On October 11, Jane Fonda staged her first Fire Drill Friday action in the nation’s capital to enact action on climate change. She was arrested and has been arrested every Friday since.
Today, the Grace and Frankie star returned to activism when she realized the threat of climate change is a global emergency.
“We are facing a true crisis,” Fonda said. “We have to act as if our house is on fire, because it is.”
Fonda got involved in climate action after reading Naomi Klein’s new book “On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal.” Fonda approached Klein — as well as Annie Leonard, Executive Director of Greenpeace USA, and Bill McKibbon, founder of 350.org — and discussed a plan.
“There were various ideas exchanged and we settled on getting arrested every Friday,” Fonda said.
An extreme lesson
As well as her Fire Drill Friday actions, Fonda hosts “teach-in” sessions, live-streamed every Thursday, with discussions and information sessions that examine the hurdles posed by climate change, including migration, agriculture, and elimination of jobs.
“This is how people can learn, and they’re being archived,” Fonda said. “What I’ve realized is that the things I’m doing as an individual — driving an electric car, getting rid of single-use plastic, eating less meat and fish, etc. — those things are all fine, but they can’t be brought to scale in time for what we need to do. We have 11 years before we reach a tipping point where it will be out of our control.
“What we have to do in the next 11 years is humongous, so what I want people to understand through this action is that it’s time to leave our comfort zone — it’s no time for business as usual. We have to go farther than we ever have before.”
There are many ways, aside from getting arrested, that people can get involved with climate action.
“First of all, we have to vote,” Fonda said. “People have to vote. They have to understand this is our future that’s at stake. That’s what all these young student climate strikers are telling us — it’s our future you’ve compromised.”
Voting for politicians who will prioritize climate change is the first step in ensuring the necessary changes in infrastructure.
“We have to stop all new fossil fuel development,” Fonda said. “No more permits, no more licenses, no more funding, no more insurance for new (that’s an important word, “new”) fossil fuel development. That has to happen as soon as we have a new president.”
Phasing out existing fossil fuel development can then happen gradually, to ensure communities that rely on fossil fuels for jobs aren’t neglected.
“We have to take care that the families, the people, the workers, the communities that depend on fossil fuels will be trained for new jobs in the new energy sector,” Fonda said.
These transitions are immense, and Fonda has no disillusions about the size of the undertaking.
“Humankind has never been in this situation before,” she said. “This is wholly new, and it requires extreme actions. Not violence, but numbers. Even the scientists, who are usually very neutral, have said that the only way we’re going to do this is through massive social mobilization on an unprecedented scale.”
The best way to participate in this social mobilization, Fonda said, is to connect with local organizations.
“When they call you into the streets to protest, join, go into the streets,” she said. “If there is a pipeline or a fracking development being done near you, put your body on the line, try to stop it.”
If social mobilization is to be effective, it requires diversity and equality of participation.
“One of the things that’s very important is to always involve people of color,” Fonda said, “because they are on the front lines. Invariably, the worst environmental crises — pollution, threats to health — happen in poor communities and communities of black and brown people. We have to make sure they are represented at the table.
“We do that with our teach-ins and our rallies. This must not be seen as a white, elite person’s movement because it’s not.”
Only in great numbers, with inclusive participation and diverse leadership, will climate action be possible.
“We may have disagreements,” Fonda said, “but we have to understand that it’s going to take all of us, every one of us together, to go up against the fossil fuel industry. They’re going to fight us with everything they have and they’ve got a lot. We’re telling them to leave $14 trillion worth of stranded assets in the ground.
“They are going to fight that. We need all of us to be together. So whatever differences we have, let’s set them aside and have empathy for each other and understanding, and move forward.”