That was the title of a session, purportedly on climate change, that I attended at the Netroots Nation 2012 conference for progressive bloggers in Providence several weeks ago.
While the session did contain some good info--in particular one segment that talked about how polling in California had found that African-Americans and Hispanics were more concerned about environmental issues than whites--the general thrust seemed to be more about the need to frame global warming as a social justice issue. I.e., if only you wine-and-cheese enviros would quit romanticizing about the environment, and join the great social justice movement, then everyone would pay attention to "your" issue.
That bugged me. It seemed patronizing, and it also seemed to largely miss the point. I was thinking about it today, and it struck me that it's like titling a session on coal mine safety "Miners, not canaries."
I'm sure some of us in the--what, pro-climate-science community?--have warm feelings about charismatic animals like polar bears, but for many of us, the issue is not so much the poor bears themselves, and what is going to happen to them, but the fact that they are, in essence, the canaries in the global coal mine. If something is going drastically wrong with their ecology, and threatening their existence, it's a sign that things are out of joint with the global climate system on which the lives of billions of people depend. Rapid warming in the Arctic is one of the first signs of global warming predicted by climate models, and it is what we are seeing today. As I've mentioned elsewhere, rapid Arctic warming also appears to be causing unexpected changes in the jet stream and in weather all around the Northern Hemisphere.
To be sure, the harshest impacts of global warming will likely be felt by poor people, and it's resulting from actions by industries run by industrial plutocrats, but that doesn't mean it's just a social justice issue. It's bigger than that. The canaries are dying, and it's time for all of us to get out of the coal mine. Now.