So stepping into the middle of Independence Avenue SW in Washington, determined to block rush-hour traffic with dozens of other protesters, is not my natural comfort zone. But that’s what I did Monday morning. Perhaps we ruined your commute. For that, I am truly sorry. But it was for a higher cause, part of the #ShutdownDC initiative to combat climate change.
I’ll just be blunt: Global warming has radicalized me. It’s radicalizing young people all around us, too. Perhaps you’ve noticed. Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg has millions of climate devotees worldwide under the age of 25. And now, I submit, it’s your turn to become radical, whoever you are, wherever you live. That’s because the climate threat is now truly radical, and time is almost up.
I joined 40 other people on Monday morning. Retired teachers, a Unitarian minister, environmental activists, a waitress. We sat down and blocked all eight lanes of Independence Avenue where it crosses 12th Street, south of the Mall. For three hours, we sat there, surrounded by D.C. police officers who ultimately did not arrest us. Across the city, at 21 additional intersections, more than 1,000 people did the same with a total of 32 peaceful arrests. Many downtown institutions, including the World Bank, told their employees to stay home Monday. Workers who did commute by car were almost certainly affected in ways big or small.
Writer Bill McKibben reminds us that we have pushed our planet far outside its comfort zone. Fossil-fuel combustion, now amplified by pro-coal zealots in the Trump administration, is melting the poles, swelling our oceans, drying out our rainforests and scorching our farmland. We’re seeing historic rainfalls and more 90-degree days than ever.
To have any chance of blunting these extreme-weather trends, concerned citizens everywhere must push themselves outside of their own personal comfort zones. We have to challenge ourselves to engage in bolder and bolder political action. Watch Thunberg for five minutes, and you see she’s pushed herself completely beyond what is normal and comfortable in her life. She traveled for two weeks to get to the United States on a small sailboat with primitive accommodations, avoiding carbon emissions. She has spent three additional weeks here addressing Congress and the United Nations in her almost painfully shy but profoundly inspiring way.
Her message is simple: Our planet is on fire, and the politicians worldwide — of all parties — have not done enough to put it out. These leaders will remain timid until more people, young and old, take direct action, one that leaves no mistake that we are alarmed. We. Are. Alarmed!
Through creative civil disobedience, we have to create a social crisis that focuses leaders’ attention on the climate crisis. We have to go on strike. We have to leave our classrooms and job sites. We have to march and speak out. We have to shut down streets.
And we have to do it now. The world’s top scientists say we have to cut global carbon emissions in half by 2030. That will happen only if we make our elected officials enact radical clean-energy laws that defy the money and political power of ExxonMobil and Peabody Energy. Can’t be done? New York just vowed to get to 70 percent clean electricity by 2030.
I will peacefully shut down more streets. And you should, too. Or do whatever your version of “much more” is. Call your elected officials — a lot. Donate more money to clean-energy candidates. Whatever constitutes more — do it.
And for our leaders, the message is the same. I saw it on a placard at Monday’s protest, held up by a college freshman: “Make policy like your children will live here.”