Acting Before It Is Too Late
“We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. The tide in the affairs of men and women does not remain at flood—it ebbs. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words, ‘Too late.’”
Martin Luther King, Jr., Where Do We Go From Here? Chaos or Community?
It has been just about three years since I’ve fasted on the climate issue, or on any issue, but today I’m doing so again. For an undetermined period of time I’m going to consume only water every Monday.
I did this from late 2007 into the spring of 2009, in between a long, 107-day Climate Emergency Fast in the fall of 2007 and a 33-day fast during the time that the House of Representatives was deciding whether it would pass climate legislation. I also fasted for 43 days in November/December of 2009 in support of a Climate Justice Fast initiated by young people in Australia and Europe. This was done in connection with the big United Nations Climate Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark.
All of these three long fasts were a combination of water-only for 2-4 weeks, followed by weeks on liquids.
Why did I fast back then, and why am I doing this modified version right now?
In part it was and is because of the deepening and worsening reality of the climate crisis and the importance of those who get it on this crisis going deeper. More of us need to respond in ways that are commensurate with our planetary reality. Fasting is a way of getting in touch, not forgetting, that reality, the hunger and suffering that are widespread now and will get much, much worse if we don’t get off fossil fuels asap. For those who are spiritually-grounded, fasting is, in the words of Mahatma Gandhi, “the sincerest form of prayer.”
But it’s more than that—it’s also because that 2007-2009 period back then and this post-election, post-Sandy period we are in right now were and are times when it is possible that, with broad, serious and consistent pressure, the U.S. government could step it up and go beyond the real but much too limited actions it has taken so far.
This is particularly true for the reelected President. There are many things he can do on this issue even with continuing Republican control of the House IF he would finally internalize how urgent this crisis is, how much his legacy in history will be determined to a great degree by whether or not he leads on climate, visibly and clearly.
He can and must say no to the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.
He can speak out often, something he has not done for years, keep this issue alive in the media, encourage a society-wide focus on it. In this process, if done well, he can isolate and undercut the climate deniers in the fossil fuel industry and on Capitol Hill. For example, he can link climate with the millions of jobs that will be created, and he can talk about the economically damaging impacts of extreme weather events that we must try to avoid as well as prepare for.
Without question, as shown by numerous polls, Obama rediscovering his voice on climate and pushing for action accordingly will overwhelmingly be a political plus for his party and politicians from any party who do the same.
He can support—as he did in his 2008 campaign—putting a price on carbon, with most of the revenues returned to the American people via either dividends or a reduction in income taxes to help them deal with higher prices for fossil fueled transportation, electricity and heating.
He can convene a national climate summit involving leaders from faith, education, labor, business, health, agriculture, civil rights, culture and other constituencies.
And he can give leadership on an international level by saying and instructing his representatives to say that the increasing number of extreme weather events—as he talked about at his press conference last week—necessitate a more coordinated, worldwide stepping up of action on climate.
Unfortunately, even post-Sandy, and with some hope to be taken from what he said publicly last week, it’s hard to see Obama doing what is necessary without massive and sustained political pressure. That is why yesterday’s demonstration of close to 3,000 people in DC against the Keystone XL pipeline, organized on 10 days notice, was such a positive development, as are the well-thought-out plans of 350.org for a national campaign to divest from the fossil fuel industry. And it was very positive to hear Allison Chin, President of the Sierra Club, announce that they are calling for a national demonstration in DC on climate and the pipeline on February 18, President’s Day.
In addition, Interfaith Moral Action on Climate has begun to organize a multi-faith prayer vigil and nonviolent cd action at the White House on January 15th, Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. Among other messages we will lift up King’s words about there being “such a thing as being too late.”
Finally, for all of these, and other actions, the climate movement must reach out broadly beyond environmental and climate groups. The climate crisis is affecting or will affect everyone in the world, literally. Wars for oil, water and scarce resources will continue or escalate. Health care systems are and will be severely stressed by multiplying extreme weather events. Millions of workers have a chance to get decent jobs doing socially and environmentally essential tasks. Low- and moderate-income and people of color communities have the least resources to deal with extreme weather events and are often impacted daily by the pollution and environmental destruction that comes with the dirty fossil fuel industry. Young people’s futures are seriously threatened. And the list can go on.
It is time to join together and rise up as a visible, activist, broadly-based movement for survival of humans and all threatened life forms. “We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now.”
If you are interested in joining Ted in these every-Monday fasts, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.