Global Climate Strike: a tipping point for change

September 20 climate strike in Melbourne. Photo: Socialist Alliance Melbourne

The global Climate Strike was the largest climate protest in history — and could turn out to be a tipping point for radical action on climate change.

More than 4 million people attended a reported 2500 events in more than 163 countries on all seven continents as part of the global Climate Strike, held between September 20–27.

Speaking about the protests, 350.org executive director May Boeve said: "Today we saw a movement, made up of people from all ages and backgrounds, coming together and calling for the end of coal, oil and gas.

"September 20 was a demonstration of intent, of four million people who took time off from work or school to say that they are ready. Ready to move on and make the changes we need for a future free from fossil fuels and based in climate equity and justice.

“And it was only the beginning."

The yawning gap between the drastic action needed to tackle runaway climate change and the policies of government’s around the world was underlined at the United Nations Climate Action Summit held in New York just days after the Climate Strike.

The UN summit was supposed to inject fresh momentum into international efforts to curb carbon emissions. Yet most government leaders were unable to show any significant progress on climate targets in the years since the 2015 Paris climate summit.

Swedish climate activist and founder of the School Strike 4 Climate movement Greta Thunberg slammed leaders’ inaction in a speech to the summit on September 23.

“You are failing us,” she said. “But the young people are starting to understand your betrayal.

"The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us, I say we will never forgive you. We will not let you get away with this.

“Right here, right now, is where we draw the line.”

She predicted the summit would not deliver any new plans in line with the radical cuts to greenhouse gases that scientists say are required to avoid catastrophic climate breakdown.

And she was right.

The climate strike movement, with its huge success on September 20, has thrown down the gauntlet to the world’s political leaders. But one fantastic mobilisation, or even several, will not be enough to force governments to take decisive action on climate change.

These governments, by and large, are puppets of giant corporations, and in particular fossil fuel firms. The policies of the world's major powers are driven by the pursuit of profit not the rationality of science.

To win the climate war will require an ecological and social revolution. This climate war is bigger than any conflict that has faced humanity so far — it is a fight for survival of people and the planet.

The kind of social movement needed to win the climate war will have to be the biggest and most powerful in history.

Recent history shows that even huge mass mobilisations such as the anti-nuclear movement of the 1980s and the anti-Iraq war demonstrations of 2003 cannot, by themselves, prevent invasions and warmongering when the interests of big business are at stake.

Now is the time for the burgeoning climate movement to unite the working class and its organisations, especially trade unions, to forge a new alliance for climate action and social justice.

The demand for a just transition from a fossil fuel-based economy to one based on renewable energy is critical to this alliance.

The unions, and the workers’ movement generally, will need to take up the cause of climate action — in the interests not only of the environment, but of working people themselves.

The struggle against climate change is essentially a battle for the survival of the 99%.

The climate movement will also need to develop new forms of democratic and cooperative organisation to involve the widest possible array of social forces in this pathbreaking new social process.

Only in this way can the new climate-social justice movement become the revolutionary force needed to transform society and successfully confront the threat of climate catastrophe and societal collapse.

[Jim McIllroy is a member of Socialist Alliance.]

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