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September 3, 2014

People's Climate Justice Movement Tackles Threats Facing Us

Why the commons is the foundation of a climate justice agenda

 Annette Bernhardt under a CC license

A  90-year old water main ruptured in Los Angeles this summer, wasting ten million gallons of water in the midst of a record drought. This is just one more reminder of the importance of the People’s Climate March  in New York City and other sites around the US and world.  The massive rally put world leaders on alert that climate change demands a serious, concerted effort to address the threats ahead, not only for the natural world but also for human civilization.

Curbing climate disruption and addressing the stark social disparities it creates will require a broad new conception of the economy and the role of government.  For too long governments have been protecting private property and the free market at the expense of public health, basic community infrastructure (like water mains), and social equity.  The result of this blind adherence to the market has been bankrupt cities, decaying infrastructure along with proliferating poverty and rampant environmental devastation. 

A new agenda to address climate justice and solve these problems can be built on a foundation that the commons is the true basis of a healthy, equitable  economy.  Without public water, sidewalks, roads, a stable climate and all the other commons that we share together, the economy--even with all its private capital—crumbles.

The five basic principles of a Commons Climate Justice Agenda are:

1. Governments’ responsibility to serve as the steward of our commonwealth and public health.

2. Public investment in the commons necessary for public health and wellbeing must be the first order of government spending.  These commons include clean water, sewage treatment, clean reliable energy sources and public transportation.

3. Access to the Commons is a right, not a privilege.  Clean drinking water and clean air, for example, are fundamental human rights.

4. The commons is at the core of community resiliency, which is our chief strategy for adapting to and reversing the coming climate chaos. Planning for and implementing policies to boost community resiliency must begin now.

5. We must establish government policies that do the following:

a. Recognize the equal rights of all people to access the commons necessary for life, health and community;

b. Recognize the rights of future generations to inherit a habitable planet;

c. Fund commons infrastructure that will be essential to protect us from climate chaos: clean water, local food systems, public transportation, protection from flooding and drought, nature preserves;

d. Establish laws and mechanisms for enforcement and punishment to violators of pollution laws;

e. Prevent corporations and individuals from trashing the commons without being held accountable; 

f. Revamp the entire regulatory system to halt polluters from destroying the climate, water, air and the soil, which belong to future generations as much as to us.   


The People’s Climate March is a rare opportunity to effectively demand change, and highlight the fact that we are in this together.  Let’s demand that we protect our commonwealth for our families, communities and future generations.  This is what justice looks like.