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To be alive now is a gift

Marchers in the street opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline being built at Standing Rock

(Emily’s remarks at the We Rise with Standing Rock Rally)

Millie always asks me to talk about our name for a minute, so excuse me if you’ve heard this before. Our group is called 350 because this is a number that’s essential to life on this planet. Throughout human history, we’ve had about 280 parts per million of carbon in our atmosphere. As we’ve used radically more fossil fuels in the last hundred years, that number has climbed and climbed. And scientists know that in order to have a stable climate, we have to be below 350 parts per million—maybe even lower.

Right now, we’re at about 408, and rising fast.  If we don’t start aggressively reducing fossil fuel use in the next few years, we will lose our window to restore a stable climate…forever.

I could tell you the scary truths about this, because the planet will become unrecognizable: coasts will be inundated, superstorms and typhoons will become more frequent and ever more violent, the reliable seasons we depend on for food production will disappear. There is a very good chance that we will disappear, if we don’t respond boldly, wisely, and fiercely right now.

But although I know those scary truths deep in my bones, there’s another truth I want to tell, because we were all born into an astonishing and beautiful world. The co-evolution of flowers and bees; the way the genes of an African elephant can change over time into those of a woolly mammoth; the presence just a few miles from here of whales whose intelligence and culture we are only now beginning to understand.

We are so lucky to be here. A great deal has been lost already, but we are lucky to have been born into a world that still contains so many voices—so many birds with so many songs, so many squeaky picas and barking seals and gentle waves. Less than fifty miles from here, bears live relatively undisturbed. A couple of times a month, I get to see eagles when I run, right here in the city.  I also see children, every day.

We cannot be the ones who let all of this come to an end on our watch. We cannot be the ones who allowed a handful of unhappy, weak, and greedy people to destroy all of this—all that we know and love, and all that we don’t know yet, the vast web of life that surrounds and supports us in every moment of every day: the trees and plankton producing the air that we breathe, the salmon building the ecosystems of the Northwest, the forests absorbing carbon and then providing wood for cradles and books and houses. There is such abundance here.

To destroy this world, they need our consent, and for a long time, busy with our lives, we essentially gave that consent. We let them run tankers on these waters. We let them build pipelines. We let them run oil trains right through our cities—even after these trains exploded almost at the rate of one a month for awhile, all over the country…..

We can’t allow this anymore. If we let them keep doing this, we know where it ends—and we know that we end where it does.

We must stop using fossil fuels—and soon. Nothing can be considered necessary or good or useful if it damages this astonishing world that we’ve inherited. Who are we to pollute the air and the water, and say that it’s necessary?

If we want to preserve a world for our children, we must act now. We must withdraw our consent—blocking new pipelines with the kind of resolve we saw at Standing Rock. Blocking oil trains. Blocking tankers. Flooding the streets and the offices of our elected representatives, and demanding that they do the right things. If we do not do this—in a peaceful, unified, inspiring way—then we are handing the future of the world over to those who are profiting from the destruction of everything we love.

I’m so grateful to Millie for all that she’s done to support the growth of this solidarity movement here in Seattle. We have many battles ahead of us, but since last fall, thanks to Millie and Matt, we have gotten to know each other much better. In our friendship and support are the roots of our only hope. We must move forward together as bravely as we can.

This moment brings many tragedies and we will see many terrible things. But to be alive now is a gift, because we have the power to leave a decent world behind. The planet can still thrive, and it can still return itself to stability. We know what we have to do–to stop using fossil fuels, and stop treating the earth as a dumping ground. If we rise to the task, we can be the ones who helped to save it, and not the ones who let it be destroyed.

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