Home > Uncategorized > Class of 0000 Idea Spawns Common Dreams Coverage… My Op Ed

Class of 0000 Idea Spawns Common Dreams Coverage… My Op Ed

June 10, 2019

Common Dreams writer Julia Conley wrote a post this weekend describing commencement addresses across the country that adopted the “Class of 0000” theme… a theme that was a call to action against climate change. Ms. Conley reported that over 350 addresses used this issue as a theme… but many speakers were unable to deliver their commencement addresses with this theme because it was deemed to be “too political”. She wrote:

Students in Massachusetts, California, Arizona, and elsewhere have been told they cannot give the Class of 0000 speech—angering students who say their schools have previously been open to protests like the National Student Walkout for gun control reform last year.

“It’s shocking to me that we could voice our opinions then, but are silenced when we want to talk about climate change,” Jessica Lopez, a senior at Health Sciences High and Middle College told The Guardian.A lot of adults blame our generation for being sensitive but we have to deal with the problems they have caused. It’s really frustrating. We are vocal about climate change because no one else is going to do anything about it.”

“On this issue, it feels like the adults are the children,” Lopez added.

Alas, too many members of my generation HAVE behaved like children… choosing to ignore pesky scientific facts that do not mesh with our desire to consume more and more of the limited resources available to us on the planet.

After hearing Bill McKibben speak at the Norwich Congregational Church (the nearby bookstore was too small to handle the crowd) I wrote an ope ed piece that our local newspaper published, a piece that referenced the Class of 0000 idea. Here it is:

Last week the Valley News featured a front page article by Tim Camerato about Hillary Clinton’s talk at Dartmouth College and a second page column by John Gregg about the political perspectives of John Lynch. Both Ms. Clinton and Mr. Lynch represent the “centrist” ground of the Democratic Party, the group of politicians who seek incremental change and bi-partisanship.

Mr. Camerato reported that Ms. Clinton urged caution in entering into impeachment proceedings, expressed concern that Russia’s interference in the 2016 election might be overlooked entering the 2020 election cycle, spoke about the need to engage in diplomacy instead of provocation in international affairs, and spoke about the struggles women face in the developing world and America.

Mr. Lynch expressed his support for Joe Biden, who he characterized as capable of re-unifying the country, and expressed reservations about those candidates who are attempting to “drag the party too far left”. Mr. Lynch feels that most voters don’t like “discussions that appear to be pushing America toward socialism”.

I was sorry neither Ms. Clinton nor Mr. Lynch spoke about climate change. But after listening to a talk last Wednesday by environmentalist and author Bill McKibben at the Congregational Church in Norwich and given their desire to seek middle ground, I think I know why. According to Bill McKibben’s latest thinking, we are past the time when incremental political change and individual actions can reverse the impact of humans on global warming. To change the course we are now will require aggressive action by the government, citizen activism at all levels, and solutions that require nothing less than a change of our collective mindset.  

In his sobering and persuasive talk to roughly 100 gathered at the Congregational Church in Norwich, Mr. McKibben described the melting of the polar ice caps, the super storms in Mozambique that dumped over 6 FEET of rain, and the fires that destroyed entire towns in California. He described how the immigration problems in Europe and in our country are linked to climate change. He explained that decade-long droughts in eastern Syria and the highlands of Central America compelled farmers and their families to abandon their fallow fields to seek work in cities. And because work was unavailable in the cities the economies were de-stabilized resulting in civil wars in Syria and narco-terrorism in Central America. These conditions made life untenable for families in those countries and when they sought asylum in Europe and our country, it created an “immigration crisis”. The roots of this “immigration crisis”, then, are not economic, political, or religious. The roots are climate change, a change that environmentalists predicted and a change that as far back as the early 1980s oil companies knew would occur if we continued to burn fossil fuels.

Bill McKibben did not need to say what the audience already concluded: in 2020 climate change is a political issue that dwarfs the topics that currently dominate the news. Impeachment, Russia’s interference in our politics, international relations, and the “discussions that appear to be pushing America toward socialism” are inconsequential compared to climate change. Bill McKibben did not need to say this to the audience because he knew that a late April poll taken by CNN of those voters who are “Democrats or democratic-leaning independents who are registered to vote” view “taking aggressive action to slow the effects of climate change” as the most important issue for 2020 candidates to take in the upcoming election.

What would it mean to “take aggressive action to slow the effects of climate change”? To Bill McKibben it would mean more than voluntary action on the part of those who value the environment… and a LOT more than the incremental actions proposed by “centrists” like Ms. Clinton and Mr. Biden. In a recent Politico article, he offered three specific tests for 2020 candidates in the context of climate change:

First, a pledge to endorse a forthcoming detailed Green New Deal that will emerge from a series of 100 Town Hall meetings being convened by the Sunrise Movement, the group of young people who launched the outline of this initiative and are now fleshing out the details.

Second, a promise to “Keep It in the Ground”: that is “to stop new permits for drilling and mining on federal ground, and to apply a climate test to all new proposed infrastructure.” Mr. McKibben notes that this could be accomplished by Executive order, making it a promise that a candidate can make and keep with or without legislative action.

The third pledge Bill McKibben proposes for 2020 candidates is the easiest one to track and the easiest one to keep: reject any funding from the fossil fuel industry.

“Aggressive action” could require legislation like a carbon tax, a budget that would increase government subsidies for alternative energy while simultaneously limiting the subsidies for the fossil fuel industry, and a commitment to the kind of wholesale change advocated by organizations like the Class of 0000, a group of young climate activists who seek to build a coalition of first-time voters who will prioritize climate change in the 2020 election. In an effort to get voters and candidates making climate change a priority, this group is urging valedictorians and commencement speakers to deliver a short, blunt message to those gathered at commencement:

Zero emissions. Zero excuses. Zero time to waste.

As an aging Baby Boomer who remembers attending one of the first Earth Day gatherings in 1970 in Fairmount Park in Philadelphia, I applaud those in the emerging generation who are pushing to reverse the direction our country is heading. I hoped our generation might clean up the environment and make the planet a better place. Thanks to the creation of the EPA six months after the first Earth Day and the enforcement of regulations that agency created shortly thereafter, the rivers no longer caught fire and the air became cleaner than it was in the late 1960s. But in two short years we’ve witnessed the issuance of executive orders that dismantled the regulations that protect clean air and water, we’ve experienced a 30-year low in criminal enforcement by the EPA, we’ve withdrawn from international climate accords, and we’ve accepted the appointments of key government officials who deny scientific findings that indicate an urgent need to limit the use of fossil fuel. We are back-pedaling on the environment in the name of economic growth while the continued emission of fossil fuels creates chaos across the globe.

MAYBE the Class of 0000 will get us back on track. But they will only do so if they can bring climate change to the forefront in 2020 even if doing so will require more than half-measures. As Bill McKibben told the audience in Norwich, the laws of Congress and the laws of physics have grown increasingly divergent, and the laws of physics are not likely to yield. When it comes to climate change, there is no middle ground… only higher ground.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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