Imagine a world where everyone has the opportunity to thrive and achieve their full potential. A society where all people have access to sustainable energy and have met their basic human needs. A civilization in global ecological balance. This is the future I seek: a thriving, just, and sustainable world.
Now look at the world in which we live. Mental illnesses are at record highs and our culture is pervaded by cynicism and resignation. Three billion people still live on less than $2 per day and the gap between rich and poor continues to widen. And even as global scientists sound the alarms of impending ecological collapse and climate catastrophe, greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise as we extract more and more fossil fuels.
There is a profound gap between the world as it is and the world as it should be.
I mentally experience this gap every day, analyzing the global trends of development and ecological systems and attempting to organize with my peers to push the United States to act ambitiously on climate change. But for the most part, I have personally been isolated from the direct impacts of global social and ecological crises. While observing the gap causes me mental and emotional stress, the great crises of the world do not restrict my freedom or directly impact my physical well-being.
But the reality is that most people on this planet are already directly impacted by inequality and rapid ecological change. And when I consider my standing with the rest of the world, my activism comes from a place of high privilege. For example, this past November I watched the devastation of Typhoon Haiyan unfold on the TVs in the comfort of the UN climate negotiations in Warsaw. I witnessed the damage wrought on the Philippines by the climate-fueled superstorm while being served free luxury Polish vodkas. I was fighting for climate justice, but I was clearly not on the frontlines.
The frontlines of climate and energy impacts are not just limited to “developing” countries like the Philippines. People across the US have been bearing the impact of our energy choices for decades. Appalachians in West Virginia face contaminated air and poisoned water due to mountain top removal coal mining. Coastal communities dependent on fishing and tourism were devastated in the wake of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. And more recently, families in Colorado, Texas, Wyoming, and Pennsylvania have gotten sick from water contamination and noxious pollutants released during hydraulic fracturing.
US energy policy and global climate change are incredibly complex topics that deserve rigorous study and debate. But it is clear that the people who benefit most from our fossil fuel economy very rarely suffer from extraction or extreme weather events driven by climate change. Meanwhile, marginalized communities are impacted where fossil fuels are extracted, where fossil fuels are burned, and where eventual climate impacts occur due to the buildup of greenhouse gases from fossil fuel usage. Injustice pervades our whole energy system.
This summer, I’m working to connect the dots between communities impacted by fossil fuel extraction and the people around the world who are suffering because of ongoing climate disruption. With several friends, I created a project called “Energy Justice Summer” to work in solidarity with rural Pennsylvania organizations on the frontlines of hydraulic fracturing. Drawing inspiration from past movement successes like Freedom Summer in Mississippi and Redwood Summer in California, we will bring young people to Northeastern PA to see fracking firsthand and support ongoing efforts to stop the expansion of fracking and transition to renewable energy.
On June 1, I’ll move into the farmhouse that will serve as the basecamp for Energy Justice Summer. Along with seven other full-time program participants, I will spend the summer conducting research on the impacts of the fracking, coordinating educational workshops for residents and visiting students, and supporting an ongoing campaign to block a proposed gas pipeline compressor station. We’re focused on making sure that our local work matches the communities’ real needs and that we contribute lasting value to the local fights against fracking in Northeastern Pennsylvania.
Ultimately though, this success of this summer depends on people far beyond Pennsylvania. We need to change the conversation in this country on energy and climate. Currently, the fossil fuel industry has the social license to operate with almost no regard to the impacts on frontline extraction communities or the larger consequences for the climate. We need a movement calling for “Energy Justice,” where mass numbers of people share the consequences of fossil fuels and organize their communities to take action. We need YOU to be part of this movement.
You can join the movement for Energy Justice by signing up for the listserve below and liking our EJS facebook page. We’ll keep you up to date on our summer activities and connect you to local organizing opportunities to fight the expansion of fracking and fossil fuel extraction.
The fight to stop fracking and move to sustainable energy will not be won in a single season. But Energy Justice Summer can have a major impact, and the relationships and stories that emerge will inspire organizing far beyond the summer. Together, we can create Energy Justice. I hope you’ll join us.