I don’t scare easily. Scary movies may make my heart race, but they rarely make me scream. I can’t think of many things that do—besides New York City rats and roaches. Screams aren’t my response to fear. They’re my response to anger. And let me tell you: Right now, I’m pissed. You should be, too.
Welcome to The Frontline, where time is running out. I’m Yessenia Funes, climate director of Atmos. The last week has been a whirlwind. All around the globe—from Scotland to Puerto Rico—climate advocates are rising up. Meanwhile, the people in power continue to disappoint. It’s time for a power shift, and that will require us all.
Last week, climate activists confronted Shell CEO Ben van Beurden in a TED Countdown conference in Edinburgh, Scotland, ahead of the international climate negotiations kicking off later this month. Scottish climate activist Lauren MacDonald shared the stage with him where she told van Beurden straight up, “You should be absolutely ashamed of yourself.” She called him “evil” and rightly highlighted that every day his company fails to cut emissions is “a day that the death toll of the climate crisis rises.” Shell has exacerbated climate denial and is a top carbon polluter globally.
MacDonald didn’t scream at the CEO. Yes, she was visibly upset, angry, and in tears. But she didn’t scream—even though he deserved it. Instead, she and fellow youth organizers screamed as they walked out of the failed event: “Don’t watch us! Join us!”
Across the world, people are getting fed up. Aren’t you? Why are institutions like TED, which claims to “want to change attitudes,” amplifying corporate shills who actually want attitudes on climate change to stay the same? The fossil fuel industry doesn’t want anything to change even though addressing the climate crisis requires everything to radically transform. And institutions and officials that choose to support the industry contribute to the paralyzed state of climate inaction. That includes TED—but the people behind the group are not alone.
An entire ocean away from Edinburgh, fossil fuel giants have got their grip on Capitol Hill. In the U.S., President Joe Biden is struggling to make good on his climate promises. The main obstacle? Sen. Joe Manchin, who owns stock in a coal company that brings him half a million dollars a year in dividends. Manchin is staunchly opposed to replacing coal and natural gas in the U.S. with renewable energy. In fact, the New York Times reported he is the reason the president’s climate agenda may fail.
However, his actions follow decades of feet-dragging from the Democratic establishment that hasn’t been aggressive enough to tackle global heating and put Black, Indigenous, and other people of color at the heart of their climate policy. And climate advocates are over it—especially Indigenous leaders who have been waiting months for Biden to speak out against oil and gas infrastructure like Line 3, a pipeline that’s pumping 760,000 barrels of crude oil a day through Anishinaabe lands.
Last week, water protectors arrived en masse in Washington, D.C., where they screamed and shouted outside of the White House. They want to see Biden take definitive action to end our reliance on fossil fuels. Climate advocates even occupied offices of the Interior Department Thursday demanding a meeting with Interior Sec. Deb Haaland, the first Indigenous person in this position. Police arrested an estimated 655 water protectors during their week of action.
Screaming may only get us so far, sure, but it’s a start. Sometimes, it’s all we can do.
From Alaska to Louisiana, Indigenous people are feeling the impacts of our rapidly heating planet on the regular. Elected officials busy on Capitol Hill can’t hear their distant screams—so Indigenous leaders brought their voices to the doorsteps of their elected officials. Instead of appealing to coal or oil goons, our representatives need to answer to the people. From the surface, protests and screams may not seem too threatening, but don’t get it twisted. Indigenous resistance over the last decade has stopped or delayed the emissions of enough greenhouse gases to make up 25% of annual U.S. and Canadian emissions, according to a report published by the Indigenous Environmental Network and Oil Change International, two major environmental advocacy groups.
Indigenous people aren’t the only ones living through the climate apocalypse. In Puerto Rico, the archipelago’s people know all too well what the climate crisis feels like. Restoring power after Hurricane Maria in 2017 took nearly a year. The blackout was the second-longest in global history. And their days in the dark aren’t over; homes still experience loss of power. That’s why thousands took to the streets over the weekend. Families need power. We must remember that the storm alone didn’t kill the thousands lost during Hurricane Maria. The government failure to restore power—cutting access to refrigerated insulin or breathing devices—is what killed so many more.
Many Puerto Ricans are angry that this threat continues to linger in their lives years after that historical hurricane hit. Protesters want the Puerto Rican government to remove the private company, Luma, now tasked with managing the power grid. They want a say over their future. They want solar. They want ownership.
Screaming may only get us so far, sure, but it’s a start. Sometimes, it’s all we can do. Our screams let leaders know we’re paying attention. It forces them to listen. So, scream, shout, and let it all out! Let our failed institutions know we won’t stand for their apathy. Not anymore. Get heated—and take action. Each and every one of us is a critical part of the fight against climate change. As Atmos Editor-in-Chief Willow Defebaugh often writes, you are the movement’s greatest asset.