Over five years ago, we founded The Climate Mobilization. We started TCM because we saw a dangerous vacuum in our political system, the environmental movement, and our society as a whole. We faced an accelerating climate emergency and ecological crisis that threatened to cause the collapse of civilization and clearly required a WWII-scale mobilization to save us, but there was no organized political force articulating these truths, much less harnessing them to shift society and governments into an emergency mode of response. In the face of a tacit agreement between fossil fuel companies, most media outlets, and society-at-large to pretend that nothing was wrong and that climate breakdown was decades away, we committed ourselves to breaking this lethal silence and building a movement rooted in climate truth.
As we enter into the most critical moment of decision our species has ever faced, a new Climate Emergency Movement is rising around the world. We are extremely proud of the role we have played in building it. Humanity’s collective survival instinct is kicking in. Civilization is beginning to break down under the stress of accelerating climate impacts and inequality, but the growing movements around the world give us hope that we still canprevent climate and ecological collapse, pass through the crisis, and usher in a new dawn for humanity.
We did not always see as much reason for hope. Climate politics in the Obama era was mostly a desolate wasteland of euphemism and gradualism – a world where the truths we worked to elevate were exotic and taboo. It was in this surreal context that we intervened in the 2016 presidential election to advance our core themes of climate truth, climate emergency, and climate mobilization.
Several days before the 2016 Iowa Caucuses, we partnered with Bold Iowato hold a Climate Emergency Caucus in Des Moines, where we invited surrogates for each of the presidential candidates to make the case for why their preferred candidate was the right one to lead a World War II-scale mobilization to restore a safe climate. Senator Bernie Sanders won with 69% of the vote, according to the Des Moines Register.
A few days later, we connected with Bernie’s campaign. It was the beginning of a four year conversation about the climate and ecological emergency and what really needs to be done to save humanity from it.
Over the following months, as the primary ramped up, Bernie proceeded to escalate his rhetoric on climate – and to take it in a direction that felt very familiar. At a CNN debate with Hillary Clinton in April, he said:
We have a crisis of historical consequence here, and incrementalism, and those little steps are not enough. Not right now, not on climate change … In 1941, under Franklin Delano Roosevelt, we moved within three years — within three years — to rebuild our economy to defeat Nazism and Japanese imperialism. That is exactly the kind of approach we need right now.
Back in 2016, this was a startling statement to hear on national television from any figure, much less a major presidential candidate. Bernie was getting out ahead of the vast majority of the climate movement and calling for a total mobilization to address climate breakdown at emergency speed! Ian Dunlop, a global sustainability leader, described it this way:
This is the first time I’ve heard anybody politically, honestly starting to talk about what the problem really is and the type of speed of reaction we have to make. Finally, we’re getting the truth.
Throughout the primary, we worked with allies to urge Bernie to continue to shatter the silence on the climate and ecological emergency. We joined forces with our now-advisory board chair, Russell Greene, who Sanders had appointed to the Democratic Party Platform committee. At the hearings of the platform committee, Russell, who is also the strategic adviser to the Progressive Democrats of America, passed a historic amendment into the party’s national platform declaring climate change a global emergency and calling for a “mobilization on a scale not seen since World War II” to save civilization from the climate crisis:
Climate change poses an urgent and severe threat to our national security, and Democrats believe it would be a grave mistake for the United States to wait for another nation to take the lead in combating the global climate emergency… We believe the United States must lead in forging a robust global solution to the climate crisis. We are committed to a national mobilization, and to leading a global effort to mobilize nations to address this threat on a scale not seen since World War II. In the first 100 days of the next administration, the President will convene a summit of the world’s best engineers, climate scientists, policy experts, activists, and indigenous communities to chart a course to solve the climate crisis.
Commenting on Russell’s amendment and the Party’s 2016 platform in general, The Guardian’s George Monbiot wrote, “Where it is good it is very good, reflecting the influence of Bernie Sanders and the nominees he proposed to the drafting committee.” Monbiot was right. Bernie Sanders was instrumental in opening up the political space that has allowed the concept of a national mobilization to address climate change to become normalized. Many of the key Green New Deal organizations either emerged out of his 2016 campaign or were inspired by it, as well.
During the Great Climate Awakening of the late 2010s, Sanders continued to engage with the growing Climate Emergency Movement. Last year, as the global climate emergency declaration campaign was taking off, we worked with the offices of Representatives Earl Blumenauer and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Senator Sanders to draft the Congressional Climate Emergency Declaration introduced in the House and Senate. The declaration expresses the sense of Congress that climate change is a national emergency and calls for a massive-scale mobilization to restore a safe climate. Thanks to the leadership of the three sponsoring offices and the tenacious campaigning of the ClimateEmergency.US coalition, the declaration now has 97 co-sponsors in the House and nine in the Senate, and has helped to shift the national narrative on climate.
During the rollout and in an interviewwith the Iowa Press-Citizen, Sanders also explicitly connected the Senate congressional climate emergency declaration to our local climate emergency campaign, applauding cities and local organizers for their leadership in declaring climate emergencies, and preparing local governments and communities for mobilization. After we rolled out the resolution, Bernie repeatedly spoke about it from the debate stage and incorporated many key elements of this resolution into his Green New Deal plan, which explicitly calls for the declaration of a national climate emergency and a massive-scale mobilization to reverse the effects of climate change.
Over the years, we have at times been critical of Bernie’s climate plans and legislation. Bernie and his staff have responded to this feedback with continued engagement and a willingness to strengthen their approach to the climate and ecological emergency. This is real leadership. It gives us hope that a Bernie Sanders administration, which we are committed to making a reality, will be the world’s first Climate Mobilization Presidency.
– Ezra Silk & Margaret Klein Salamon, co-founders, The Climate Mobilization