Politicians were never going to save the world. That’s up to the rest of us.
There’s a moment in the movie “The Martian” where in order to save their fellow astronaut left on Mars, the crew of the Hermes pulls of a daring maneuver to use the Earth’s gravitational pull as a slingshot to send them hurtling back into space at tremendous speeds. Pulling it off requires accelerating towards Earth just when they thought it might be time to start slowing down. In other words, instead of tapping the brakes, the astronauts decide to slam on the rocketfuel.
Watching Trump prepare to pull out of the Paris Agreement this week, I’ve been thinking about this whole slingshot idea. Not just because it might be a good idea to start building colonies on Mars, although the way things on Earth are going, maybe... but because I think this slingshot maneuver is a useful metaphor for how the climate movement needs to deal with the moment at hand.
With the Trump Administration taking a sledgehammer to our nation’s environmental protections, it’s tempting for us to lower our expectations on what we can accomplish over the next 3-4 years. The thinking goes that it’s better to “tap the brakes” now and lie in wait for the pendulum to swing back in our direction, rather than burn ourselves out fighting this administration.
I think this sort of approach is all backward. Instead, I think now more than ever it’s important for us to charge ahead with our push for bold climate action. Not because I think we’re going to convince the Trump Administration to reverse course, but because we can use the gravity of their actions to add momentum to our movement.
There’s no doubt Trump will suck us in the wrong direction over the next four years, but we can use that negative pull to build up so much positive energy that when the moment is right we go hurtling back in the correct direction with even more speed than ever before.
There are lots of ways to use Trump’s gravity to our advantage.
First, we need to maintain our sense of outrage. We can’t allow ourselves to get sucked into Trump’s orbit. Instead, we need to fight against any normalization of his actions, protesting every step of the way, even when it feels like just another piece of bad news. It’s so heartening to see the level of anger to Trump pulling out of the Paris Agreement. Let’s keep that up.
Second, we need to harness people’s sense of outrage into meaningful on-the-ground action. Tweeting isn’t enough. We’re going to need to stay in the streets of the next four years and make sure that the anger we feel now doesn’t turn into resignation further down the road. Mobilizations like this April’s Peoples Climate March, which brought over 200,000 people to the streets of Washington, D.C. and turned out tens of thousands more across the country, are important because they remind us that our movement is large, powerful, and energized.
Third, we need to use Trump’s bad example to demand more of our cities, states and other institutions that we’re a part of. During the Obama Administration, a lot of elected officials or public leaders were able to sit back, content that the White House was dealing with the climate issue. Now, it’s time for them to take bold steps forward. Dozens of cities across the country are already committing to 100 percent renewable energy, that’s a trend that needs to continue. Other communities are taking actions to ban new fossil fuel infrastructure, an action that is sure to spread. We can use the next four years to show that everywhere across the country the transition to renewable energy is underway and creating tens of thousands of good paying jobs in the process.
Finally, we need to get ready for the moment when we slingshot off in the right direction. Now is the time to be putting forward and debating bold new visions for how we rapidly make the transition away from fossil fuels to 100% renewable energy. That conversation is taking place at the local level, where communities who are on the front lines of the climate crisis are proposing innovative environmental solutions that also promote social, economic, and racial justice. It’s also beginning to take root at the federal level with new legislative proposals like Senator Bernie Sanders and Senator Jeff Merkley’s bill to halt all new fossil fuel development and transition the economy to 100 percent renewables. It’s far past the time when we can settle for half measures, now is when we need to think ambitiously about what we can accomplish when we take back power.
This isn’t the path we would have chosen. There’s no doubt solving this crisis would have been easier if we’d gotten started decades ago (or if the current occupant of the White House understood basic science) but here we are. If Trump won’t deliver on the Paris Climate Agreement, it’s up to the rest of us to take action. The only option we have now is to buckle our seatbelts and pull off the impossible.