The following letter was originally published by Carbon Washington here.
To: Michael Brune, Executive Director, Sierra Club
Jason Barbose, Western Policy Manager, Union of Concerned Scientists
Kenneth Kimmel, President, Union of Concerned Scientists
Denis Hayes, Executive Director Bullitt Foundation; founder Earth Day
KC Golden, Board Chair, 350.org
Bill McKibben, Founder and Senior Advisor, 350.org
Gene Karpinski, President, League of Conservation Voters
Joan Crooks, CEO, Washington Conservation Voters
If climate change is a war, in Washington State the millennials are fighting while the establishment is hiding.
You have all spent much of your life’s work talking about a perilous future that is threatened by a rapidly warming climate. We are writing to you as the generation who will inherit that future. We are the young people you’ve inspired.
Climate change felt like the invincible monster in our nightmares, an inescapable threat. So for us, as young millennials, it was refreshing to hear you speak frankly about our generational plight, that “winning too slowly is the same as losing.” Our situation is so dire, that to fully confront it is itself an act of courage. We’ve looked up to leaders like you because you have no tolerance for helplessness. We watched some of you speak at Power shift conferences, and we attended the Do the Math Tour. In response, we took action. We started our own campus fossil fuel divestment campaigns, and over the past few years we built CarbonWA, a Washington state grassroots organization with over 20 chapters that put forward America’s first carbon tax initiative. You were leaders because you wanted us to become leaders.
Now WE are leaders, and you are letting us down. We’ve all known from the start that divestment, or stopping Keystone XL, or electing the right politician, was never going to be enough. We heard each of you say that we needed to put a price on carbon, and we agreed. Banding together in coffee shops, university classrooms, and our cramped apartments, we launched the nation’s first citizens’ initiative to put a price on carbon – Initiative 732. The campaign is led by millennials along with noteworthy contributions from people of all ages, income levels, ethnicities, and backgrounds, gathering the 10th most signatures for a ballot initiative in Washington State history. We’ve heeded the calls to take control of a situation that threatens our lives. We put one of strongest climate policies in the world on the ballot.
But where are you all? The silence is deafening. If, as some of you say, climate change is a war, then we need to be fighting hard in every battle, not hiding in a foxhole or running from the battlefield. Ignoring the nation’s very first carbon tax ballot initiative or in some cases allowing your organizations to campaign against it and spread misinformation is not leadership.
You need to take a serious look at I-732. You will find a group of young and diverse people powering Yes on 732. You will see legislators from both parties supporting I-732. You will see people of color standing up for I-732. You will see that the oil companies we so eagerly demonize are mostly on the sidelines, but that the organizations you lead, work with and advise are actually cutting off our supply lines and stealing our bullets. We know that there are political dynamics at play that no one likes – but you all know that in politics sometimes it comes with the territory.
This crisis belongs to more than just a handful of non-profit gatekeepers to decide what should be politically realistic and what isn’t. Doing nothing for four more years or more condemns our future to runaway climate change. This is our fight, and we need your help now. In a war, inaction is action in favor of the winning side, there is no neutrality. Sitting this fight out gives ammunition to powerful interests aligned against climate action.
Leaders of your stature belong on the field, not the sidelines.
We know there are legitimate concerns that I-732 doesn’t solve all of our many problems. We’ve always viewed I-732 as a catalyst for further change, not an endpoint. You could acknowledge that, as we do, and stand with the hundreds of young people who put their time, energy, and reputations on the line to MAKE SOMETHING HAPPEN. A generation, the future of the climate movement, is watching you perplexed and disenchanted at the absenteeism, and at times, obstructionism from the environmental establishment you in many ways oversee. But there is time to change course. You could use your platform to call attention to this effort, you could insist to those you advise that infighting within the climate movement is NOT making us better, and you could personally stand with us. You could support us as we have supported you.
We call on you to join us.
From the millennial leaders of Carbon Washington and the Yes On 732 campaign: