Last night, I received an email, one of a mass mailing, from May Boeve on behalf of the organization 350.org, a grass-roots organization dedicated to fighting climate change. Here is the letter without commentary. Afterwards, I’ll tell you what think.
We weren’t sure exactly how to write this email.
Like many of you, we’ve been doing a whole lot of reading, listening, and reflecting over the past week, and we feel like this is an important thing for us to say (even if it’s not the kind of thing you’re used to hearing from us):
350.org stands in solidarity with those in Ferguson, Missouri protesting the shooting of unarmed black teenager Mike Brown — and we call on the climate movement to stand with us. We believe unequivocally that working for racial justice is a crucial part of fighting climate change.
Communities of color and poor communities are hit first and hardest by the impacts of a climate system spiraling out of control. From those impacted by Hurricane Katrina nearly a decade ago, to the New York neighborhoods that bore the brunt of Hurricane Sandy, to whole towns in the Philippines devastated by Typhoon Haiyan just last year — these communities are on the front lines of our fight in a very real way. If their voices are not part of this movement, then this movement will not succeed.
Movements for justice in the U.S. are often fractured, and powerful interests — like the fossil fuel industry — try their hardest to make those divisions wider. Choosing to stand together is one of the most important choices we can make. In this moment, that means being frank about the ongoing legacy of racial injustice in our country.
We want to honor the work of grassroots racial justice organizers around the country, and we’ve asked some of them for guidance on how folks in the climate movement can show their support. Here are two things you can do:
If you would like to donate to the family of Mike Brown or racial justice organizers working in Missouri, click here to get connected. Reading more about allyship and solidarity is also helpful — this blog post from my colleague Deirdre Smith is a good place to start.
The tensions and inequalities now dividing our world make fighting climate change so much more challenging, even as climate change threatens to deepen those tensions and divide our movements. Here at 350.org, we care deeply about confronting the climate crisis — and we also care that fossil fuels impact the air we breathe, the stability of our communities, and the ability of families to plan for their futures. We seek big, bold solutions to the climate crisis, and that takes a big, bold movement.
One way we’re building that big movement is through the People’s Climate March, which we’ve been working hard on for the past couple of months. As part of that process, we’ve had the opportunity to work with more people of color and people of color led organizations. We’re grateful for their partnership, and for the partnership of others in the climate movement who are speaking out and making these connections.
And, as ever, we are grateful to be part of building a compassionate movement with all of you.
May & 350.org’s U.S. team
Now the trouble I have with this letter is that it entangles the issue of climate change with entirely different issues of social justice. First of all, I’m not even sure we should take a stand on the particular case of the Brown shooting. The investigations have only begun; we really need to wait for them to finish before we can draw our own conclusions. Police officers who treat young blacks as criminals in the absence of any evidence of wrongdoing are a real problem, a problem that society must confront. But should organizations who are dedicated to environmental issues get involved with this one?
If an organization’s purpose is to further what is known as the liberal point of view, that makes sense. But if the organization is dedicated to environmental causes, by taking stands on other issues it risks alienating people who might disagree on the unrelated issue. Most people will readily agree that the shooing of Michael Brown was a tragedy, but not everybody is sure that it wasn’t a justifiable homicide. Any organization that takes a strong stand on the Brown case risks alienating these people.
Now the letter makes the valid point that the environmental movement needs people in low-income communities to add their voices to the struggle. The trick is to build the widest coalition possible with people with all kinds of political opinions.
I am a committed Zionist. But in the fight against global warming, I can work alongside Palestinian activists who want companies to disinvest in Israel. But if the environmental movement were to adopt the stand of these activists as its own view, I’d have to walk away. I can’t endanger my beloved State of Israel, even to fight global warming.
Here is my response that I emailed back to Ms. Boeve:
Dear Ms. Boeve:
Sorry, but I must take issue with your letter down below. It is a mistake to tie the climate-change issue with other issues such as social justice. In order to move government policy on climate change, we need to reach out to as many people as possible, including those who may disagree with us on other issues. There may be people who side with the police officer who shot Mike Brown and there may be people who were totally disgusted and put off by the violence and looting that occurred in the aftermath of the shooting. We need those people on board with us on climate change, and if we are going to tie issues together, we risk losing those people.
Concern about climate change should not be a liberal issue. It should be of concern to everyone no matter where they fall on the political spectrum.