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Kumi Naidoo: As Africa Burns, Why Is U.S. Refusing to Help Stop Catastrophic Climate Change?

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The People’s Climate March in Washington, D.C., on Saturday came as extreme, climate-fueled weather is already causing havoc across the world. In the U.S. over the weekend, 13 people died as tornadoes flattened homes, uprooted trees and flipped trucks in Texas and in neighboring states. Historic flooding swept away cars, closed interstates and inundated homes across Missouri. Internationally, parts of South Asia are immersed in a sweltering heat wave. In India, heat waves over the last four years have killed more than 4,000 people. At the People’s Climate March, we spoke with Kumi Naidoo, former head of Greenpeace, about the new initiative, Africans Rising for Justice, Peace and Dignity.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: As President Trump marked his 100th day in office on Saturday, up to 200,000 people took to the streets of Washington, D.C., to take part in the People’s Climate March. It was boiling, over 90 degrees. Democracy Now! was on the streets, aired a 5-hour special. Ahead of the march, Democracy Now!’s Nermeen Shaikh spoke to the South African environmental activist Kumi Naidoo, the former head of Greenpeace.

KUMI NAIDOO: Well, Africans Rising for Justice, Peace and Dignity is a new African-wide social movement that is extremely concerned about the fact that right now we are already experiencing the first and the most brutal impacts of climate change. We think it’s a terrible injustice that even though the people of Africa collectively contributed the least to emissions, we are the ones that are paying the first and most brutal price, where we’ve got climate refugees, land that’s drying up, water sources that are disappearing and so on, which is already creating a quite a catastrophic situation. We feel extremely hurt that in fact the countries that carry the biggest responsibility continue to deny their responsibility, but also continue to deny the very fact that the science is absolutely clear that we have to get off dirty energy. So, we’re here to just bring a voice, to say to the people of the United States to continue to put pressure on the government, to recognize that if we continue on the path that we are, that when history is recorded, the United States will go down as the country that had the greatest power to avert catastrophic climate change but abused that power and carried the biggest responsibility for the crisis that we are currently heading towards.

And people must be very clear: We are five minutes to midnight, in terms of the amount of time we have to reverse things. It still can be done, but we need political will, and we need Trump and Trump’s policies to be resisted extremely strongly. So we need to break away from the idea that addressing climate change should be about advantage in competition. We have to have a greater sense of common shared purpose. And if you look at the appointments that he’s made, in terms of the kinds of people that—and their track records, their huge investments in the fossil fuel industry, it’s clear that, like President George W. Bush appointed several people that did the bidding for the fossil fuel industry, Trump has even done more than what he has done. The fact that he’s wanting to gut the Environmental Protection Agency in the way that he’s doing and so on is all extremely worrying signs. And it has implications not only for the people of the United States, but for the people of the world as a whole. And that is why it’s important that Trump must recognize, and the Republicans that support him must recognize, that it’s not only a groundswell and increasing numbers of American people that are resisting, they are actually the ones now that are the best and most eloquent supporters of terrorism. They are the best and most eloquent supporters of promoting anti-Americanism. And that is something that they need to revisit and change the policies; otherwise, the United States will become more and more isolated from global public opinion, as is the case at the moment.

I think it’s very important that people realize that, you know, environmentalists like me say things like “Save the planet,” “Save the environment.” People must realize the planet actually does not need saving, that if we continue on the path that we are, and continue to warm the planet, the end result will be we will be gone as a species, the planet will still be here. The truth be said, if we become extinct as a species, the oceans will recover, the forests will replenish and so on. So, understand that the struggle that we are engaged in is whether humanity can fashion a way to coexist with nature in a mutually interdependent relationship for centuries to come. And put differently, this struggle is fundamentally about securing our children and their children’s futures. And therefore, opportunities like this for parents and grandparents and people who are planning to be parents to come out and say, “Not in my name,” is important, but let’s be very honest: We’re going to need about a thousand of these kinds of marches on an ongoing basis, if we are going to be able to wrestle power from and to have the kind of policy—you know, Trump must recognize that denialism is not a policy. Right? You cannot have people saying different things.

You cannot—and the one thing that you will hear talked about a lot in the march, in interviews and so on, is about we must protect the Paris declaration. So let me just say this very clearly: From an African perspective, the Paris declaration simply gave us a chance to live to fight another day. It is far from a perfect solution to the problem. It’s still not as ambitious as it needs to be. And to have now the White House and President Trump saying that they’re going to actually mess with even this best agreement that the politics allowed us to get is so irresponsible. And people like Donald Trump must understand that they have blood on their hands now. The longer that they drag taking action, they are responsible for the murder of people around the world.

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