What MLK Can Teach Us About Standing Up to Climate Change

According to a fascinating poll that came out last week, 13 percent of Americans claim that they would commit some form of non-violent civil disobedience to get action on climate change.  To me, this is a dramatic number. Americans are not willing to put up with denial any longer. Opinions are shifting — hard and fast.  People understand the risks as they begin to see and feel the impacts, and are tired of the dysfunction that is preventing change. All that these individuals need is a clear, direct action to take.

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, and there has been much focus on Dr. King’s “I have a Dream” speech – but it caused me to re-read another King work, his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”

When you consider the impact climate change will have on our collective future, it is instructive to remember what Martin Luther King had to say about the power of non-violent civil disobedience in that letter in 1958.

The prophetic points of this message are numerous, but I will highlight two here that standout for their timeless wisdom.

The first was his outline of the preparation needed for mass, non-violent protest.  He advocated a four-step process of analysis, negotiation, self-purification, and, finally, confrontation.  The ordering here was crucial; only after the first three stages did he advocate the last.

Dr. King’s second observation was that even after the deliberate execution of those careful steps, confrontation was always “untimely” for the so-called moderates, arriving too soon for their comfort.

Dr. King’s key insight is not just that outright oppressors never give up their advantages willingly, but also that moderates never advocate any direct, non-violent, attack on the status quo because they are actually satisfied with it.

For the sake of our own struggle, this point is worth keeping in mind.  Because of self-interest, the dirty energy industry will always engage in fierce, intense opposition. But what about the moderates of our era?  Are they still satisfied with the status quo? I think not.

Returning, then, to the 13 percent who would personally engage in civil disobedience, how should we interpret this level of commitment?

Interestingly, Thomas Jefferson thought that 15 percent of the general population was the number needed for accomplishing significant transformation.  If he was correct, this may represent a tipping point.  We may be on the precipice of major change.

Let’s hope we are.

This is a guest post from Tom Steyer, investor and president of NextGen Climate Action.

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Eternal Gardener
Eternal Gardener4 years ago


Monique R.
Monique R4 years ago

Any organised and efficient action would require strong leadership.

James R B.
James B4 years ago

Just so everyone is clear, a blatant misrepresentation of the facts need to be clarified. The system has been very successful in destroying our basic scientific education over the last two generations. So everyone is clear, CO2 is Carbon DIOXIDE, 1 carbon atom and 2 oxygen atoms, a life giving gas plants and trees and all other vegetation must have to breathe and grow. CO2 is NOT Carbon MONOXIDE, Carbon MONOXIDE is 1 carbon atom and 1 oxygen atom, which is a poison resulting from the combustion of refined chemicals, a legitimate pollutant. By the way, weather patterns becoming more "extreme" has NOT come to pass, and the polar ice is just as plentiful as past decades if not centuries:


The system has not only compromised our capacity to keep in perspective legitimate science, we also have clowns like Al Gore who omits the Inconvenient Fact that CO2 follows warming, CO2 does not lead warming, as well as making statements in recent years the internal temperature of the Earth is "millions of degrees". All this in addition to Gore and similar criminals who most aggressively barter in public deception, have made and have at stake, many millions of dollars in selling the carbon "cap & trade" and "carbon tax" racketeering schemes, which is the primary objective of the government and oil company mafia funding the "global warming" "climate change" hoax...

Janet Gibbon
Janet G4 years ago

I fully believe human activity has accelerated the climate change cycles Earth routinely experiences. It's good that more people are realising this, though there are still a significant amount who refuse to listen to the (independent) scientists who are quite agreed (business and politics muddy the waters for their own agendas) about climate change.
At school in the mid '80s I was taught about 'global warming'. There would be wetter summers (UK), more erratic and extreme weather patterns, flooding, droughts, acceleration of melting ice at the Poles... it's all come to pass.
It's funny (not haha) how people can except Carbon Monoxide can build up in a room and cause a change in the air and be fatal, but they can't get 200 years of pumping out ever more huge amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere and altering/destroying many natural systems to deal with it could be having any effect.. even when they see the consequences happening.

John Coleman
John Coleman4 years ago

Being the opportunist that he was, it is likely that MLK would have jumped on the "global climate whatever" hoax of the moment since he was already "branching out" to labor organizing, "social justice", and anti war issues as the "civil rights" movement waned. He was in Memphis to support the sanitation workers organizing efforts when he was shot NOT "civil rights" per se. BTW, on the "global climate whatever" hoax, this year has set records in some spots both ways but more cold records than hot and we have a rather dormant hurricane season, Add to that CO2 (exhales by animals, food for plants) levels are up.

Fi T.
Past Member 4 years ago

Only if we care enough about others, people and animals, well

Sue Matheson
Sue Matheson4 years ago


Wim Zunnebeld
Wim Zunnebeld4 years ago