Opinion guest column

Join the Global Climate Strike this Friday

MIT students have the opportunity to take action on climate catastrophe and help advance environmental policy

On Sept. 20, in cities around the world, thousands of people will leave their schools and workplaces and take to the streets to demand a survivable future for themselves and future generations. In Boston, the event will begin with a 10 a.m. rally at the City Hall Plaza, followed by a march to the Massachusetts Statehouse. MIT students will also hold their own rally, starting at 10:45 a.m. in front of the Stratton Student Center, followed by a march through campus. The Global Climate Strike will be a valuable chance to put pressure on our local, state, and federal governments to take action on the climate crisis and build support for even greater collective action in the future. MIT students should join the Global Climate Strike and take part in the worldwide movement that is mobilizing to combat the climate crisis.

The climate crisis demands systemic political and economic change to stop fossil fuel consumption and ecological destruction. Historical antecedents from Satyagraha in India to the Civil Rights movement to the anti-Apartheid movement show that nonviolent movements most effectively win major concessions from those in power and create transformative social change through mass non-compliance — marshaling large numbers of people to disrupt the status quo and prevent business-as-usual from continuing until unacceptable wrongs are brought to an end. Already, grassroots activism by the youth-run Sunrise Movement has made its signature demand for a Green New Deal a central point of contention on Capitol Hill, in the 2020 presidential race, and in public discourse. We can and we must achieve more.

Burning fossil fuels is mass murder. Air pollution and climate change linked to fossil fuel emissions will kill over 100 million people by 2100 and plunge over 100 million more into poverty by 2030. The devastation of the Bahamas by Hurricane Dorian is only the most recent of many fatal disasters caused by extreme weather events that are already escalating in intensity and frequency. Demand for fossil fuels has also sparked wars worldwide, including the Gulf War and, arguably, the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. Just months ago, the U.S. came within minutes of starting a war with Iran in the name of protecting oil shipping routes. Until we reject and replace fossil fuels, the U.S. will always be just one provocation away from destroying thousands of lives to secure our energy supply.

The Green New Deal rejects the false narrative that decarbonization would necessarily harm the economy, instead seeing decarbonization as an opportunity to create jobs and redress inequality. In fact, rapid decarbonization is the only way to secure long-term prosperity for the U.S. and for the world. A report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimated that two degrees Celsius of global warming will cause $54 trillion worth of economic damage. A report co-authored by several U.S. federal agencies predicts a 10 percent contraction of U.S. GDP from climate change by 2100, more than twice the economic devastation of the 2008 financial crisis.

The ongoing destruction of the environment is deeply unjust. The wealthiest segment of the global population uses a disproportionate share of fossil fuels and other environmentally damaging resources, whereas the poorest people worldwide are likely to be affected far more severely by the impacts of climate catastrophe than the rich. Indigenous peoples worldwide have already witnessed the apocalyptic destruction of their natural environment and their societies by settler colonialism, and they continue to face brutal violence and outright murder when they attempt to secure their land against further theft and ecological damage.

All these facts give us a moral obligation to act.

MIT students have an exceptional opportunity to advance environmental advocacy by participating in the Global Climate Strike — and, frankly, no excuse not to. Whereas many students and workers will be risking significant repercussions if their schools or employers discipline them for missing class or work, MIT students have the day off from classes on Sept. 20, and will not be subject to these risks.

In addition to contributing to a global movement, the Climate Strike in Boston has a unique opportunity to win major policy concessions in the state of Massachusetts. Organizations like the Boston-based hub of the Sunrise Movement have been calling for a Massachusetts Green New Deal, and policy-makers have stepped up with several groundbreaking state-level bills that, if passed, would represent major steps toward decarbonizing Massachusetts. These include H.2810: An Act to Promote Green Infrastructure and Reduce Carbon Emissions (a carbon pricing bill), H.2836: An Act Re-Powering Massachusetts with 100 Percent Renewable Energy (setting a 2045 deadline for energy sector decarbonization), and H.826: An Act relative to Environmental Justice. The Climate Strike is a perfect chance to demonstrate public support for these measures and put pressure on state lawmakers to pass them as soon as possible.

On Friday, Sept. 20, I will be joining the strikers, raising my voice to demand action. I believe my voice will matter, but only because I will be surrounded by others who are doing the same, demonstrating our collective will to hold local, state, and national governments accountable for addressing the climate emergency and the ongoing destruction of our biosphere.

I hope you’ll be there with me. 

Owen Leddy is a first year PhD student in biological engineering at MIT.