This photo shows Jeff Ordower, a white middle-aged man wearing a brown shirt. Jeff is smiling and standing outside in front of some trees.

Jeff Ordower, 350.org

As a climate activist, Jewish American, and Columbia University graduate, I want to share why I feel it’s so important to support the student protestors who are bravely taking a stand in support of Palestine, despite rising repression. We’re seeing it on college campuses across the country, including my alma mater. 

I’ve been talking recently with student activists. Each time, I am amazed at their courage, willingness to take risks, and their understanding of how climate change, the U.S. military, and the displacement and persecution of Palestinians are linked together.

Despite how the media may present the university protesters, the students I have spoken to show a clear understanding of what they are fighting and calling for. They are connecting the dots between their university trustees — often leaders in global finance and private equity — who are mining the planet, arming the Israeli military, and funding wars that result in millions of tons of carbon emissions each year.

For those of us at 350.org, these issues are all connected. When supporters like you helped launch the divestment movement, we knew the key to a changed planet was to cut off their finances. We also knew that the issues do not exist in a vacuum. As we stood against the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock, we targeted Wells Fargo with the understanding that their financing of the pipeline was one part of the same business that invests in private prisons and forecloses on private homes.  

As someone 30-plus years removed from college, I can only imagine the pressure and risk any given student is taking to occupy their campus. There’s the arrest itself, which carries varying levels of risk depending on a student’s background and immigration status. And there’s also the fact that universities now threaten suspension, expulsion, and loss of educational opportunities that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. I often wonder, what can we do in the face of this kind of opposition?

We all need to think about what we can learn from these courageous students about the risk and commitment required to change the world. They are facing brutal police forces in addition to the financial and reputational risk of sacrificing their education. But they do it because they know their cause is just – and we need to stand in solidarity with them.

Our movement values our young people so highly for their clarity on climate change and for the ways in which they boldly speak truth to power: so why should we be so quick to assume they’re wrong about this? 

I know this is difficult and confusing, as it conflicts with part of the narrative that many major powers—including our own US government—may want us to believe. But Big Oil successfully hid the true impact of fossil fuels from public view until our movement turned that tide. 

We can’t separate out climate from militarism. In direct opposition to peace, the revenue generated by fossil fuel extraction plays a disturbing role in funding conflicts old and new. The fossil fuel industry has always fought against the right to self-determination; communities who wish to protect their lands from resource extraction, both at home and abroad, are often met with state violence. The amount of money some nations spend on wars, and on the enabling of resource extraction, directly impacts how much is available for a just transition to renewable energy. 

In other words, fossil fuel dependency exacerbates geopolitical tensions and climate change creates instability across so many systems–food, infrastructure, public health, transportation, and many more–that civilization depends on for peace and security. 

Forcing issues into artificial silos favors the status quo, which currently has us hurtling towards climate disaster. We have to call out systems of extraction and greed-fueled destruction everywhere we see them, or we will not achieve justice.

The mass murders of children in Gaza are a symptom of a broken system — and we have a responsibility to take action. We appreciate the students leading the way, and we must always remember that the money and power behind the guns in Gaza are the same money and power repressing activists in Uganda and Appalachia who are fighting pipelines in their communities.

Together we can take them on and create a better, more just world for future generations.

 

— Jeff Ordower, 350.org North America Director

 

We know that all of this may seem difficult and confusing, and we know how hard it can be to tease out and resist some of what we’ve been taught. That’s part of why we do this work to begin with: to fight back against the influence of a false narrative that allows extraction to continue despite the costs. So if anyone wants to take more time to listen, discuss, and unpack, we will be holding periodic listening sessions to better tease out what questions we have about where this fits into our collective climate justice work. Interested? Email [email protected].

 

 

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