Why We Chose Not To Eat For Three Days

Last month was the 14th month in a row that broke all global temperature records, 3 record-breaking hurricanes have been recorded in the last 8 months, Arctic sea ice is virtually gone and, according to international health agencies, hundreds of thousands are already dying as a direct result of human-caused climate change. The only question is: what are you going to do about it? 

In 2014, eight school children petitioned Washington’s Department of Ecology to promulgate a rule capping greenhouse gas emissions using the "best available science."

Their petition was ignored and so they took Ecology to court.

Then, in November 2015, King County Superior Court Judge Hollis Hill denied the kids’ in court; however, she only did so because by that time the Department of Ecology was already developing a new carbon-emissions cap, under the Clean Air Act, having been ordered to do so under the executive order of Gov. Inslee.

Yet, in spite of her ultimate ruling, Judge Hill upheld every one of the kids’ fundamental arguments: finding that the Department of Ecology has an obligation, under both the state’s Clean Air Act and its Constitution, to protect the climate for future generations -- or in other words, she found that future generations have a constitutional right to a stable climate.

And so the kids went home, feeling as if they had both won and lost, and they went back to focusing on their homework and firing spitballs across the classroom until the Dept. of Ecology released the draft version of their new Clean Air Rule.

Ecology recently released their rule and, well, how to put this?

It fucking sucked. It certainly falls way, way short of protecting our future generations right to clean air and a stable climate. Which, if you ask me, is a pretty dang major failing.

The kids felt the same.

“The science states that we need emissions cuts of about 8% per year,” said Gabe Mandell, a fourteen-year-old involved in the court case. “This rule will only give us cuts of 1.7% of 2-3rds of the state’s emissions. And that means this Rule is failing to protect what a Superior Court Judge found to be our constitutional right to clean air and a stable climate.”

As part of 350 Seattle’s team working on the clean air rule, we started to look closely at the rule and -- like virtually every green group in town -- we found it pretty hard to argue with Gabe: the proposed rule does fall way short of ensuring a stable climate for future generations.

We also knew that time wasn’t on our side though. The two public hearings on the rule -- neither of which were in Seattle, a fact that would leave the D.O.E. open to accusations of excluding frontline communities from the conversation -- were less than two weeks’ away. Public comment closed only a week later. We knew that we would have to move fast to get people to wake up to this issue in time. But that wasn’t going to be easy. A wonky legislative rule just doesn’t have the same galvanizing appeal as an Arctic drilling rig parked in downtown Seattle. When it comes to reducing WA’s greenhouse gas emissions though, this fight is far more important than the one that would ultimately see Shell pull out of the Arctic.  

And so a small group of us decided that, three days prior to the public hearing, we would go on a hunger fast outside of Governor Inslee’s office. We agreed that we needed at least half-a-dozen parents and grandparents to join us.

On Tuesday the 12th of July, we arrived on the Capitol Steps. There was 19 of us, mostly parents and grandparents, who would be consuming nothing but water for the next three days. Eight more would be fasting from home and dozens of supporters joined us over the course of the three days.  

As those days progressed I thought a lot about what we were doing, why we were fasting and what we were trying to achieve. I was still thinking about this when we met with the Governor’s Chief of Staff, Dave Postman, and his climate change policy adviser, Chris Davis. By this time we hadn’t eaten for almost sixty hours.

At that meeting we were told that the rule was as strong as it could be given current existing legal realities. The meeting left my head spinning. I left the Governor’s office in no doubt that these were good men who cared deeply about this issue; however, I also realized something else: we were here, going without food on the steps of the Capitol, to highlight the moral realities.

Seven million people a year die as a direct result of air pollution. As many as 400,000 people a year already die because of human-caused climate change. That is the moral reality of this situation and the moral reality must overcome the legal reality.

I realized that was why we were here, why we were fasting: to fight for that truth, to ensure that the proposed rule was judged against no other “reality” than that moral reality.

A day later, after 72 hours without food, we attended the public hearing. The room was packed. The organizers, caught by surprise, were running into other rooms to get more chairs. Over 100 people signed up to give testimony. Every single testimony, bar one from a representative of a natural gas company, called for a stronger rule. Mothers held photos of their children and cried on stage. A father spoke of his heartbreak that his children had decided not to have kids of their own because of the state of the planet.

Of course, this had been part of the reason why we had been fasting: drawing attention to this issue so that room would be full, so that the Dept. of Ecology knew that while the titans of industry were preparing lawsuits and demanding a weaker rule, the public were holding photos of their children and demanding as strong a rule as possible. That was one reason why we hadn’t eaten for three days, but I knew it wasn’t the only reason.

Towards the end of a long evening, a grandfather walked to the front of the room to give his testimony. ‘I’m going to read a poem,’ he said. The poem, he told us, was called Hieroglyphic Stairway, written by Drew Dellinger and as this elderly man with greying hair read the poem aloud, I knew that I had found the real reason why I hadn’t eaten for 72 hours:

My great great grandchildren won’t let me sleep

My great great grandchildren ask me in dreams

What did you do while the planet was plundered?

What did you do when the earth was unraveling?

Surely you did something when the seasons started failing?

As the mammals, reptiles, birds were all dying?

Did you fill the streets with protest when democracy was stolen?

What did you do once you knew?

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