A Call to Action on Climate Change

Thirty-one years ago Harvey Jackins wrote in his Preliminary Report to the 1981 World Conference, “I place before the World Conference and the entire International Community the priority of counseling away every distress that has kept us from promptly, decisively, and effectively eliminating nuclear weapons.” He felt that doing that should “take precedence in our thinking and must receive concentrated attention in this current period regardless of how little we feel ready to deal with it” and that “it is plain at this point that we will solve all other problems, given our present state of emergence, if we are permitted enough time to do so. Nuclear weapons threaten to deny us that time.”

I remember well how many of us got to work discharging and went on to become advocates for nuclear disarmament. Times have changed, and the threat has lessened, although the goal of eliminating nuclear weapons is not accomplished.

I would like to suggest to the RC Communities that we face a similar situation now with climate change. We will run out of time to solve the problem of racism and every other form of oppression and human irrationality if we continue to pump carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and set in motion physical forces of warming that cannot be stopped.

There are many indications that the situation is urgent, and I believe that the leadership of RCers is greatly needed. I could cite many examples of extreme weather events. Here in the United States we had an unprecedented heat wave for much of the month of March in which 15,232 high-temperature records were broken. In the last couple of years the state of Vermont and the Mississippi River (in the United States) have experienced the worst flooding on record, as have parts of Pakistan, Australia, Thailand, and Central America. In Pakistan twenty million people had to relocate. Human emissions have warmed the planet enough already that the air is holding more moisture and the moisture is feeding more extreme storms that lead to flooding.

Nevertheless, human emissions from fossil fuels continue to increase faster than the worst-case scenarios envisioned by the International Panel on Climate Change. The International Energy Agency has found that global fossil fuel development planned for the next five years alone, if carried out, would put Earth at carbon dioxide levels that would be catastrophic. It may already be too late to avoid the climate tipping points that would make human emissions irrelevant and perhaps lead to a massive extinction of life on Earth. But there is also a chance that decisive action could pull us back from the brink.

A few countries, including Denmark and Mexico, have made tremendous commitments to cutting their emissions.In every country people are mobilizing in creative ways. Yet the task of converting to a different energy system is complex, enormous, and hindered by entrenched patterns of greed and oppression. It will take a huge amount of human initiative and cooperation to halt and perhaps eventually undo the damage caused by the large-scale burning of fossil fuels that has taken place since the Industrial Revolution.

We RCers have the potential to make a huge difference. We have in our Communities terrific leadership training, clear policies, and a way to support ourselves and others to face the threat and step out of powerlessness. We can discharge our fear and grief, and learn what we need to learn. We can do this “regardless of how little we feel ready to deal with it,” as Harvey said.

I’ve made this a priority in my life because I think it is the most important decision I can make. I’ve founded and led local chapters of the two best climate change organizations I could find in the United States (Citizens’ Climate Lobby and 350.org). I was arrested in front of the White House1 during the Keystone XL Pipeline2 protests, and I’ve cut my job to half-time so that I can put more time into organizing. The work has been challenging and meaningful, and I’m pleased to be doing it. And as I say to everyone around me, if I can be a leader on climate change, so can you—in your own way and your own community.

What we do in the next few years could determine the future of humanity in the rest of this century and beyond. This is not the time to hold back.

Madeleine Para
Madison, Wisconsin, USA


1 The White House is the residence of the acting president of the United States and his or her family.
2 The Keystone XL Pipeline would pipe oil extracted from Canadian tar sands 1,700 miles to refineries on the Gulf of Mexico in the United States. After being refined there, the oil would be exported to other countries. The project would be environmentally hazardous in a number of ways.


Last modified: 2017-05-06 23:35:41-07