By Jen Gobby. Last weekend I left my familiar habitat of the libraries and classrooms of McGill University and I boarded the Greyhound to New York City. There I participated in the largest Climate March in history. I and some 400, 000 other people walked together to express concern and willingness to take action. The march itself was an amazing show of public concern and political will. However, the highlight of the weekend for me was another event going on – the NYC Climate Convergence (http://convergeforclimate.org/). It took place for two days leading up to the historic march on the Sunday. The Convergence pamphlet states: “The UN and world leaders have been debating what to do about climate change for two decades and have gotten nowhere. In fact, their solutions get fuzzier as the science and impact of climate change gets clearer. These impacts are already being felt by those on the front lines of the crisis. This is why we must converge for climate action. Let’s discuss the real alternatives and develop action plans that transform the profit-driven systems, rather than accept it.” From Friday evening to Saturday evening, 118 events took place around the East Village in community centers, parks, gardens and churches. I heard speeches, stories, songs, poems, strategies and panel discussions from trade union organizers, community activists, hip-hop artists, indigenous youth and elders, authors, students and many others.
Climate Justice is the growing intersection between the environmental and social justice movements. As evidenced at this convergence, climate justice is bringing more and more people together from all over the globe and from previously disparate interest groups. I heard Oscar Olivar, a water rights activist from Bolivia tell his story of the movement that he started which grew to a million people, who successfully fought against privatization of water sources in Cochabamba. Olga Bautista from Chicago’s south east side described an image that struck me hard – of backyard birthday parties cancelled due to coal dust in the air settling on cakes and children.
Erica Violet Lee, a young woman from Saskatoon, representing Idle No More talked about Indigenous resistance to resource exploitation in Canada and about growing up Indigenous. Desmond D’sa, a man who helped organize South Durban’s communities in order shut down toxic waste dumps spoke about his family home being fire bombed as back lash to his activism. Valerie Blakely from Detroit, Michigan told the ongoing story of her community being cut off from the city water system and how they have come together and are fighting for this basic access to clean water. Labour activist Nastaran Mohit advocated for the local marginalized communities still struggling to recover from Hurricane Sandy.
This is merely a snap shot of the lives and stories that converged in New York that weekend. A common underlying story emerges: It is a story of profit-driven corporate takeover, extractivism and destruction of the commons and with it, the theft of local people’s access to the basic needs of life – clean water, air, and food. A small hand full of powerful people are getting obscenely rich off the depletion of the earth’s natural resources at expense of the lives and wellbeing of ecosystems and poor people. On Saturday night at the Closing Plenary, Canadian author Naomi Klein identified this root cause underlying these issues and stated that in order to address climate change “we need to counter the brutal logic of market fundamentalism.”
This problem is beyond daunting. But as revolutionary hip-hop artist Immortal Technique reminded the room at the Opening Plenary, “Direct action is the antidote of despair.” The accounts of courageous resistance and community organizing success stories help counter the growing alarm and despair that builds in me as the reality of climate change becomes more real. I’ve been reading academic literature and media articles about climate change for the much of my last three years at McGill. I’m well steeped in the science, debates, impacts, community responses, policies and proposed solutions, yet the reality of it remained somewhat of an abstraction to me. While listening to the stories and seeing faces of the people on the front lines of this crisis, climate change came alive for me in a way it had not been before. I have come back with it all feeling less abstract and foreign to my immediate reality. And so I’ve came home with new conviction: I want my E4A research not merely to contribute to the academic understanding of climate change and its justice dimensions. I want it to be directly informed by, and of use to, the people whose lives are on the line fighting for their rights to sustenance. In this way, I plan to make good use of this amazing privilege I have to sit in the comfortable libraries and classrooms of McGill. As I heard somewhere recently, we academics need to get out more. One of the goals of the E4A partnership is to reconcile the disciplines and break through academic silos. But I was reminded this weekend of the need for, and power of, bridging the gap between academia and the rest of the world.