Happy Earth Day! The Silver Lining And Lessons For The Battles Ahead

By Sommer Yesenofski

Climate and environmental justice advocates — and all who stand for justice in any slice of life — are tired this Earth Day.

In the past year, we have witnessed the deadly impacts of climate change tear through our communities, in real time. In the same span of time, we have also felt a severe whiplash from environmental policies coming out of Washington — a monumental backslide that threatens to set the United States back years in the fight against climate change, according to environmental experts. We are tired of Scott Pruitt’s corrupt abuses, tired of toxic assaults on communities of color, and tired of hearing the phrase “clean coal”.

The good news is, despite Trump’s best efforts, there is a silver lining to savor and celebrate this Earth Day: we have the fossil fuel industry on their heels.

To celebrate our planet, and those who fight for its inhabitants, let’s reflect on this silver lining — and then talk about how we continue this work.

  • A win: We are a more inclusive movement than ever. Remember that this movement — though it hasn’t always been — is the one fighting for justice. While we still have a long way to go to include and uplift those most impacted by climate change, our coalition is broader than ever before. Faith communities, public health experts, labor, racial justice groups, the LGBTQ+ community, private companies and local governments all acknowledge the challenges and opportunities we face in the fight against climate change and for environmental justice. We are stronger than ever and growing larger and more diverse by the day.
  • A win: Deniers are being drowned out. As we grow, our collective voices become louder. We are now at a point where the voices of climate deniers are being drowned out. For too long, climate deniers and “skeptics” took up time and space in a debate that should never have existed — slowing us down to a pace of inaction. Though our leadership in Washington D.C. may not reflect it, deniers are on the fringe. The United States is the last place on Earth where they are entertained. Major oil companies themselves no longer deny anthropogenic climate change. Public opinion on the reality of climate change is now insurmountable. They simply can’t get away with it anymore — and we won’t let them.
  • A win: The fossil fuel industry is pivoting. Anytime you see your opponent switch strategies and shake up their messaging, you know your message is working. When oil companies like Shell openly discuss their “vision for a zero-carbon world by 2070” and gas companies market their fuels with the terms “bio” or “natural”, that’s a sign that they are catering to a worldwide shift — one that is not in their favor. They may be snake oil salesmen, but they aren’t stupid. Now that they can no longer deny, this message shift is how they stay relevant and profitable. When your message is being co-opted by the opponent, that’s a small victory. But it’s not the end of the war.

However, we still have more work to do in fighting for our environment and a cleaner future.

  • Moving forward: Call out poppycock when you see it. As the fossil fuel industry scrambles to stay relevant and prove how woke they are on climate change and climate justice, we must not forget to keep claiming the moral high ground — because we’re the ones standing on it. This means we call out greenwashed hogwash and half-measure malarkey when we see it. When they market fuels like natural gas or bio-diesel, we have to call baloney in the same way we do on “clean coal”. They are to blame for paralyzing action on climate change since the 1980s. Because of those delays, there is no time to waste on false solutions. The solutions we need now are zero-emissions solutions. Anything short of that, anything that claims to be “clean” but still has a tailpipe, is chicanery.
  • Moving forward: Don’t feed the trolls. The second obstructionist argument to come out of the fossil fuel industry after climate change denial is: jobs, jobs, jobs. The claim that we must choose between clean air and jobs is a false choice. Often, a racist choice. We should no longer entertain this claim, as we no longer entertain climate deniers, because it simply is not true. This claim, as well as similarly misleading claims about costs and reliability, is the new means of distraction, delay and division for the fossil fuel industry. Instead of feeding the trolls, we go around them and continue to pull in labor and pull in communities of color. We don’t need trolls to win — we need everyone else.
  • Moving forward: Stay ahead of the messaging curve. When your opposition starts to shift their message, you have to keep up and keep ahead. For the environmental movement, that means we continue calling them out and denying distractions — but it also means shifting our offense messaging. For so long, our conversation around climate change has focused on the doom-and-gloom. Now that we no longer have to convince the world that climate change is a clear and present danger, we have the space to focus on opportunity and the lived experience in our message. Less time arguing with trolls means more time talking about solutions that bring economic opportunities for workers, energy and fuel savings for families and relief to communities on the front lines of fossil fuel operations.

The fight ahead is only going to get more nuanced and more complicated as the stakes get higher. So take a weekend off and enjoy your Earth Day. Take a hike, visit your neighborhood park. Recharge. See you on Monday.

RALLY is an issue-driven communications firm that takes on sticky political and social problems and finds ways to push them forward. Sommer Yesenofski is an Account Executive based out of RALLY’s Los Angeles office