Living Wages and a Living Planet

04/15/2015 07:45 pm ET | Updated Jun 15, 2015

Everyone knows that today is the deadline for filing your tax return. But it's also when Fight for 15 is holding rallies all over the country to demand a living wage. And it's no coincidence that this is happening on tax day. When corporations pay starvation wages to people who are trying to support families, those companies are basically getting a subsidy from taxpayers. That's because the working poor must often rely on federal and state benefits to make ends meet.

I was honored to speak at the Fight for 15 rally in Berkeley today. What does fighting for a living wage have to do with protecting the environment? Well, as one of my predecessors at the Sierra Club once pointed out, everything is connected. Here's what I told the workers today:

I'm so proud to stand here today with my friend Mary Kay Henry in solidarity with working people all over the country who are fighting for their right to living wages on a living planet.

The Sierra Club is joining the fight for $15 because you just can't live on less. If you can't pay for food, you can't eat. If you can't pay your rent, you may not have a home and could be out living or dying on the street. If you can't pay for health care, your health and your life are in danger. The fight for $15 is not a matter of convenience. It is literally a life and death issue, just like the fight for a living planet.  

And it's the exact same fight! When fossil fuels disrupt our climate, causing killer heat waves, wildfires and deadly floods, who suffers the most? It's the people who can't afford air-conditioning, the people who can't afford to buy gas to flee from fires and floods, and the people who must raise their kids next door to coal plants, fracking sites and oil refineries. Because no matter how hard those people work, they can't earn enough money to save their own lives. That's why they call it a living wage!

You all are taking on the same corporate business model that is threatening our planet. The same big box and fast food stores that pay so little that their own workers can't afford to eat the food they sell are running global supply chains that are emitting carbon pollution that's destroying our climate.  

Here's what we're saying to the Walmarts and the McDonald's: You have to change your business models so that we can live. We want living wages and a living planet! And for us to get there, here's what you need to do: You need to invest in people by paying your employees enough to live on. And you need to invest in communities by sourcing your products locally.

McDonald's can no longer make french fries with palm oil that comes from destroying the tropical forests where indigenous people live -- forests that save your life and my life by pulling carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

Walmart can no longer dump carbon dioxide into the atmosphere to ship a bunch of stuff from across the ocean just so they can avoid paying people here enough to live.

That's a death economy. We want a life economy. For that, we need living wages on a living planet, powered by 100 percent clean energy. And you are the ones who are getting us there.