The massive gilets jaunes (Yellow Vest) protests in France may have been triggered by fuel taxes, but that doesn’t mean the participants in those marches are opposed to climate action. What they’re looking for is climate solutions and a just transition that flow from the bottom up, writes Samantha Harvey, a fellow with the San Francisco-based EDGE Funders Alliance.
The Yellow Vests “are concerned about the climate, despite their protest of a fuel tax, and their list of 42 demands calls for a fairer transition to a low-carbon economy for workers,” Harvey writes. “Their issue is with how it’s done.”
While more established voices might still see climate change as “an either-or struggle between the environment and the economy,” she says, “global climate justice activists push for both—a transition to a green economy that also demands fair pay, localized ownership, and care for communities as integral parts of a cleaner world—all proposals in line with the Yellow Vests’ demands. A healthier planet requires an overhaul of our economic system, and workers collaborating with climate justice movements would be doubly powerful. But the connections between them aren’t widely known,” partly because events like COP 24 seem to limit their focus to business-as-usual thinking and solutions.
“Can we imagine a green world in which workers make decisions for how they live?” Harvey asks. “As income gaps increase, as jobs are lost to automation and oil and gas facilities are shut down, it seems obvious that governments and communities should train and deploy legions of skilled workers to build a new, green infrastructure. This could be anything from emissions-free light rail lines that run across North America to local microgrids and urban agriculture. Breaking up the monolithic global corporations that control our fuel and food would change the system; a transition to a new economy would put power back into the hands of the people.”
She adds that those ideas are alive in the just transition movement, and in the Green New Deal championed by newly-elected U.S. legislators like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY). “This just transition would cut greenhouse gases while bringing jobs, security, and autonomy back to communities, ensuring everyone has access to a good education, clean water, healthy food, and safe living conditions.”
Harvey cautions that the Yellow Vest movement is “splintering, with protests spreading across Europe and more radical factions acting out with violence,” adding that “to stop that destructive cycle, Yellow Vests and climate justice activists must make common cause.” And sure enough, local media reported Saturday that more than 100 people in yellow vests were out in Medicine Hat, Alberta, protesting in favour of pipelines and against the federal impact assessment act, carbon pricing, migration, and the United Nations.
“This is an expression of our voice and our will,” said local resident Sheldon Johnston. “We don’t feel the democratic institutions are listening. We feel there is an international agenda and we feel they’re pushing those views upon the people of this country. We’re tired of it and we want to have fair representation in this country.”