In a lecture on Thursday, May Boeve, climate change activist and executive director of 350.org, spoke about how she has reshaped the climate change fight for use as a “useful window into unpacking larger topics” against the “specific and unique fight by Donald Trump.”
Boeve started 350.org, an international environmental organization, while a passionate undergraduate at Middlebury College. Like her colleagues, she believed climate change was a global phenomenon that she could act upon.
Boeve has made climate change activism her life’s work, setting out to create global days of action and helping to form climate change into a social movement resembling that of the health care movement. She has attempted to close this gap by increasing research done on climate change, the rise of protests, and the lack of policy change.
Boeve soon learned that this gap was a result of the fossil fuel industry lobby flexing its muscles and “whispering in the ear of the government” to dictate national policy. Boeve explained, however, that national decisions impact not just the United States, but “all those around the world," and “more importantly, those countries who are most vulnerable,” she said.
In her talk, Boeve presented an example to display how our decisions on coal emissions are impactful. Rising coal emissions increase the acidity of the atmosphere, which increases the acidity of the water, she explained. Subsequently, the increasing acidity of the water prevents shellfish from growing their shells. Fish are then unable to eat the shellfish, resulting in decreased food availability for those around the world for whom fish is a dietary mainstay.
The “connection between climate change and energy policy” directly relates to oppressive regimes and political power, Boeve said. The relationship between the “rogue” coal and fossil fuel industries and the government — which has allowed for the intimidation and silencing of activists who have risked their lives — shows how important it is to “push back” against oppressive regimes that will continue to attempt to “shrink democratic space,” she explained.
Just look at the recent Exxon incident, Boeve noted. Texas Congressman Lamar S. Smith, chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, recently subpoenaed organizations like 350.org after an investigation into Exxon’s knowledge on climate change by attorney generals; this was argued to have been a violation to scientists’ free right to speech, according to The New York Times. It is this collaboration between these industries and the government that shows us just how “important the problem of oppressive regimes” is today, Boeve said.
Boeve said she wished to change the title of yesterday’s lecture from “Climate Action” to “Hope,” to remind us of the power individuals have to use activism to fight for justice, jobs, and most importantly, human rights. She noted that international series of actions she has helped to start demonstrate that the fight against climate change is “part of something bigger, a global solidarity against oppressive regimes” in places all around the world.
Boeve said that individuals must have “unshakeable faith in the movement,” noting that rising threats to climate change activist only mean that we are moving forward; they must not limit our “sense of possibility,” she added.
“Climate change under repressive regimes requires more creative ways of doing the work we were doing before,” Boeve explained. There are many ways to achieve this, Boeve said. She noted that some countries have succeeded by reframing the fight against climate change in ways that are less threatening to tradition.
As the movement against climate change grows and backlash against coal and fossil fuel industries increases, Boeve said we are forced to realize the power of crucial alliances between human rights and climate change activist groups. It is these key alliances that “launch the counter-push” against the rise of oppressive regimes.
Lastly, the fight against climate change and the push for a greener economy has the ability to democratize and give power to countries other than those specifically sitting on fuel reserves, Boeve explained.
She quoted activist and author Naomi Klein on her concept of the “Green Economy," asserting it creates everything from “jobs of education” to jobs of “the creation of public transportation and sustainable food systems.” The age of fossil fuels may be over, Boeve said, as the decreasing cost of solar panels and booming of “state of the art batteries” gives hope of a growing energy sector.
Boeve reminded the audience to “remain positive and hopeful” as we face these threats head on. She encouraged her listeners to maintain a solution-oriented mentality and a drive to expose “phony economic populism for what is truly economic populism.”
Boeve’s lecture, titled “Climate Action Under Oppressive Regimes,” took place in Robertson Hall at 4:30 p.m. on March 9.