"We burnin' and burnin'" – Olivia and the Climate Strike

2019 Climate Strike


“We burnin’ and burnin’” – Olivia and The Climate Strike


Olivia leaves school. Then she designs and creates her sign with the message above and a graphic of an African American girl perched above and behind a globe. Then she boards a bus in New Hampshire to travel down to the Global Climate Strike in Boston.*


Olivia tells me that this is her first demonstration. There are a lot of “firsts” that youth like Olivia look forward to, first car, first love, first degree, first job, first apartment, but this “first” probably isn’t one of them. She joins millions of other young people and their supporters worldwide taking time out of their daily life to try to change a frightening future before it’s too late.


Olivia and her co-strikers may feel as though they are on a sinking boat. A key element of their future that they previously took for granted – a relatively stable, predictable, and nurturing natural world – is no longer available to them. They emerge from childhood with the awful realization that their parents and teachers, no matter how much they love them, can’t single-handedly protect them from climate change calamities.


This new generation harbors little doubt about the reality of human-caused climate change. According to NASA, “Multiple studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals1 show that 97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree*: Climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities.” 


It’s not hard to picture what the next few years probably look like to youth across the U.S. and the world: greater flooding from rivers and ocean waters that may include back-up from septic systems and/or chemical pollution, ever more violent storms, increased migrations and associated political and economic destabilization, wars, newly arid regions, more widespread insect-borne tropical diseases including EEE, Zika, and Lyme, asthma and lung diseases, deaths from heat, lack of water, and food insecurity, more record-breaking wildfires, to list a few.


Olivia and her generation are aware that the boat of life as we know it is sinking due to increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere, primarily from the burning of fossil fuels like oil and natural gas. Our millennia-old atmospheric balance is draining out the hole in the bottom of humanity’s collective boat. Heat-trapping greenhouse gases are rapidly warming the land and air while the warming and acidified ocean waters exacerbate storms and threaten the very web of life.


Who else is in the boat? Groups that come to mind include: vulnerable communities who disproportionately suffer from climate change and can’t afford costly resilience strategies; the human species and all animal species; the 1%; and the fossil fuel executives and government decision-makers.


The last three groups have the most power to influence and/or enact the changes needed to slow the course of climate change. Unfortunately, some of them are still actively enabling the increased extracting, transporting, and use of harmful oil and natural gas. Perhaps they think that their money can buy them freedom from harm in our single, common boat? But they will soon realize that, no matter how much security they think they can buy, the increasingly carbon-dense atmosphere is harshly changing their world too.


Hope is also in the boat. Olivia and her generation of passionate, creative, vocal, and high energy youth are part of a global movement that is pushing corporations and governments to rapidly reduce the amount of climate-warming carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere and bring about a fast and just transition to green sources of energy.


Here are some things you can do, starting now, for Olivia and the generation coming of age in the era of climate change:


If you have a minute, join a climate activism group like http://www.MothersOutFront.org.


If you have an hour, call your town and ask what energy conservation services they offer, call your utility and ask what energy efficiency incentives they offer. Or, call your elected officials and make your concerns known about the need to slow emissions from oil and natural gas and stop the building of more fossil fuel infrastructure.


If you have a day, test drive an electric car, or take a Friday off of work or school and find a climate strike near you. #FridaysforFuture.


If you have a month, engage with your climate group around actions you can take collectively to push for reductions in carbon dioxide emissions.


What can we do to help Olivia’s generation and the ones to follow? Part of the answer lies in the activism of mothers and others involved in Mothers Out Front and allies in the climate movement. We are standing with and behind Olivia and her classmates at the strike wearing our signature black shirts that say, “Mobilizing for a Livable Climate.” We have been working hard for years to coalesce many regions and states around this critical activism. We are committed to inclusivity, climate justice, and shared leadership and are modeling those values in our organization.


We actively champion switching from carbon fuels like natural gas, oil, and coal to renewable energy sources and energy conservation. As mothers, grandmothers, and supporters we bring the fight to elected and appointed officials at the local and state levels and to the executives of companies who must choose between fossil fuel profits and the needs of people like Olivia for a safe, healthy and livable climate. We also turn out at national and international events like the Global Climate Strike to show our strength in numbers. Our many concrete achievements distinguish Mothers Out Front as a group that “gets things done.”


Mothers Out Front has a natural moral authority derived from our roles as nurturers of the next generation. Just as the mother lion protects her cubs, we are there to support the human “cubs” in joining the global climate movement. At the same time, Mothers Out Front continues to rack up “wins” across the country as we aggressively push for healthy communities powered by safe, green sources of energy. We support transformational change initiatives like the Green New Deal.


* “Olivia” is a real person I spoke to, although I have changed her name and switched her sign message with another in order to protect her identity.


Jean Cummings

Mothers Out Front National Communications Team

October, 2019: CO2 concentration in the earth’s atmosphere: 407 parts per million in 2018.  Average pre-industrial PPM average was 280.




Be the first to comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.