Civil Rights and Climate Change

[Written on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, 2013]

Perhaps the most important civil rights issue facing us today is climate change. It completely changes the foundation that all our other questions, concerns and struggles are built upon.

shipswheelIf climate change becomes catastrophic, humanity will not die. But those with power and resources will be the most likely to survive, while those without perish. This is not because those with resources are predestined for survival or somehow “chosen”. Nor is it because those without have failed some test of fate, and must carry the label of “losers”. It is simply because resources make it easier to adapt to difficult conditions, whether those resources are political, financial, physical, social, emotional, or spiritual.

I hope that climate change does not become catastrophic, but hope, while necessary, is not enough. We must also bring together all the people of this world who care about equality, fairness and freedom to recognize that this is a threat to those principles of unparalleled proportions. And when financial, physical or political resources are not in our hands, then we must cultivate a powerful core of social, emotional and spiritual strength. We must build upon those to make the political and financial changes needed.

The struggle for social justice and freedom continue throughout the world. We know the challenges before us are many. But we are also making tremendous progress. As Martin Luther King Junior said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” We have seen tremendous progress in the bending of that arc in recent years, such as the Arab Spring, troubled though that work always is.

We must unite against this threat. It is perhaps our greatest challenge as a people for it is not an enemy out there, but a threat that we ourselves have created. This causes confusion. It is not the sort of “fight” we are used to, with an external foe we can revile. Instead it requires different tactics. Instead we must build our own compassion. Instead we must create the new and better world as our first step, as opposed to tearing down “the enemy”.

While we may be unfamiliar with this tactic, and wonder how we rally without an outside enemy, we can also see the tremendous power of this dilemma. When we are the creators and short-term benefactors of this challenge, when we are at the helm of this dangerous ship, then we can also turn the wheel. It requires that we understand this threat to the future that we hold dear.

If we will raise the lantern of hope for freedom and justice, then we must shine the light on climate change. When we bring ourselves together around this wheel, then we can turn it.