was silent on global warming and climate change. A resolution passed by consensus at a General Assembly this past January more than rectified the omission. It states, “We are at a dangerous tipping point in history. The destruction of our planet and climate change are almost at a point of no return.” The resolution links climate destruction to the shift in political power that lies at the heart of Occupy: “We must reclaim our democracy to protect our planet.”

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  • Jeremy Brecher

About the Author

Jeremy Brecher
Jeremy Brecher’s new book Save the Humans? Common Preservation in Action, just published by Paradigm...

Also by the Author

We can, and must, create common ground between the labor and climate movements.

Despite rumors of its demise, Occupy Wall Street has given rise to a flurry of actions targeting the 99 percent. What is this new phenomenon—and what role will it play in November?

The General Assembly resolution calls for a month of action, starting March 24 and leading up to Earth Day on April 22, to draw the Occupy movements across the country and around the world further into the struggle to protect the climate. “Earth Month,” which will target all fossil and nonrenewable fuels, is being spearheaded by a group from OWS called 99forEarth. The resolution also calls for “connecting the dots between the 1% and the destruction of the planet.” At one end of the chain are specific depredations on specific environments: “Our mountains in Appalachia are blasted; our drinking water in the northeast [is] threatened by fracking; our American heartland is charted for an oil pipeline; and our forests in the northwest [are] targeted for further deforestation.” Connect the dots and you find that the corporate destruction of the earth’s climate has been “financed by the 1%” and that a “small group of polluting businesses” have “hijacked our political system for their benefit.”

As the Occupy movement evolves from a wave of encampments to new forms of a densely networked, virtual and face-to-face political community, its concern with climate change and environmental devastation is growing and converging with activism aimed more directly at the economic depredations of the 1 percent. That convergence may be crucial for the future of the Occupy movement, and of the planet. Climate and environment fit naturally into the Occupy story. The Occupy movement is about reclaiming a future for people who have had their life chances rubbished by three decades of global neoliberalism and austerity. But it’s not just about paycheck economics; the destruction of the climate and environment is an integral part of the neoliberal world order. The same corporations, banks and financial institutions that destroyed the economy are destroying the global environment. The struggle to preserve the earth and its atmosphere is, by necessity, a struggle against those forces.

Conveying this story to the American people is difficult because of the persistence of climate change denial. But it is a story that resonates with what OWS has already revealed. Climate denial and destruction become easier to understand—and more enraging—when grasped not as part of some obscure scientific debate but as weapons for the aggrandizement of energy corporations and financial institutions at the expense of the rest of us.

The climate crisis is a global crisis, which will require global cooperation to solve. Without international agreement, if one country restricts corporate carbon pollution, global corporations will seek to move their production elsewhere. In a global economy, countries are likely to seek economic advantage by allowing higher levels of pollution. Fortunately, both Occupy and the climate protection movement are highly hooked up globally—the protests that linked Occupy and other economic justice movements on October 15 reached an estimated 1,500 cities worldwide, and 350.org has initiated globally coordinated demonstrations in every country except North Korea.

An economy driven to enrich the 1 percent cannot meet the needs of the 99 percent for a secure, sustainable future. We need a strategy to counter the threats to economic security and climate security by putting people to work to create a low-pollution, climate-friendly, sustainable global economy—what is sometimes described as a Global Green New Deal. It will require democratizing our economy so that we can direct our labor and our investment to sustainably meeting the needs of all people. It will require not just different policies, or even different structures, but a global society mobilized for change. A Global Green New Deal will ensure jobs and livelihoods for all, because it will take all the work—and all the creativity—we can muster.

ALSO IN THIS FORUM

Richard Kim: “The Occupy Spring?
Michael Moore: “The Purpose of Occupy Wall Street Is to Occupy Wall Street
Ilyse Hogue: “Occupy Is Dead! Long Live Occupy!
Bill Fletcher Jr.: “Occupy the Imagination
Todd Gitlin: “More Than a Protest Movement
Frances Fox Piven: “Occupy! and Make Them Do It
Stephen Lerner: “Horizontal Meets Vertical; Occupy Meets Establishment
Jonathan Schell: “If Vaclav Havel Met Occupy's Human Mic...

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