Local climate activists gather in Olean to rally for the planet
By Brock Mapes
I don’t know about any of you, but I actually grew up optimistic about the climate. I think people are capable of genuinely incredible creativity, and so I thought technology would save us. I went to school for engineering partly because I was convinced of that and wanted to help – and then I noticed where all the engineering money actually went. Most of my friends and I found things like weapons manufacturers, oil companies, and big finance were the only options to pay back our loans. Most of us came in wanting to change the world for the better and realized that the capitalist world did not want to be changed.
Today I struggle with “climate anxiety,” where everything just feels over and hopeless, like we’re in a slow-moving car crash. The IPCC reported in 2018 that we have to halve greenhouse gas emissions before 2030 to prevent irreversible damage to the planet. Even though I don’t have the technological optimism I had before, I still believe we can tackle the climate crisis. However, there’s a reason this event is called “Tomorrow is Too Late:” we are not close to achieving what we need to – we have to act now.
What I came to realize is that technology is not the primary obstacle – the structure of society is. Unfortunately, and crucially, the whole world – our economy, our politics, our culture – is held hostage by the need for endless profit. Profit is put before everything else. We work day after day to make our bosses profits, politicians make sure that nothing threatens the profits of their business benefactors, everything we do gets turned into a “hustle” – and that logic keeps us from making the changes we need to save the planet.
As an aside on clean energy: wind and solar energy are rapidly getting cheaper, a wonderful accomplishment, and some are tempted to say “we’re done! The market will now get rid of fossil fuels!” First, anyone can tell you that the fossil fuel industry will fight tooth and nail to slow its decline to maximize its profit while destroying the planet. Second, clean energy transition depends on immense mining operations for things like cobalt in places like the Congo. If profit is the driving factor, these places will be utterly devastated ecologically and economically, and that’s ignoring that resources are ultimately limited. We don’t have to look far to see our Appalachian neighbors to the south, left behind with poisoned land after decades of strip mining. Finally, we can’t rely on the market alone to get us where we need to go because of just how urgent the situation is. Continued growth in greenhouse gas emissions despite agreements like in Kyoto, Paris, and Copenhagen shows the utter failure of our current approaches.
The wealth captured by the wealthiest must instead be sacrificed or poured into the massive shifts that will allow us to live with our planet. Profits will have to fall!
We can’t carry on and try to con our way to sustainability by betting on unproven technology like carbon capture, or “clean coal,” or thinking that going from coal to natural gas is enough of a “step in the right direction.” The planet does not negotiate, it never has. We have pushed and pushed at the limits of what is ecologically feasible, and the bill is finally coming due. The poorest in the world have been footing that bill the most, and now many of them are in danger of literally being underwater.
Do not be complacent just because the harshest effects of climate change are not happening in our backyard. Former colonial nations have suffered unimaginable exploitation, sometimes over centuries, and part of that legacy is our nation’s relative wealth – it’s unbearable that many of these former colonies are in regions that will suffer the harshest consequences of climate catastrophe.
The answer is not as simple as “elect the right people.” The labyrinth of courts, lobbying, propaganda, and police will ensure that profit is always put before people. It’s not a broken system, it is a system working exactly as intended. The climate struggle is inseparable from the struggle against lower wages and unemployment and health insurance companies telling you that your treatment will bankrupt you. It’s all a fight against the dictatorship of profit.
We have to seize political and economic power – yeah, maybe partially through elections – but also through organizing like today. We have power together, and we must learn to use it! It’s now or never. Only by organizing ourselves can we exercise our power that we have in numbers and creativity. Find other people with the same goals and hang together.
This speech was given in Olean NY at a public rally by Brock Mapes, part of the Cattaraugus-Allegany Liberation Collective. People can reach out at [email protected].