by Charlie Jiang
I’m a 2015-2016 Co-Director of SSS and a current U.S. youth delegate to the United Nations climate conference, COP23, with SustainUS. On Monday, the Trump Administration tried to promote coal as a solution to climate change in their only public event here in Bonn, Germany.
Here’s why we shut it down.
We will likely remember 2017 as the year climate change truly reared its ugly head, far sooner than I imagined. Millions in Puerto Rico are still without power, more than 50 days after Hurricane Maria devastated the island. Vulnerable communities from Houston to the Virgin Islands have all suffered from storms made stronger by warming temperatures.
Yet still, global pledges to reduce emissions to tackle climate change remain woefully inadequate. So-called “Nationally Determined Contributions” under the Paris Agreement are projected to take us beyond 3°C of warming — far exceeding the 1.5°C target vulnerable island nations need to survive. The United States’ contribution in particular falls far short of our obligations given the vast resources at our disposal, not to mention our historical contributions to the climate crisis. The inadequacy of our response to climate disaster was evident even before Trump came to power. Now, by seeking to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Agreement, the Trump administration has made clear its complete disregard for the lives of everyday people.
These are the global stakes I carried as I arrived in Germany for COP23—the first UN climate conference under President Trump. Our SustainUS delegation arrived to mobilize, to further isolate Trump and demonstrate that millions of Americans and people around the world are moving ahead.
The day I arrived in Germany, The New York Times published a blockbuster: “Trump Team to Promote Fossil Fuels and Nuclear Power at Bonn Climate Talks.” The headline said enough: we knew this was our moment. We know that coal is no solution to climate change. There is no place for a dirty energy source that kills thousands each year through air pollution, poisoned water, and climate disaster.
So over a week, we planned. We reached out to partners, from Indigenous organizers and students from the U.S., to youth delegations from Brazil, the U.K., New Zealand, and other countries spanning the globe. We developed contingencies for every possible way our action could go wrong. We wrote a song.
On Monday, hundreds of people lined up to get inside the event. It seemed every reporter in the conference had eyes and cameras trained on this moment. The stakes for us had never been higher. Our outreach paid off with huge dividends: 150 allies managed to fill 70 percent of the room, while 250 more massed outside the doors. As the panel got underway, we could hear our friends outside chanting: “Climate Justice Now!” Twenty minutes in, as the fossil fuel lobbyist headlining the White House’s event extolled the virtues of coal as an energy source, we started to sing.
“So you claim to be an American / but we see right through your greed. / It’s killing all around the world / for that coal money. / So we proudly stand up / until you keep it in the ground. / We the people of the world unite / And we are here to stay.”
With hands on hearts, we sang for the humanity and futures of millions of people whose lives the fossil fuel industry is threatening. We sang to the tune of “God Bless the USA” because we know we represent the true values of the United States. After all, seven in 10 Americans want the U.S. to stay in the Paris Agreement. After 10 minutes we walked out of the room, leaving the coal lobbyists talking to themselves while we staged a People’s Panel in the hallway outside. At the People’s Panel, hundreds cheered to the powerful stories of Indigenous leaders, young organizers, and Pacific Climate Warriors who embodied the beautiful world for which we fight.
Our disruption was not a one-time action, but rather the latest powerful moment in a years-long effort to build the power we need to safeguard our futures. The fossil fuel industry has a stranglehold on our politics. For decades, they have spent millions to stymie efforts to combat climate change, and now an ExxonMobil CEO runs the U.S. State Department. At the same time, we’ve seen incredible leadership from communities at the forefront of this crisis, from the fight to stop the Dakota Access pipeline, to the powerful and ongoing battle against Chevron’s oil refinery in Richmond, to SSS’s own work to leverage Stanford’s resources to address the Bay Area’s housing crisis with the SCoPE coalition.
This past year has taught me we cannot realize our vision of a just and sustainable future without simultaneously organizing for thriving communities and political victories. It’s time we build a stronger, smarter movement that can bridge the local and global, and that can bring together mass mobilization, community organizing, smart policy, and electoral politics into a coordinated effort to stabilize our climate and achieve a just transition to a clean future.
As SSS Co-Director in 2015-2016, I worked to help us recognize our role, as Stanford students, in building better lives for struggling families across the Bay Area — and the world. At this historic crossroads, our responsibility as a Stanford community is greater than ever. I hope the bravery and dignity hundreds of delegates displayed by taking action here in Bonn on Monday inspires thousands more to do the same back home. For as we sang to the fossil fuel lobbyists that seek to bring us down: We the people of the world unite, and we are here to stay.
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